PENS EYE VIEW
Featured Article by Richie Frieman
Posted on July 7, 2012
PENS EYE VIEW
Featured Article by Richie Frieman
Posted on July 7, 2012
Promise doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of Darin Bennett’s blues rock ability – this man is off the charts, through the roof, honest to goodness one of the best things you haven’t heard… yet.
Head over darinbennett.com for just a taste of what Darin Bennett and the Requiem have to offer and you’ll understand why Bennett has already been mentored by some of the biggest names… biggest legends in the blues business.
In fact, Hubert Sumlin (guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters) once complimented Mr. Bennett after a show at The Mint in L.A., and when he was asked for any advice, the legendary guitarist pulled Darin tight into his arms and whispered, “It’s a long road”. What a moment! But these kind of moments will certainly not be few and far between for Bennett, as we learned while sampling his latest 5-song EP, “Midnight Storybook”.
The collection comes from Darin’s own Mumbella Records label, and has already drawn comparisons to icons like Tom Waits, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke. Bennett says of the effort, “I guess you could say that my sound is deeply rooted in the blues, weighed heavy on soul, steeped in classic R&B, and rocks and rolls to the beat of an eccentric primal drum. Really it’s world music under the guise of rock… My influences are essentially my starting point. I never set out to deliberately copy anyone or even sound like them…Where Tom Waits could look to Hoagy Carmichael, I can look to both of them. I have that extra generational reference point.” And boy, does he take advantage of it. Get into “Midnight Storybook” ASAP. Look out for much, much more from Darin Bennett and keep reading – there’s still a whole lot to get into in the XXQ’s.
XXQs: Darin Bennett (Darin Bennett and the Requiem)
PensEyeView.com (PEV): Compared to a wide variety of artists including Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Bruce Springsteen, as well pioneers such as Son House, Robert Johnson, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke, how would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you different from the others in your genre?
Darin Bennett(DB): I guess you could say that my sound is deeply rooted in the blues, weighed heavy on soul, steeped in classic R&B, and rocks and rolls to the beat of an eccentric primal drum. Really it’s world music under the guise of rock.
My influences are essentially my starting point. I never set out to deliberately copy anyone or even sound like them. I am performing my music under a completely different set of circumstances than those who came before me; as they did before me. So that alone will immediately set me apart from them. That said, I wear my influences proudly on my sleeves. Hopefully, I’ve chosen my heroes wisely.
Where Tom Waits could look to Hoagy Carmichael, I can look to both of them. I have that extra generational reference point. Hendrix blended together blues, soul, R&B, funk, jazz, and even folk music. Now, someone like me can take everything he was able to draw from, as well as those who came between us. The aural tradition is an amazing thing that can be rooted as far back as the lineage of just about any culture. So, whatever I end up doing, even if it is just humming, will be intrinsically different and unique.
I have equal love for so many different kinds of music. It allows for less restraint when writing and performing.
PEV: What kind of music were you into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?
DB: I have always loved old blues (Delta, Chicago, and Piedmont) and plenty of old R&B and soul from the 1950’s to the mid-1970. I spent a lot of time listening to 78’s of preachers like Rev. Gates, as well as a lot of archival field holler music from chain gangs. It all really started when I first heard Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. A cousin of mine turned me on to a few albums and that was the beginning of my real education. Those guys were and, in Clapton’s case still remain, true lovers of music who never failed to educate people about their idols. You can learn so much if you just shut up and listen, which can be difficult at times, at least for people like me. The lessons came from their words and from their music.
There are certain flags in the road in music and you can trace most things, especially in Americana, back to the blues. Artists like Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal laid down some of those flags that lead me back to the music of various African countries – Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Senegal, etc. There were things going on there ages ago that would sound rather familiar to hip hop listeners today. I find that everything I do can be traced back to the Mande Griots from Mali. They have a tradition of storytelling in the aural tradition that is as effective as the biggest pop hit on the radio here in the States. The bottom line is communication and, as a performer, entertaining the audience. My first concert was Jackson Brown with David Lindley at the Universal Amphitheater here in Los Angeles. It was an education I’ll never forget. The next day, I cut my first slide from a BMX bike handle and tuned my guitar down to C. I had no idea what I was doing but it just seemed right. I still mainly use alternate tunings.
PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene when you first started? What was your first show like?
DB: I had the opportunity to play with many local luminaries who were many years my senior. This started when I was just a kid. A man named Chuck E. Weiss used to call me “The Kid”. I actually liked it. Through Chuck and many others including Joe Sublett and J.J. Holiday, I was able to sit-in with and/or open for a lot of my idols – everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Hubert Sumlin to Prince. It was crazy because I really was just a kid; pimples and all. Most people didn’t even know my name. They still don’t. I couldn’t get a date, but I was jamming with monsters of music. Sitting in, even for a song or two, was the best way to learn because I was able to spend most of my time just listening and watching. Most of these gigs, I was brought in to the clubs and told to pretend I was a roadie.
I played my first show as a proper band leader when I was 18 or so. I had already been playing in clubs for years. Man, I even played in mental institutions for extra cash. Those were some of the best gigs I ever played. No one can dance quite like the mentally insane. So, the band was called Darin Bennett & The Third Degree. It featured me on vocals & guitar, Gary J. Roisentul on drums, and a bass player named Mark who was quite a bit older than me and Gary. The show was a royal mess and I actually apologized to the audience when it was finally over. I do remember playing a killer rendition of SRV’s Lenny.
The early years were spent mainly playing with other people and keeping my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. You have to fight for respect when you’re younger than the majority, especially if they see you as a threat. It’s like a jungle full of egos and bad hair. My mouth opened when I started to sing at around 18 or 19 years old. The L.A. music scene has always seemed to be a mystery to me, even to this day. So I just try to find like-minded individuals and float in and around them. Generally, they’re doing the same thing. I played gigs with blues bands, jazz bands, soul and R&B dance bands and even metal bands. But I always sounded like me which made for some interesting shows. The thing is, I only know how to do what I do and nothing else. I just go for 100% feel.
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Darin Bennett show?
DB: I have a rule to never perform the same song or show the same way twice – ever. It’s easier to deviate from form at my solo shows but, with Darin Bennett and the Requiem, we still wander off the road quite a bit. I feel that I owe it to an audience to give them something unique and special that they would not have seen before and will not see again. I don’t care if I’m playing to the cook in the kitchen (and I have) or 10,000 people. It’s all the same. I like to say I play music with a jazz mentality without actually playing jazz. The main thing you’ll get is a lot of music from my catalog and beyond, plenty of sweat, and as many laughs as I can muster. I love taking risks on cover songs and pushing them somewhere unexpected.
I think the songs sound better live than on the album. We get a chance to really experiment and work off the energy in the room. After a show, I want the audience to be exhausted, smiling, and humming.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage to perform?
DB: Honestly, I am just making sure that my picks and slide are where they need to be. Then I always say to myself, “kill ‘em”. That can mean a lot of different things. I just want people to feel that they spent their time in the best way possible; that they were luck to see what they saw. It’s not about CD sales. Not in 2012. I want people to always leave wanting more. I live by it and, as a rule, never overstay my welcome. Of course, I’ll never leave the stage if people want me there.
PEV: What do you think is the best part about being a musician from your home town?
DB: Well, it’s not for the amazing music scene. It’s really non-existent for an artist like me. Always has been. However, being a hustler in Los Angeles can behoove an artist. You have to create your own opportunity. It will not find its way to you unless you’re in place for it when it shows itself. Being in L.A. has meant I’ve been close to a lot of action and I’ve taken advantage of it in a big way. That said, how many people can say they’ve worked in and around almost every one of their heroes? I’m very lucky in many ways and I never forget that. It’s made me want to better myself on a daily basis and, hopefully, be able to be a good influence on those who follow me.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music?
DB: It’s a desire to find truth in madness.
PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out do you ever look back at your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?
DB: There’s no real mystery to me. I know I’ve been lucky but I’ve worked my ass off. So has everybody who has worked with me. My idols and mentors in the blues community always told me to expect no less from myself. Hubert Sumlin, who was Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters’ guitar player, once came up to compliment me after a show at The Mint in L.A. I asked him for any advice he could give me. He grabbed me tight into his arms and whispered into my ear, “It’s a long road”. That’s some powerful shit coming from a guy like that.
PEV: What¹s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Darin Bennett?
DB: My best friend is a stuffed gorilla named Mum. He travels with me everywhere and I love him deeply. I also love comic books and, if I had a choice, would rather be a superhero (or Matt Kemp from the L.A. Dodgers).
PEV: What happens when you hit a brick wall when writing? What are you methods to get over it?
DB: My writing partner is my wife, Tiffany Winget. She has a perspective on things that, while similar to mine, comes from a different place. Even if I work on something alone, her voice is still present in my work. With a partnership like this, we never face a brick wall for too long without going over, under, around, or through it. Then again, sometimes you just have to face the fact that what you’re working on sucks and it might be better to take a walk.
PEV: How do you think the industry has changed over the years, since you started out or at got involved in just enjoying your music?
DB: When I was a boy, there was a record industry. It was a proper place where creative people from all areas came together under the same banner to create, promote, and sell music while evolving as people and professionals at the same time. Money and greed killed that. Maybe it was a failed ideology, but at least it was something to look to as somewhere to go. Now, artists are forced to wear the hats of people who originally specialized in other arenas; particularly business affairs. It hurts the artist and, ultimately, the fans suffer. Yes, we now have no one to tell us what to do and no one to screw with our careers and, ultimately, income. I will say that I would wholeheartedly share my income with honest people who are specialists in some of those arenas. I think the “industry” will reemerge in a new form.
PEV: Tell us about your latest release. What can fans expect from this?
DB: This is my first album as Darin Bennett and the Requiem. My solo debut album, ‘20 Scarlet Monkeys’, was low-fi and eclectic. I performed everything on the album expect for some saxophone by Joe Sublett. It was very intimate and I still love it. Several of the songs have been taken from that album and worked up with the Requiem including the first single ‘Holdin’ Me’.
I decided to issue a five song EP first. It’s called ‘Midnight Storybook’ and it is on my own Mumbella Records label that I run with Tiffany and her sister Stacey Winget. Each song on the album brings forth a little piece of me, while all of them have been written in the voice of others. Strong ties can be found to the work of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, and Otis Redding. It’s unmistakable. That said, it’s a completely fresh approach to the music. The main thing is that there is a strong emphasis on lyrics over guitar riffs. The music is dark and even dreamy at times. I really think that there’s something for everyone. I played a solo on Dead Where I Stand that, while restrained, is my favorite that I have ever recorded. The coolest thing is that it can all be played live and sound as good as the album. There’s no B.S. on there. What you hear is what you get. Redbone and I insisted on tracking the instruments mainly live and together in a room. That really added to the vibe that we caught on tape. I’m really proud of this one.
This album was co-produced with Redbone, the other guitar player in my band, along with Geoffrey Michael Brandin, who played all the keys on the EP. The band is also comprised of Gerrod Miskovsky on bass and Cosmo Jones on drums. It’s a tight unit and I just love playing music with these guys. They really get where I’m coming from and I never have to beg to get what I want out of a song. These guys just get it from the word “go”.
PEV: With all your traveling is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
DB: I love what I do and I want to play for people worldwide. There is no one place, although I would love to see more of Italy. We tend to be quite ethnocentric in the U.S. and that’s just not what I’m about. Music is the universal language and, other than English, it’s the only one I speak with any fluency.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career?
DB: Well, no one has said that I suck. I do receive a tremendous amount of support.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
DB: I’m an avid reader. I watch more movies and television shows than should be allowed. Charity is something that I insist on. My iPod is really my number one time killer. I also love to walk in place, pretend I’m Sting by dreaming of blues turtles, sell soap to the clinically insane, ponder Faust and then disagree with myself, steal clothing from department stores but pay before I leave, write novels that are only a few pages long and insist that they’re not short stories, quote myself in mixed company and then argue the point, swim in small bathtubs, shadow box with mirrors, dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, walk before I crawl and then run home, and so on and so forth. I also read comic books, think about space travel, and play with Mum.
PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?
DB: It’s funny, but I never really spent any time thinking about this sort of thing. Many of my heroes have come and gone – a lot of them before I was born. Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters would have been idyllic. Actually, I could imagine nothing greater than making an album with Eric Clapton. I credit his influence as a major factor on my development as an artist. Dylan, Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and B.B. King are right up there, as well. All of these people have had a profound effect on me. It’s hard to keep it to just one. I’m greedy that way.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
DB: There’s a guy making waves here in the States named Gary Clark, Jr. He’s got it, man. I dig his music and there’s just inherent soul in everything he does. I hope to see a lot more of him.
PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal) what would be your career?
DB: I can most definitely say that I would be a creative writer in one way or another. You see, it’s my life’s ambition to always be in situations where I have to struggle without bleeding. Who wouldn’t want it that way? Right?
PEV: So, what is next for Darin Bennett?
DB: I’ll continue working with the Requiem for sure. I want to travel a great deal more. I’ll go anywhere that will have me if I can play my music. It’s more than ego. It’s an addiction. Tiffany and I are also working on a theatrical rock opera that will pull together everything I’ve done up until now and then turn it on its head – literally. We’re going to produce it with our production company, Mumbella & Co. Productions, which is me, Tiffany and Stacey Winget.
Interview by Morley Seaver
Interview by Morley Seaver
In this age of American Idol, The Voice, et al, it's harder and harder to find a musician with their own voice --- a true original. Well look no further cuz one of the most original and fiercely independent artists out there has just released a new record. I found out about Darin Bennett in 2006 after the release of his record 20 Scarlet Monkeys and was instantly hooked.
Bennett's voice sounds a bit like Tom Waits, if you took a sander and shaved off a couple of inches off the gravelly, bottom end – in other words, more palatable for the average listener. His material is a jambalaya gumbo of styles, bluesy, soulful rock covered in a veneer of Delta blues, kind of like Stevie Ray Vaughan during a lost weekend in New Orleans. It's punctuated by two elements; his distinctive voice and his striking guitar sound.
Darin has a new band and a new record --- an EP entitled Midnight Storybook, which absolutely crackles. The songs are all top-notch and you'll be hard pressed to find more emotive vocals anywhere else. Need proof? Check out the first video for the song "Holdin' Me" here.
It was great to talk to Darin recently to find all about his new band and also the new record --- which I can't say enough good things about.
antiMusic: In the last couple of years, you've put together the band called The Requiem. Who is part of the group and how does this now affect the way you are able to translate your material live?
Darin: The band includes Gerrod Miskovsky on bass, Redbone on guitar, and Cosmo Jones on drums. Gerrod's been with me so long that I probably wouldn't know how to play without him. Redbone is a guy who has the same love of old blues and rock & roll as I do. It's been nice working with a second guitar player who really adds something to the songs. He's his own creature and that's how I want him. I don't need someone copying or learning what I do. I want everyone to have their own sacred position within the finished product. Cosmo is quite simply one of the finest drummers I've ever heard or played with. He just "gets it" from every angle.
I approach the band in the same fashion heroes of mine like Nick Cave and Bruce Springsteen have set up their bands. I write the songs and provide the core elements while everyone else helps to flesh it out to create a unique overall sound. That's what makes it special to me. Without one of these guys, it couldn't really be called the Requiem.
The thing is, I need a band that can play with a jazz-like mentality while not actually playing jazz. These guys can do it for days.
antiMusic: Tell us about your new EP which was released a few weeks back. To start off, 'Holdin' Me" has been given a facelift from its first incarnation on 20 Scarlet Monkeys. I love the arrangement now with the band included. What made you want to revamp this song and have it as your first song?
Darin: We were playing one of our first shows as a band and we were asked to do an encore. We were completely out of songs. As a policy, I never turn down a request to play. I grabbed my banjo and performed a solo version of the song "Holdin' Me". The guys dug it so we started working on it in rehearsal. Redbone had a few strong arrangement ideas, while Gerrod and Cosmo just laid down as fat & solid a groove as they could muster. I really like this version. While far more produced than the original, which was much closer to the folk chain-gang vibe, this one has an aggressive edge that conveys the lyric just as well. It only made sense to make this the first video.
The new EP is called Midnight Storybook. It is like a children's book for insomniac adults without kids. While I could have put together a much longer album, I figured that it would be better to keep it short and sweet – a sort of focused sampler platter of themes. I'm not reinventing the wheel but, rather, trying to keep the music I love fresh and relevant. This album has a little love, a bit of death, and a strong helping of denial – like stories told at an AA meeting where the vice of choice is desperation.
antiMusic: "Holdin' Me" is also the first video and it's a pretty big production. Tell us how this all came together?
Darin: Andrew Cochrane is a director who has worked as a visual effects supervisor on some of the best films and commercial productions around today. He asked me if I would be interested in doing a video and the rest was a no-brainer. Without him, the video would most likely have been some sort of mash up of vintage snuff films. You know - standard YouTube fare. The video was also the first official production for my new company with my wife/writing partner Tiffany Winget and her sister Stacey Winget – Mumbella & Co. Productions.
Andrew assembled an amazing crew that included cinematographer Ernesto Lomeli and we spent some time shooting a chase scene out in the Mojave Desert. We were out near Edwards Air Force Base which is rich in aviation history. Andrew and I are both space buffs and that is where the original test pilots like Chuck Yeager paved the way for the space program by first breaking the sound barrier and risking their lives on a minute to minute, day by day basis. Amazing heroes whose bravery walked a close line with insanity. Pancho Barnes may have owned the house that we shot in. Look her up. She was a broad with a set of brass balls the size of Cleveland.
Visually, the video resembles an episode of the show 24 with multiple frames telling the story from various perspectives. The shot of me is actually one take with no edits in real time. That was a challenge for me, at least, but we managed to capture something really unique and I got a lovely tan in return.
Andrew and Ernesto had a special camera rig assembled that made visual fluidity possible even with movement on multiple surfaces. The camera flips forward and backwards, and swings around at multiple angles. The rig alone was one of fourteen in the world. If it had broken, I would still be swimming to a non-extradition country. We used a state of the art EPIC RED camera and a host of disposable small cameras that were mounted all over the place. I sang and played the song while strapped into a pick-up truck that doubled as the camera car. The hardest part for me was focusing on singing the song and not watching the camera flying all over the place. It was a truly unreal experience in which I ate more dust than tractor during the harvest.
antiMusic: "Here and Away" has got a cool funkiness about it. It really shows off your vocals more. What can you tell us about this song?
Darin: Tiffany and I wrote the song as an anniversary gift to our dear friends Rebecca & Terry. They invited us to spend some time at a private villa in Massa Lubrense, Italy. We wanted the lyric to combine the depth their love in everyday life with the magic love takes on when you are transported to an idyllic setting. It was actually written before we left for Italy after watching some old films. So you could say we probably also wrote it for Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida. It was originally a solo acoustic R&B piece with just voice and guitar. When the band got a hold of it, it bent more towards an Otis Redding Stax/Volt sort of thing with a bit of "Remember" by Jimi Hendrix. I only steal from the finest sources.
antiMusic: "Where Dreams Remain" really evokes a strong melancholy mood. I love the restrained fuzz-laden solo. What were you thinking about when you wrote this song?
Darin: I was listening to a lot of early Springsteen and loads of the old Brill Building stuff. I really dig the Spanish Harlem vibe. Actually, my biggest influence for this song was the first song Ben E. King released after he left The Drifters – "Spanish Harlem". That and "Under the Boardwalk". Redbone really latched onto that song. We wanted it to be a Spanish Harlem via East L.A. sort of number. The guitar solo is actually Redbone. I think of it as more of an extension of the melody than a "solo" in the most expressive of terms. He played that through a small amp and a Leslie speaker cabinet from an old B3 organ. I love that vibe. It sounds ethereal yet stoic; like it could just fall off a cliff and float away at any time. We both play guitar with that sort of approach but his solo for this song was perfect in my book.
antiMusic: "Blow Wind Blow" just cooks and is one of my favorite songs by you --- I love the guitar line on the chorus. You could imagine Keith Richards or Mick Taylor playing on this track. What can you tell us about it?
Darin: Tiffany and I wrote that song as part of a fairytale we were writing. For now, you can take it as you hear it. One day, it will be presented in a different way that will open it up in a completely different and far broader context. More on that later… The band just got it right. What can I say? The title lyric says it all. Redbone and I have a great relationship in that our guitar parts always add something unique to the mix - rather than just playing the same thing as each other.
antiMusic: "Dead Where I Stand" is absolutely stellar. Did this come from a personal experience or were you just imagining a desperate vibe?
Darin: That song is pure stream of consciousness. I was in a bad state of mind, hungry, cold, etc. I was watching a politician on CNN spout out the same B.S. they always do. The words just came out in, literally, a few minutes. Any songwriter will tell you they love it when that happens. I just wanted a sandwich.
antiMusic: You also have a couple of other tracks that are not on the record that I was lucky enough to hear. "Heaven's Not My Home" is pure New Awlins. Awesome arrangement. Did this track fall together or did you try out different wardrobes on it?
Darin: Tiffany and I produced a pre-Requiem demo for it and then the band just laid in nicely when we headed back into the studio. The music of New Orleans is a constant fixture in our household so it tends to show up just about everywhere but in different ways. Gerrod and I liken it to something you might hear in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
antiMusic: "Something to Believe In" is quietly powerful. What can you tell us about this song?
Darin: It's about two people who are longing for both nothing and everything at the same time. They just don't know that they'll find what they actually need in each other. Ironically, even though I wrote this song several years ago, the themes of inequality and a longing for "more" really fits in with the times we're living in today.
antiMusic: Usually one doesn't just wake up one day and decide to play the kind of music you do. You're pretty much born that way. Is that true for you?
Darin: As the story goes, I was born in an outhouse behind a cemetery while an elderly Wiccan played a bluesy pipe organ. In all seriousness, I do believe in every respect that we are born to do certain things. How a person from Los Angeles grew up with such a connection to African American music of the deep south is far beyond me. I felt a kinship to something I had no understanding of other than that, at a very young age, I connected with emotions and stories rooted in the human struggle without having had any experience with these things. I guess it can be traced to an innate sense of empathy that rests in me. That and, well, Blues, R&B, Soul – it all just felt "right".
I was extremely lucky to be raised by a mother who was an operatically trained singer. I was never at home or in the car without some kind of music playing. It's the same today.
The day I first heard Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Bob Dylan (yes, it was the same day), my life changed forever. I'd never heard such lyrical honesty that resonated so clearly with me.
antiMusic: You have your own label Mumbella Records. Is this solely for you or are you open to hosting other artists? Why are you going this route instead of seeking out a label to take you on?
Darin: Mumbella is my label with Tiffany Winget and Stacey Winget. The only artist on it at this point is me which could actually turn out to be too many. Like most musicians, I have a tough time with authority. Coupled with the fact that what I do is not necessarily "main stream" or "pop", it seemed only logical that we start releasing my material on our own. We do have several other projects in the works but the only artist on the label is me along with my band.
antiMusic: How is the EP available? Physical copies or just online?
Darin: Due to the complete lack of interest and marketability of hard copy CDs, we have decided that, for now, the only place to find the music will be on digital shelves (www.darinbennett.com, iTunes, Amazon, etc., etc., etc.). I would love to press some vinyl when we are able and, if the demand is there, we'll make it happen.
We're working from a unique place. The music industry as it was has imploded on itself. It is desperately trying to find a new form but the clay never seems to harden. While there is tremendous opportunity for the independent artist there are also new obstacles. The brick & mortar stores are gone (I know of only a few in Los Angeles), the market is flooded with material and the artists are now forced to also play record label, art director, marketing department, social media expert and distributor. It's like having multiple day jobs that overlap with an even busier set of night shift jobs. However, I love what I do and I'm willing to embrace these new models if it means I can keep writing, playing, recoding and performing music. If all else fails, I do a mean Sinatra impersonation.
antiMusic: Your music kind of veers all over the highway between the blues and dirty rock with an almost vaudeville-at-times (in the Tom Waits way) veneer (especially in "Heaven's Not My Home"). Does one side of your musical sensibilities fight with the other when writing or is it simply a matter of different mood demands the appropriate soundtrack?
Darin: Not really. I love so many different kinds of music that I'm happy to spend time all over the map. The musical arrangement tends to be lead by the lyric. So, I try not to judge myself or be hyper-critical of where my instincts take me.
antiMusic: Your music is very intense, even with the lighter material. When you play, is it a cathartic experience or conversely do you hunger for that on-the-edge feeling just to feel normal?
Darin: It's actually a combination of both. There is an indescribable feeling that happens when the music is pure. It's like another form of breathing. Sometimes you breathe heavier than at other times. As a self taught, ear-rained musician, I am always chasing feelings – any and all feelings – from comfortable to horrifying. I can only liken it to being an extremely confident high wire trapeze artist who likes to eat a messy sandwich while walking the rope.
antiMusic: Tell us a bit about your musical background; how long you've been playing guitar and about your early bands.
Darin: I started playing guitar when I was five. Lessons weren't really for me so I went about learning by listening to and playing along with albums – Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, Page, and then all of the old blues guys from Robert Johnson and Lightnin' Hopkins to Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, SRV, and so on. I also listened to a lot of Sinatra, Elvis, Orbison, and Cash. Nobody can phrase a lyric like those guys. I didn't leave anyone out. If I liked it, I loved it and then learned it – in my own way, that is.
Bands were another thing. Most of the kids in my age bracket were into the more prevalent harder rock which, while sometimes bluesy, had nothing to do with me. I ended up jamming with my Great Aunt Mary who was a Ragtime piano player. She actually played a Bar Mitzvah with Jimi Hendrix in Seattle when he was a teenager.
I actually sat in on a lot of blues dates with older artists when I was a kid. Then, when I was in my teens, I started sitting in with my first true mentors – Chuck E. Weiss, J.J. Holiday, and Joe Sublett. They opened up a whole world for me to learn and grow in. Hell, I didn't even have a date until after High School but I had already played music with Hubert Sumlin, Bruce Springsteen, and Gregg Allman.
antiMusic: You grew up down the street from Booker T. Jones (Booker T & the MGs). What effect, if any, did that have in your musical direction?
Darin: He lived across the street from me when I was a boy. My mom actually gave piano lessons to his daughter. How's that for strange shit? He never knew it, but I used to sneak up to the side of his house and sit on the ground outside of his home studio. He was always in there playing some kind of music. I fell in love with the complete and utter soul of his B3 organ. That sent me out on a quest that resulted in a life-long passion for classic soul and R&B – Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Syl Johnson – everything Stax/Volt and Motown from top to bottom.
If I ever see Booker again, I can honestly say that I owe him for almost everything I am as a musician. It's funny because he has no idea. I'm just a fan who had his ear to his wall – literally.
antiMusic: When did you know that you wanted to do your own material and what were your early recordings like?
Darin: I started writing songs when I started singing which was in my late teens. I wasn't very good, but I was determined and I had nothing better to do. I never really formally practiced guitar, banjo or singing. I just played and sang –a lot. I've just progressed from sheer persistence and stubbornness.
My early recordings were as horrible as most recordings by most everyone else. I once heard Carlos Santana say that when you sit down to play your guitar, you sound like all of your influences for the first 45 minutes. After that, you start to sound like yourself. Well, my early recordings went on for the longest 45 minutes of my life.
antiMusic: There is a lot of excellent slide and banjo on your tracks. Tell us how you got into both and when you feel you were able to achieve the sound of each that you heard in your head.
Darin: A dear friend of mine named J.J. Holiday first turned me on to early American, pre-WWII blues. That, of course, included the slide guitar and banjo. J.J. was never a teacher in the formal sense but I spent most of my free time watching him play and picking through his record collection. I learned a great deal from him and the music he gave me to listen to.
The only banjo I've ever owned is a 'K' banjo from the 1970's. It's a clunker but it has a lot of songs in it. I still use it. Basically, I play a form of claw hammer banjo that is combined with my thumb & finger guitar style. I'm a raw player.
antiMusic: You've got a unique guitar sound. What do you play and how do you tweak things to get your sound?
Darin: My main guitars are a hybrid resonator style guitar (Silver), a 1960's Stella Harmony (Mighty Steed), a 'K' banjo (Baby K), and my Echopark Guitars Nashville Tele (The Bastard). I only play Echopark electric guitars now. No electric guitars have ever felt absolutely perfect in my hands until now and they have tone for days.
I prefer older acoustic instruments to newer models because the tone seems to sound more honest to me. They're always more difficult to play and you have to wrestle with them to get where you're going but it's always worth it in the end.
I use a few simple pedals like a Tube Screamer, a modded RAT, and a variety of vibrato pedals through a Fender Deluxe amp.
Honestly, other than my guitars, everything else can vary based on what is available to me at any given time. I've never felt any allegiance to guitar gear (with the exception of my Echopark guitars). Whatever helps me get the sound I'm looking for at the moment has all of my love.
antiMusic: Your debut record was 2006's 20 Scarlet Monkeys, an amazing record. It was a labor of love, mostly recorded by you on your own. What are your thoughts in retrospect about the disc and are you still in touch with the material or have you moved past it?
Darin: That album was recorded by me and my wife/partner Tiffany Winget in 2006 - one microphone, some guitars, and a digital recorder. We fought the entire time and I always lost. That's why it's a good record! She really is the better half of me as a person and as an artist.
Those songs were as raw and honest as anything I'll ever do – from core to execution. I am still playing many of them with my band now. They've been fleshed out a bit but they still mean the same to me as they did then.
antiMusic: The video on your website of "New Year's Prayer" is amazing. Describe your effects-setup to allow you to perform that.
Darin: I was invited to perform at a Jeff Buckley tribute concert that his mother Mary put on at The Key Club in Los Angeles. I showed up with my resonator guitar and a Line 6 DL4 pedal. I used the pedal as a looping devise and played through whatever amp the sound person plugged me into when I stepped on stage. It was all really stream of conscious. I like it that way but that night really pushed my boundaries. I didn't even remember the words until they popped off my lips.
antiMusic: You've hinted at an upcoming multi-media live show that is described as a swampy blues-rock opera. Can you give us any info about what you mean by that?
Darin: It is based on an original story by Tiffany. She and I are currently hard at work on it. All I can say is that it will turn the ground upside down and so on and so forth. Stay tuned……
antiMusic: For the past while, Los Angeles has had Darin Bennett to itself. Can we expect some touring in 2012?
Darin: We will most definitely be touring in 2012 but no dates have been finalized. Just send us plane tickets and we'll play just about anywhere. We're whores when all is said and done. We just love doing what we do like every other self respecting musician.
antiMusic: Anything else about you or your music that was not asked and you would like to mention?
Darin: I've given my entire life in pursuit of bettering myself as an artist in every respect. I only hope that the day I finally check out of this life, I can look in the mirror and still be proud of what I'm doing. If not, well, f*ck it. I'll be dead.
Morley and antiMusic thank Darin for taking the time to do this interview.
Copyright 2018. Darin Bennett (BMI). All Rights Reserved.