For many years loyal readers have asked us to interview Brendan Benson, an artist who has tracked his records in a variety of settings, from full-blown studios to home setups. In 2005, Brendan became a member, along with pal Jack White III, of The Raconteurs and their two albums achieved a nice degree of success. But Brendan's solo albums are truly special as well, with clever songwriting and full, interesting arrangements. I met up with Brendan before a show of his in Phoenix, Arizona.
You first popped up on the radar with your One Mississippi record in 1996. Did that start as sessions with you and Jason Falkner [Tape Op #35]?
What was going on before that with you?
I played in a couple bands in high school — mainly punk and hardcore. I think we came up with enough money to go into a real studio and record a couple of songs. Those bands kind of fizzled. I was left with just an acoustic guitar, so I started writing. I can't remember what I was listening to at the time, all I know is that it wasn't punk anymore. The acoustic guitar was dictating to me how to sing. I met a girl and moved to California. Her roommate started dating Jason; we literally met sitting on opposite ends of the couch at her apartment. I had this cassette tape that I carried around with all the things I'd recorded, but I don't think I played him any of my stuff then. He was in Jellyfish at the time and I think he was shocked to even learn that I played guitar. He turned me onto some cool stuff, like The Zombies and Todd Rundgren. I broke up with the girl, moved back home [to Detroit] and met another girl. This time I moved to San Francisco. Jason and I kept in touch. I gave him a call and told him I wanted to see him and he invited me down to L.A. This time I had a cassette tape and I gave it to him. A week later he called me up and said, "Dude, this is cool stuff. Let's do some arrangements and fill it out some more." I was so happy. We holed up in his apartment, drank a ton of coffee and started recording.
He's always buzzing with energy!
He brought out the 4-track — a Tascam Porta One or Two. We recorded six songs like that. Then I gave it to some friends who knew people at record labels. I got signed amidst a bidding war with Virgin, Columbia and Atlantic. I hadn't even played these songs live!
That was a different time for the music industry.
Yeah, money flying back and forth and they were signing everybody!
I heard that they rejected the first version of the record. Is that true?
I kind of did, more so than the record label. I don't know that "rejected" is the right word. I was insistent that Jason was going to produce the record, because it made sense. We went down to [Daniel Lanois'] Kingsway [in New Orleans] to do it and we spent a ton of money. It just turned out to sound more like Jason than it did me. I didn't know what my sound was then and he was a league above me. At the time I just didn't have the confidence to express what I needed from my album. All I knew was...