Darin Bennett & The Requiem
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 s---? 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.
Preview and purchase the album:
Visit the official homepage here