Nona Hendryx - Tea Party / When Love Goes to War (2012)
This is JD Doyle and welcome to OutRadio. Well, I bet many of you remember Nona Hendryx. Her career goes way back. In 1962 she was part of the girl group The Bluebelles, and their first hit that year was the infectious "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." Their name was later changed to Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles. Yes, that Patti LaBelle. They did fairly well in the 60s but times changed and so did they, becoming the trio Labelle, that gave us the smash hit "Lady Marmalade," in 1975. Hendryx went solo in the late 1970's. She's always continued to work, but her new CD is amazingly her first in 23 years, and it's quite political, as you could hear with those songs "Tea Party" and "When Love Goes to War." The CD is called "Mutatis Mutandis," and I had to look that up to find it's Latin for "changing [only] those things which need to be changed." Well, Nona Hendryx just turned 68 last month and she doesn't need to change anything.
Up next, what I think is an exquisite album. It's by Stephen Leonard and is his second, and is called "His Fire." It's one of those albums that seem like a total work of art, so it's difficult to pull pieces out of it, but I'll try, by giving you its first and last track. Here are "Free" and "I'm Fortified."
Leonard - Free / I'm Fortified (2012)
I purposely followed those two tracks by Stephen Leonard with the person who played keyboard on them on his CD, and that would be Ian Wilson. He's another Chicago artist and he had his own release this year, called "This Is Water," and from it I took "Bad Ideas Work Best."
Coming up now, this woman has been making great music for a long time. Here's Jen Foster and "You Stayed."
Foster - You Stayed (2012)
Also in that set were Jess McAvoy, from Australia, with "Bring Down the House" and then Jennifer Corday did exactly that, singing "Weekend Warrior."
This year I was honored again to be one of the judges for an awards competition sponsored by the folks at RightOutTV, and I know those folks. They are Marlee and Tully of the duo Sugarbeach. Last year it was solely a video competition but this year they added two categories for songs, not considering whether or not they have videos. So, an important one is Song of the Year, and I could not be in more agreement with the five songs who made the finals. As I write this, in mid-October, I have no idea who I am going to vote for on top. I've written about every one of them in my blog. But you get to hear all five of them, Matt Fishel, Kat Devlin, Kevin Wong, Ezra Axelrod and Darren Ockert.
Fishel - Behind Closed Doors (2012)
And that was quite an international bunch. Matt Fishel sang "Behind Closed Doors." He's from England. Kat Devin, singing "Dear Emmi," is a New Yorker now living in California. Kevin Wong, who sang "Baby Grand," lives in Toronto. Ezra Axelrod, telling us about that "American Hotel," is from Oregon and now lives in London. And Darren Ockert sang "The Rain From London, " but he now lives in Florida. The results were announced on October 29th, so you can find out who won in 12 other categories at RightOutTVAwards.com. But for Song of the Year, the winner was:
Fishell and "Behind Closed Doors"
Congrats to all the Winners!
This is JD Doyle, and I've got time for one more on this hour of OutRadio, but it's only Part 1, so I hope you stick around, especially for Parts 3 and 4. That will be the first two-hour interview I've done on this show. Now I didn't plan on it being two hours, but when I got the interview, with UK artist Declan Bennett, I was so impressed that I just couldn't help myself. I'm closing this segment with an act I learned about being a judge for the RightOutTV Awards. The act is called Nash Satterfield, and while it sounds like a person, it's a band, out of the Boston area, led by Martha Bourne. The song is "Down Yonder."
Nash Satterfield - Down Yonder (2012)
Tye Blue - A Song From Heaven Down to Earth (2012)
This is JD Doyle and I'm starting off Part 2 of OutRadio in kind of a mellow mood, with a local Houston performer, Tye Blue. The track "A Song From Heaven Down to Earth" is from his brand new demo CD. And I'm keeping things mellow with a song from the new EP by Jason Gould, who of course you know is the son of Barbra Streisand. He has a gorgeous voice, and the song I picked is "Morning Prayer."
Gould - Morning Prayer (2012)
Following Jason Gould was an artist new to me, and I love, love her voice. That was Krystle Warren with two tracks from her latest CD, "Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace," and you heard "Forever Is a Long Time" and "You Can Take Me With You."
Social Scene - I'm Still Your Fag (2006)
Now, I don't usually play eight minute songs, but that one just called me to it. Lillian Allen is generally called a dub poet, and she's been at it a long time, releasing her first album in 1983. From her brand new release, called "Anxiety," was the track "Toronto."
This next one is definitely acoustic. It's by Brent Calderwood and is called "My Man Friday."
Calderwood - My Man Friday (2012)
You likely know that song, as over the last year it and its video have been pretty visible, and a couple folks have asked me if I knew about it and why haven't I played it. Yup it's been on my gaydar. But it's by a straight UK artist named Cosmo Jarvis, and he wrote and conceived the video idea and starred in it, and it of course is called "Gay Pirates."
Last month Matt Gold slipped me some tracks from his debut CD "Drown Before You Swim," so I got to play those early. Well, the CD is now released and here are two more from Matt. One, called "Oh, Joe" is from the album, but I couldn't resist playing one I grabbed from his website, a live version of the old standard "Come Rain or Come Shine." I think his arrangement of it is just wonderful.
Gold - Oh, Joe / Come Rain or Come Shine (2012)
And that was "Real Men," by Joe Jackson, but that wasn't his hit song version from 1984. Instead I found a live concert take from 1991, with strings and all that stuff.
I'm going to go back to 1980 for this next artist. Bibi Andersen is a trans singer, actress and model from Spain, and her only full album, a self-titled one, contained a couple tracks that caught my ear, starting with "Girls Will Be Boys."
Bibi Anderson - Girls Will Be Boys / I'm Into Something Good (1980)
That was obviously still Bibi Anderson, and I bet you recognized that last song. It's been covered many times, but Herman's Hermits had the hit with it in 1964. It's a Spanish language cover of "I'm Into Something Good."
This is JD Doyle and thanks for sticking with me. I'm down to the end of the second segment, and I've not played any dance music yet. I'm about to fix that. Here's a lad from Sweden who calls himself Bimbo Boy. From his 2005 EP "Je Suis Une Superstar" is the title track and one much more explicit named "Make You Come."
Bimbo Boy - Je Suis Une Superstar / Make You Come (2005)
Declan Bennett - Love Wins (2011)
This is JD Doyle with OutRadio and that was Declan Bennett doing the song "Love Wins" from his latest CD, "Record: Breakup." I've been following his music for years and have wanted to interview him just about that whole time. And this month the time was right, as I've just captured, I think, a wonderful interview with him. You know I was impressed, as this is the first two-hour interview on OutRadio. He is so, so very interesting, but I think you'll find that out for yourselves.
Let me give the quick bio. His website says he's a "singer songwriter who writes candid pop music for a generation steeped in therapy and conversation." I can see that. His lyrics are engaging, sometimes quite raw in their emotions, and they just draw you in. And he's had quite a diverse career, gaining initial fame in a UK boy band, that garnered five top 20 singles, and then he was in the London musical "Taboo," which was by and about Boy George. He's toured in this country in the role of Roger in "Rent," and later appeared in Broadway performances of that show, and he also was seen on Broadway in Green Day's musical "American Idiot." All the while he's released three full albums since 2005. We'll get to all that, but I began by asking who his musical influences were growing up.
Declan Bennett: When I was growing up, when I first started getting into music in kind of the late 80's I used to be privy to a lot of the stuff that my dad used to listen to. He used to listen to a lot of Tracy Chapman and Phil Collins and Steve Winwood and Genesis and Eric Clapton. He was quite into those quite lyrical, kind of rock, slightly pop kind of sound, and so I grew up listening to all of that stuff, and I still kind of do to this day, which is kind of nice, whenever I want to go back and listen to music that I haven't heard for a long time I can put on an old Steve Winwood album it just brings back so memories of growing up as a kid.
JD: Well, almost right away in your career, you went a different direction, you found yourself in a boy band.
DB: I found myself in a completely different place. Yes I did, well, maybe Genesis were a man-band, you know, I just wasn't old enough to be in Genesis so I felt, well I'll do the next best thing, and be in a boy band.
JD: Talk a bit about Point Break, the name of that band.
DB: Point Break...well, basically when I was 18 I had this chance meeting with this woman who was a manager and she was looking for a third person to join her band, called Point Break. They'd already been going for a couple years. They'd been touring and they'd been playing music, and they'd recently signed to Warner Music, maybe a year before. So they were like good to go. They were about to release their first single and it was all kind of ready, ready to go. And then one of the band members got really sick and he couldn't stay in the band, and they kind of went on this mad search for somebody, and I ended up meeting her. And it happened so quickly. I was living in Coventry with my mum and within...I think I met this woman and meet the two boys in the band, maybe on the Friday and maybe on the Monday I was moving to London. And I just finished college and it was a really surreal kind of experience. And I think we released our first single maybe a month after I joined the band. It was really quick. It was all, already to go.
And then I stayed with the band for two years, and we did a lot of touring, and we released a bunch of singles and we had an album out and toured on it as well. And then they started talking about a second album, and I just thought...I was starting to write my own music at that point, and I was trying to wrap my head around the guitar, and I realized that the music that I loved and the music that I listened to, and the music that I wanted to write, was a far cry from the boy band world of music, so it seemed kind of useless to me to carry on and put energy into something that I didn't believe in.
JD: It was certainly great experience though.
DB: It was incredible, and that was the hardest thing, because we really did have an incredible time, and when you're eighteen years old and you get to tour the world, and see all these amazing and incredible parts of the world, and be on stage almost every night, and the performance aspect was amazing, and I really did have a good time, and I look back on it with real fondness.
JD: Do you have a favorite Point Break track from the album?
DB: I think my favorite track would probably be "Freakytime," just because that term is kind of ridiculous, and I think it was our most liked single of them all, and also I have really cool hair in the video, so I was kind of happy about that.
Point Break - Freakytime (2000)
Boy Band Survivor
JD: Were you out of the closet when you were in Point Break and if so was it known to the public?
DB: Ah, no, I wasn't. I came out when I was 19, and I joined Point Break obviously when I was 18, and what happened was I think after about a year of...you know, we'd been touring a lot and obviously being a boy band we had tons of girls who'd come up to us, and every time we had interviews they were, like, "oh, what's your favorite kind of girl, and what's your type, and da da da." Throughout all this I was realizing I was gay and I wasn't out yet. The other two lads in the band knew. I'd already told them, but I started to kind of get a bit pissed off with just being asked these stupid questions about girls all the time. So, I told the boys in the band, and I told my management, and then I went to Warner Music and said to my A&R guy, "listen, I don't want to answer these questions anymore. I'm not going to lie, and I just want to be honest about who I am." And he said said to me, "I don't care what you are. I don't care if you're gay or straight or whatever, but if you want to make an impact...you know, have big impact when you come out, rather than you releasing a statement publicly now," he said, "I would wait until you are much bigger, then when you come out it will have a much bigger impact." And I thought it was a quite interesting piece of advice, actually. I never want to deny who I am and I haven't been for everything I've done. There's also something to be said for once you reach a certain point of fame or notoriety, to then use your sexuality and make a public statement about who you are, and have an impact on a community...it can also be a quite positive thing, you know. Does that make sense?
JD: So, did you take his advice?
DB: So, I did. I didn't make a statement, because actually about six months later I decided to leave the band, so I wanted a big change in my life anyway, and I grew tired of being in the band, and I wanted something different. And I think when I left the band, that was when I really started to feel really comfortable with who I was and being gay, and then all of my family and all my friends knew. And it was actually a really kind of nice, refreshing new start to a new beginning.
JD: Well, from the boy band you went on to a different success. You were in the original cast of "Taboo"
DB: Yes, that came about in an extremely random way as well. I left Point Break and I went to work in a cafe, on Portobello Road, in London, where I went from one end of the spectrum from being in a boy band to serving people tea in a cafe, but it felt good, it felt nice to kind of come back down to earth a little bit. And then I went to an open audition for "Taboo," and I got the job. I went in and they called me that evening and said, "we'd love to have you in the show," so then that whole kind of world started. And it was amazing. I did "Taboo" for the whole time at the West End. I think we were there for about a year and a half, and then a tour happened after that.
JD: What roles did you play? I understand you played different roles during the run.
DB: Yes, when I started I played this role called Guru Dazzle. He was kind of the Buddhist teacher at the end of the show, when George...the character of Boy George...after he'd come through his drug problem and he decided to get himself back on track. The show ends with him going to India and he meets this Buddhist teacher who starts trying to enlighten him about life. So I played that to begin with, and I was understudying the role of Billy James, who was one of the lead guys, who was the Boy George love interest. My friend Luke was playing it at the time, Luke Evans, and then when Luke left I took over that role and I played that for the rest of the duration.
JD: And I understand Julian Clary was in the cast.
DB: Julian was in the cast, yeah.
JD: I've loved him for many years, please talk about him.
DB: Julian is a blast. He is one of the most interesting, cool, funny, subtle people that I've ever met in my entire life. He has this really amazing kind of...this kind of sense of character. He has this very calm, very centered...he's quite quiet in a lot of ways, and then when he gets on stage and he gets in front of an audience this kind of bigger version of himself comes out, but he's a really, really adorable, super cool guy. I really enjoyed Julian a lot.
JD: I've got a lot of videos of his old TV shows.
DB: Ah, he was incredible...he and Fanny the Wonderdog. He's been around for a long time, and people love him, and he's so unique unto himself. And particularly being that kind of out, gay comedian, in the 80's, was not necessarily the easiest thing to be. He did it with such style and with such humor. I think he's a genius.
JD: And I have to ask about working with Boy George.
DB: And working with George was just a complete and utter treat. He's definitely one of the most interesting people I've ever met. He taught me so much about being an artist and being a creative person, and creating music, and we really bonded. We met obviously within the confines of the theatre world, but both of us have this passion for music. So we really connected on a musical level, which then ended up after the tour had finished and "Taboo" was done. Well, I'd actually joined "Taboo" and George asked me to do a couple of gigs and he asked me to open for him, so I would play before George, which was really cool. And then when "Taboo" was all finished...I'd been in the States for a couple of years, and he asked me to come back to the UK and open for him, on his UK tour, which was a 31-day tour of the UK, and it was incredible. So I played a solo acoustic set before he would come out with his band. And it was incredible, it was great, sharing a tour bus and touring up and down the country with him. He's just one of the most enigmatic, talented writers and performers that I've ever had the pleasure to work with. He's just remixed a new song that I've just written. It hasn't been released yet, but it's on the table for this new music that I'm working on.
JD: Next, I believe, you found yourself in the States, in the role of Roger in "Rent." (done by Adam Pascal in the original show)
DB: Yes, that kind of came about very strangely. After I finished "Taboo" I kind of took a couple years off. I didn't really do anything for a couple years, and I got a phone call one day from an American casting director who had seen me in "Taboo," and had bought a copy of my album, "The Painter's Ball," which is the first record that I released under the name Sumladfromcov. He gave me a call and he said, "Listen, I saw you in 'Taboo' and I'm one of the Associate Directors of 'Rent' in the States, and we're looking for more people to play and you'd be great for it, and there's tour going on now. Are you interested?" I said yes, cause I'd seen "Rent" when it had come to London, when I was like 17, I loved it. I thought it was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. And I loved the music, and I love the whole story and passion behind it. Next thing, I auditioned for them in London, and they flew me to New York, to sing for the producers in New York, and then they gave me a call and said, "we want to bring you to the States and put you on this tour, playing Roger." So then my life completely changed again. And I ended up here in the States, and I did the tour for a year, and after about nine months they took me off the tour and put me on Broadway, which was amazing. I had a brilliant time in "Rent." It still to this day I think is my favorite piece of musical theatre. I think anyone who has seen that show has been inspired and touched by it. It's just one of those pieces of art that just was always going to create this massive, massive community of people who were kind of obsessed with it, because of the nature and the content of what it was.
That tour was not recorded but here's a live performance of Declan singing one of the main songs from "Rent," "One Song Glory."
Declan Bennett - One Song Glory (2009)
Theo Stockman also sang backing vocals on "Cinema," from "Record: Breakup"
JD: And, there's another show. What was your role in "American Idiot"?
DB: "American Idiot"...I played one of these kids, just a directionless kid who hangs out at the 7-11 every night with his friends, getting stoned and drinking, doing drugs and just being a bit of a mess. It was a real kind of ensemble piece and we all played these different kids who didn't really know what was going on with their lives. Yeah, "American Idiot" was awesome. That was another really cool experience.
JD: You got to perform on the Grammy Awards.
DB: Yeah, that was kind of ridiculous. I don't think any of us expected that we'd be performing at the Grammys, with Green Day, but we did. I'll forever be able to say that I performed at the Grammys, although hopefully it will be for my own music next time.
JD: I think it's just amazing you were involved in such a string of high-profile musicals.
DB: Well, thank you. Yeah, it's not something that I...I've always loved musical theatre since I was a kid. It doesn't...the kind of the arts and the process of music, musical theatre, is actually very similar to me, as going out on stage and playing my own music, the two of them I treat with the same kind approach, in that it's a performance, and you're connecting music to an energy and to a physical presentation of a piece of art. There's not a lot of difference in it for me. They're very, very similar. Which I love, so I think that's why I've always enjoyed that musical theatre side of things, and I've just been lucky that the shows I've been involved in have been very...quite contemporary, progressive pieces of musical theatre, which suits me. I'm kind of into that.
JD: Has your time in the US changed the way you approach your music and songwriting?
DB: Ah, I don't know...possibly, indirectly, it may have. I think I'm definitely surrounded by different types of musicians here. I hear different types of music than I hear when I'm back in England. Well, if you put the radio on here I'm exposed to different kinds of music than back in the UK, which I don't think is a good or bad thing. But I think when I write music it tends to...I definitely am inspired by the people and I'll get inspiration from all different types of music or something on the TV or any kind of...any kind of art is inspiring to me. So I don't know if the location of somewhere influences directly what you do, but I'm sure it must do to an extent.
JD: I understand you're playing the electric guitar more. Has that changed your songwriting?
DB: That has definitely changed my songwriting. I think over the past year...past couple of years really...probably since when I started "American Idiot" I was seeing all these electric guitars everywhere, and I was like, oh, what does that feel like? Cause I'd been so used to carrying this big wooden acoustic guitar everywhere. The minute you put an electric guitar on it makes you feel really sexy. There's no denying the electric guitar is a really sexy instrument. And I loved it, so I started to write more with the electric guitar and I was introducing more guitar pedals and noises and sounds, and I think my writing over the past two years...for the first three albums that I put out I was coming from a very lyrical place, where I felt like I had to get these words out of me, these words out of my head, I have to say this, and I wanted to say this, and there was no getting away from...the lyrics were the focus of the music.
And now that's flipped. And now my approach to songwriting recently has been more about the music, and so now I'm listening to music in a different way, and I'm starting to create music first, and feel what the music feels like, and be like, oh, how does this feel to me, and what does it make me want to do...does that sound make me want to dance...does that sound make me want to cry...and then I start folding the lyrics into the music.
JD: So will your next album be quite different and are you working on it already?
DB: I am working on it already, and it's going to be very different. I have introduced...once I bought this electric sound in, I went even further, and I started buying these little gadgets and pads, and I started using some electronic music software, and I've been introducing a much more electronic sound, with beats and blips and noises and so I'm now trying to take. When I was young I lived in London, I was a big club kid. I used to go out to clubs quite a lot. I was a big fan of house music. I really liked house music and how that made me feel. But it was a really weird kind of dichotomy as I would be going out to these clubs, and I'd be dancing until all hours of the morning, for house music, and then I would go home and write these really kind of intimate songs on an acoustic guitar. It was a really different, a totally different experience, but both were very much a big part of me.
And with this next record that I'm working on what I'm trying to do and trying to create is I'm trying to keep the power and intensity of that intimate, lyrical songwriting style, and then introduce this kind of...these beats and this kind of electronic dance-y kind of feel to it. So I'm taking both of the genres and trying to merge them together.
JD: Is there a fear for an artist who changes his music a little, disenfranchising his former fans?
DB: I think there's definitely a part of you that thinks, wow, this is quite a departure from what I've been doing before, but I think any kind of real artist, the only way that you can keep creating, and keep creating with authenticity is to trust yourself, and if you have this passion and desire to explore a new way of working, then I think you have to respond to that, and you have to do everything you can to be true to yourself and be authentic to your music and your songwriting. And I think in turn if you do that, even if that style of music may not be what a certain likes, I think that they can still accept what it is that you're doing because of the way that you've done it. And potentially they might think, "oh, I really don't like electronic music," but then they hear something and they go, "actually, I really like that." So potentially your helping open the minds of people who may not have been so open to that in the past.
JD: Well, I think an artist really has to create for himself, and then if the audience loves it, well, that's terrific, but the honestly has to be there.
DB: Definitely, I think that's the thing, you have to be honest and whatever form that takes. I think what defines me as an artist is my songwriting. I think that the style and the way that I write songs and things that I sing about, I think that type of songwriting will be with me forever. I think that's what I do, and then the music and the way that it's presented sonically could always be an experiment, but the nucleus of the song is always there, and the drive and the honestly behind what it is that you're doing will always be there.
I'm going to go back in time just a bit for something that may be a surprise to Declan that I found it, as there probably are not many folks who know about this one. He began performing as a teenager, when he was just 15, in 1996. And in 1998, and this was still before he joined the boy band, he was in the National Youth Music Theatre. That year they did a production of the musical "Rock Nativity," which was not officially released, and Declan had the role of Simeon and sang the song "Peacefully."
Declan Bennett - Peacefully (1998)
There you got a listen to a bit of singing and acting by a young Declan.
JD: From listening to your music, and I've been doing that for years, it sounds like you've had some painful relationships. Do you have many songs that are not about heartbreak and infidelity?
DB: (laughs) Well, actually, most of this new stuff has moved on from the heartbreak and infidelity, and I'm finding a different ground and some different experiences to write about. Yeah, I think I just went through...I don't know...I know a lot of artists say this, but you find it easier to write music when you're kind of having a shit time, and when shitty things happen to you in your life the first thing you do is reach for your guitar and it becomes this cathartic experience. I feel right now that I have...I don't really have anything to say about infidelity that I haven't already talked about.
JD: I remember a time when I went through a bad break up and during that time, boy, I acquired a lot of Billie Holiday records.
DB: (laughs) Right, exactly, exactly. It happens and I think a lot of...most songs are about some sort of a relationship and it working or not working. They're just kind of dressed up in a different way.
JD: I want to talk about some of your albums in particular. Sumladfromcov, "Painter's Ball." Tell me about "Faithful Lover."
DB: "Faithful Lover," the song...it's basically...it's about being in a relationship with somebody, and not even like a solemn relationship, there's kind of a humor saying, "I know that you're not the right person and know that we're not going to be together for a certain amount of time, but right now all I want to do is rip your clothes off and just do...things to you, and I don't need you. I know you're not going to be around forever, but just for this moment right now, just tell me that you are going to be, just so I can get my head around you, and enjoy you for this period of time, and then we'll be done.
Declan Bennett - Faithful Lover (2005)
JD: Tell me about "One Step Behind"
DB: Ah, "One Step Behind" I actually wrote about a friend of mine back at home, who is someone I adore, and love. It was one of those kind of taking advantage of you, and taking advantage of the situation and the people around them, and just causing havoc and causing shit everywhere that they go, and expecting other people to pick up the shit after them.
Declan Bennett - One Step Behind (2005)
JD: What I've done for this interview is I've picked two or three songs from each release, and the last one I've picked from "Painter's Ball" is called "3 Words."
DB: "Three Words"...I love that song, I have to say, it's a song that I don't get to play too often for some reason, because it's become old to me now. I wrote it really quickly. I wrote it on a train, coming from Wales back to London, and I was seeing this boy who lived in Wales, and I was just head over heels falling in love with him. And I sat on the train and I wrote "3 Words" all about him, when I was on my way home.
Declan Bennett - 3 Words (2005)
JD: For your early releases you went by Sumladfromcov. What was that about?
DB: That was Coventry, which is the home town where I'm from, and because this was the first album, and it was a couple years after I'd been in Point Break, I liked the anonymity of it, cause at the time I'd written this album and I wasn't really sure how it was going to be received as the first album I'd ever written, on my own, and there was a part of me that liked having this kind of anonymous approach to it, and rather than going by my own name, I just wanted to create kind of a persona, which then with the second album I decided to drop, because it was becoming increasingly difficult for people to find my music...because of the way it was spelled, and nobody could pronounce it. And then I was like...I'm making this really hard for myself and it doesn't need to be hard, and so I was like, let's just get rid of that name, and I'll go under my own name, which was a good decision. Also the kind of nice thing about it is because it was under that different name..."The Painter's Ball," because it was my first attempt really at making music, and I did it on my own and I had a band, but I didn't have any big producers or anything involved. It was very a simple way of making an album. You know, I listen to that and there's a lot of things that I would change, and I think that there's some really good songs on there, but the nice thing now, because it was released under that name is that I can potentially go back and...I've thought a lot about this...about going back and re-recording "The Painter's Ball" under my own name now, kind of redoing it and rehashing it, and making it sound the way I wanted it to.
the very rare "The Kitchen" EP, 2006, generally sold only
at gigs at that time
JD: That would be interesting. I think I may be one of the very few folks in this country to have a copy of your EP "The Kitchen."
DB: I think you probably are.
JD: And it contains one song found nowhere else. Could you talk about "You Got Nothing"
DB: "You Got Nothing"...that is, wow, sometimes I forget about that song. Ah, that was just a really kind of simple...again, a really kind of simple expression of...I don't even remember that I wrote it about anyone in particular, or that it was just kind of this ode to just appreciating the simple pleasures in life, and knowing that you don't have anything, but you actually have everything because of that...you don't need anything to be something. Being something comes from a different place. It doesn't matter what you've got. It doesn't matter what material possessions you've got. It doesn't matter your status, or any of those things. Kind of an ode to those people who live very simple, but really powerful lives, that are kind of the cornerstone of humanity.
And the song "You Got Nothing" from Declan's 2006 EP "The Kitchen," will close out Part 1 of the interview, but please come back for more, as Part 2 will start off with his second album.
Declan Bennett - You Got Nothing (2006)
that's not a tattoo, it's a draw-on version inspired by
Declan Bennett - An Innocent Evening of Drinking (2008)
JD: Well, the next album, this time under your name, was "An Innocent Evening of Drinking." That was 2008, and this is the album when I became aware of your music, and I confess I bought two copies, one for the house and one for the car, so I'd be close to one of them. Is there an overall theme, overall message?
DB: You know, I didn't start out with "An Innocent Evening of Drinking" being the name for the album...I'd been writing these songs and I'd been in a relationship with somebody, and a lot of these songs were kind of coming out of that. Then I wrote the song, "An Innocent Evening of Drinking," and I thought, okay, that's it, that's what this album is about, because just the idea of an innocent evening of drinking is...like, was there ever such a thing as an innocent evening of drinking? It always starts out innocent, and then once people start getting some beers down them and they start getting a bit drunk, then it's kind of about the idea of the truth coming out, that drunken truth. And once people get a few drinks down them they start saying things that they would never say when they were sober.
JD: I got to see you this past Spring in Austin at SXSW. Now I live in Houston, and I'd never been to SXSW, but when I heard you were going to be there, I made the trip.
DB: Great, thank you.
JD: And you sang "Blu Tack." Could you talk about that, and you might need to explain what blu tack is, also.
DB: Sure, so blu tack is...it's this blue sticky stuff that you use to put up posters onto your wall. I think in this country you have white tack. It's like putty, sticky little putty and you put it on the poster, put your poster up on the wall. So "Blu Tack" literally I was sitting in my kitchen and I...this is where I recorded "The Kitchen" EP as well...I was sitting there one afternoon, and I looked up onto the wall and there were all these pictures of me and Dan, this person who I was in a relationship with, and things were kind of on the rocks and things were not great. And I started having these visions of all these pictures on the wall falling, falling down off the wall, one by one, and they were all attached to the wall with blu tack, so this song "Blu Tack" was born. It was this idea of you can keep trying to patch the things and you can keep putting these pictures back on the wall, but eventually the blu tack, or cello tape, or whatever it is, it's not going to last. It's like putting a band-aid over something. It's only going to last for a certain amount of time before the reality of the situation shows.
Declan Bennett - Blu Tack (2008)
JD: Please tell me about "Lessons in Love"
DB: "Lessons in Love"...it's being in a relationship with somebody who is more advanced than you at that time, and this person is making requests from you, and being like: I need you to love me like this, and I need you to love me with this kind of intensity, and I need you to do this, and I need you to do that, and saying, if you don't hurry up and figure out how to do that, then this isn't going to work. And you want to be able to love that person in the way that they want to be loved, but you can't do that, you can't always...you can't change the rules of your heart, and you can't change the way that you love people. Sometimes you meet people and they are ready to get married and move in and start having babies, and other times you don't. So it's that whole idea of when I do learn to love you, or when I finally figure out how to love you, someone else is going to beat me to the place, cause I'm not on the same level as you right now.
Declan Bennett - Lessons in love (2008)
JD: Talk about the song "Vessel."
DB: "Vessel" is...in a similar way to "Lessons in Love," it's about being with somebody for the wrong reasons, and knowing that you're with that person for the wrong reason, you feel very stagnant in your approach to the relationship. The first lyric I wrote when I wrote "Vessel" was...I had this line in my head of "my baby's made of blood, it's a shame that I'm made of stone." And it's that idea of somebody being invested in this relationship and they feel it in all of their body, and it's a very physical, emotional, spiritual experience. And then the other person just feels very flattened by it and feels like you're made of stone. Yeah, that's pretty much what "Vessel's" about.
Declan Bennett - Vessel (2008)
JD: I love to talk about hard-to-find songs, and in your "Live at Rockwood" concert you sang the song "Yesterday." Could you talk about that one?
DB: Yeah, that's funny, somebody mentioned that song to me the other day, because they had that download, and since I changed the website and they lost their CD and they're like "we don't have that song anymore, can you give it to me again." "Yesterday" I wrote...this is actually kind of a weird story...I had this dream one night and basically I was dreaming about my funeral, and I remember it was in this church I used to go to when I was a kid, and I was lying in this casket, and it was an open casket, which is weird because we don't have open caskets in the UK, not in the church, they're always closed. So, it was an open casket and, I don't know if you're familiar with Damien Rice, who is a singer-songwriter...well, anyway, this girl who used to sing with Damien, she was his backing singer. Her name is Lisa Hannigan, and she's somebody you should check out. She's a really beautiful, incredible artist, and her voice is gorgeous. So, in this dream, she was walking towards my casket singing "Yesterday." And I'd never heard the song before ever in my entire life. I thought I was dreaming and she was singing this "yesterday, you're always there, yesterday." And this melody was like seeping into my subconscious. And she walked toward this casket and she pulled open my chest, and on the inside of my chest was a comic book story of my life, which was really odd. And then I woke up and I was singing this song in my head, and so I reached over and grabbed my Dictaphone and just started humming and singing the things that I could remember. And that's how that song was born.
JD: Wow, you wrote it in a dream
DB: Yeah, I literally wrote it in a dream. It was so strange, really odd. It's the only time that's ever happened. It was kind of a surreal experience.
Declan Bennett - Yesterday (2009)
JD: Your latest album is "Record: Breakup" and I think that's a masterful album.
DB: Thank you very much.
JD: I want to hear about "Kidnapped."
DB: The whole of "Record: Breakup" is...well, I designed it as a concept so it was supposed to be listened to all in one piece, like it was one song, and so it has a very specific journey that runs through it. And "Kidnapped" is the second song on the album and it's suggesting this idea that...it's about someone who is in a relationship with somebody, but they are starting to fall for somebody else. It's that idea of going, I didn't ask for this, I didn't ask to fall in love with somebody else, I didn't...I'm in this relationship with you but now this other person has come into my life and if my heart has a lock and I've got this right, then you must have dropped your key...like, the person you were with owns the key to your heart, but at some point they've come home and they've dropped that key and somebody else has picked it up and it has started to unlock your heart.
JD: That's the line that attracted me to that song.
DB: Yeah, it's that idea of going, this person has this key and this person has this ownership of you...not ownership, not in a possessive way, but this person is yours and has the key to your heart. And it happens all the time. People are in relationships and they don't ask for it, but somebody else comes into their life, for whatever reason, and they fall for this other person, and they realize they don't want to be with the person they are with and they want to be with this new person. And it's quite a difficult scenario for everyone involved, and it takes a lot of strength, a lot of bravery to deal with anything like that.
Declan Bennett - Kidnapped (2011)
JD: I'm going to jump to the middle of the album...I know you're supposed to listen to the whole thing...the song "Cinema" has quite a playful production, what inspired that?
DB: Well, this song "Cinema" is a simple play on suggesting that somebody that you, that you're kind of into, just treats life in this very 2-D, this very cinematic experience, like they're living in front of an audience and everything that they do is all for some sort of publicity and they treat everything like it's a big film. And they really lack any kind of solid ground and foundation in the way that they live. It's all an act, the whole thing is an act. So once I'd written the song and I knew it was going to be called "Cinema" and I thought, it would be really cool to inject certain things from actual movies, and sample some people talking and put them in. So I scoured the internet for ages and I was thinking about all these films that I really liked, and that's how I came up with the three excerpts, my favorite obviously being the Gene Wilder speech from "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Declan Bennett - Cinema (2011)
JD: The song to me that is the most powerful, and maybe a lot of that has to do with it is it has a powerful video, is "Freer." Could you talk about that?
DB: Yeah, "Freer" is a song that I wrote a few years ago, and I actually wrote it on the piano, and I was sitting in my apartment, and I had just...me and somebody I was with had decided to end our, it was a mutual relationship and we decided to end our relationship. And he moved out, and then I sat at the piano in my apartment in mid-town and just started writing this song, and started writing these lyrics and messing about with it on the piano. It's just one of those songs, I was just trying to be really honest about stuff and trying to be really honest with myself, and really honest with people that I've been involved with. And saying, you know what, I've made some really fucking stupid mistakes, and I've done some really stupid things, and I've hurt people, and I'm sorry about it, but I can't change it. I have to accept that I've done that. But honestly the freedom that I was looking for when I was saying that I don't want to be with you, I want some freedom, I want some space...it's just, freedom is just one fucking big waste of space. Because actually the reality of having all that space, having that freedom, is not what I wanted at the time.
JD: The video is incredible, and it must have been wrenching to film it.
DB: It was, yeah. It was a long day. We started very, very early in the day, but I was really excited about it. I was excited that I was making a video for that song in particular, and with the director Dante Russo, who I just think is amazing. He has such a unique and cool vision. Simeon Dante collaborated on the album. We both kind of designed the video and designed the story and how it was going to be about these two guys, and it was basically about this one person sitting in an apartment, on their own, thinking back to the past about this person.
JD: I'm quite pleased that I was the person who suggested that you submit that video to the RightOutTV Awards, and you won.
DB: (laughs) I have you to thank for that. Yeah, that was cool. I wasn't expecting to win at all. I took your word and thought, sure, why not, I'll submit it. And that was a real treat, I was really proud of that.
JD: That was for the Most Moving Video category, and it sure was.
DB: Yeah, cool, well, thank you, cheers.
We'll get to the song "Freer" in a few moments, as I'm using it as the closing song, but I had just a few more questions for Declan.
JD: I gather you're working on your next project, could you tell us about what you think it will be.
DB: Yeah, I actually have, I've got a couple of things that I'm working on. I'm working on doing the next release that I'm going to do, or that I'm hoping to do, is a solo live album, cause amidst of all this me playing electric and me playing all these kind of new electronic things I'm doing, part of me wants to take my favorite songs from the first three records, and go and play them live and do a solo performance of these songs and record it live, and then have that as a new release. Cause I think that the one thing that my albums haven't done is capture the live experience. I'm quite interested in having that as a release.
JD: That would be good. There's lots of videos of you at different venues, and of course they're homemade and the quality is very uneven, and it would be nice to have something more professionally done.
DB: Right, exactly, that's what I'm thinking. So I'm going to try and get that done, and hopefully before the year is out. And now I'm sitting on a bunch, I have these new songs that I've been writing that are more in this kind of electronic world. So right now I have about ten, ten, eleven songs. Honestly I'm just trying to figure out how it's going to be released. I know that it's going to come out next year. I'm toying with the idea of releasing it in three parts. I'm also toying with the idea of releasing twelve singles, rather than a full album. That's basically where I'm at right now. I'm kind of just...I'm collaborating with some people, and obviously Boy George has done this remix of one of the tracks...
JD: I guess there's marketing decisions and there's creativity decisions.
DB: Of course, yeah, of course, and I think the think about just putting a full album out, and then touring and playing it, is you just give it this one shot. You give it your best shot and you hope that people like it and you hope that you'll get some publicity and marketing, and then that's it, the album's out there. So I kind of like this idea of doing it in much smaller chunks, so that eventually it will be a full album, but rather than just release the whole thing at the same time, is to release it in more parts, in pieces that eventually will make up the record.
JD: Well, you've got the songs pretty much figured out, is there an overall message to them?
DB: Ah, there is...I don't know, actually, I don't know that there's an overall message to it. I think that's the thing where I'm at right now. What happens is when you make an album you have this batch of songs, or there'll be one song in particular that will stand out, and you'd be, yeah, that's definitely the crux of this album, of what it is that I'm trying to say, and this idea of the concept of the whole album, so it's very clear to you what the album's going to be called. And this time I'm not so sure. I don't really have a very specific message. I don't have a very specific idea. Like, when I wrote "Record: Breakup" I knew that "Record: Breakup" was going to be about this one particular breakup that happened, that broke all the records in my life. So I knew that from very early on, so the whole shape of the album came from that. Whereas this, this new stuff, because it's being...I'm kind of approaching it from a musical perspective, there's less of a message, and more of a musical journey that's happening.
JD: One of my friends in the UK, online friends, is Steve Osborne, whom I believe you know a little bit. I told him I was going to interview you and he suggested some questions, and here's one that I thought really interesting that he suggested. And I'm going to put it in first person. Do you write songs to expose his demons to the light, or to invite the listener into the shadows?
DB: (laughs) Wow, Steve, just giving me in-depth questions there. Um, you know, I write songs to get stuff out of me, and I write songs because I really enjoy writing, I really enjoy creating words, and I enjoy playing with words, and I enjoy creating stories, these mini little stories that can be put to music. And I think letting the listeners into the shadows or showing the demons into the light, it's anything if those things exist, then it's on a very subconscious level. That's never the driving force behind what I do. There's definitely a cathartic side to it where I'm trying to make sense out of certain things that have happened. There's an idea in my music and in my writing that I'm just trying to be honest about life, and about things that happen and sometimes people make mistakes and sometimes people do stupid things, and sometimes people fuck up. But everyone does it on some level or another, and I think it's that idea of I'll write a song about me being a fuckup in a relationship and me not making the right decision, and just trying to present that in a way and going, I'm just a human being. And I think potentially that people look at that and go, yeah, I can totally relate to that, but I've never heard a song written from that perspective before. They tend to be, like, oh you fucked me over and you did this, and I'm going to...I'll get over you, and I'll get over this. And I tend to be coming from the other side of the spectrum. So yeah, maybe in that way listeners get invited into the shadows, but also to just recognize that we all have those shadows, and none of us are as clean cut and as nice as we pretend to be.
Okay, this is JD Doyle and I thank you for listening to this very special two-part interview with Declan Bennett, and I thank him for the wonderful responses. I've two more questions for him.
What song comes to mind when I ask is there a song that you've written
of which you're the most proud?
while "Record: Breakup" is generally Only a digital release,
As I mentioned, I got to see Declan at SXSW 2012. Here are some snaps...