The Raconteurs’ Brendon Benson on inspirations and idols

Felix Rowe catches up with the power-pop veteran and Raconteur about his new album, being a superhero and producing his idols…

brendan bensonYour new album, Dear Life, sees you at your most experimental, particularly with the production. Did you set out that way?
“It happened out of necessity, really. I started in my studio in Nashville, and then after I’d recorded a few songs, I found out that the building was being demolished! So, I put everything into storage and put a little setup in the basement of my house. I couldn’t set up drums anywhere, I couldn’t be loud because my kids were home, so I’d make do with software instruments, where I could get under the headphones. And it was fun. I have a great space now, but I kinda liked it when I was having to make do with all these obstacles.”

Starting writing before you knew you were making an album, did that free up the creative process a bit?
“I think for a while I got lost. I was producing other bands and writing with other people, and I sort of lost sight of my thing. So this record was just an exercise in freeing myself. It’s been a while since I was really proud of a record like this. There were no rules, I wasn’t even necessarily trying to write songs. Good To Be Alive was like an exercise in how to use software drums! The song was almost incidental.”

Do you put a different hat on whether it’s solo stuff or for The Ranconteurs?
“Not at all. When I’m in the throes of writing, I’m almost in a semi-conscious state. I’m not thinking about where it’s going. A lot of times, they don’t amount to anything, you know. Maybe I should’ve had more of a plan, but I prefer it that way. I kinda work myself up into a frenzy and then I don’t eat, I forget about things like going to the bathroom! For me, that’s the desired effect.”

How did you and Jack White start working together?
“We were friends and fans of each other. In Detroit, I’d do a show and do some White Stripes songs and he would play shows and do my songs. We’d hang out and talk about music. One day, I was working on Steady As She Goes, Jack stopped by and we finished it. Then it was like, ‘Great, we’ve gotta do some more!’ We said we should write together for years, but The White Stripes were breaking out and he got really busy really fast, so there wasn’t an opportunity until later.”

What’s next for The Raconteurs?
“With The Raconteurs, it’s like a superhero. You know, ‘Who was that masked man?’, like a Zorro vibe where we just appear and come together to make a record every few years, and then disappear. I kinda like that. Right now, we’re just not in our superhero outfits. I think if we tried to harness The Raconteurs too much it wouldn’t work.”

You produced Robyn Hitchcock’s 2017 self-titled album. Were you already a fan?
“Oh yeah, massive fan of The Soft Boys and his solo work. I’d heard he’d moved to town, but I don’t remember how we met. Every time I see Robyn is like meeting him for the first time. He’s so colourful and animated and funny and clever. He’s got a mind like no other.”

Did you find it weird working with a personal idol?
“I had to check myself a lot, make sure I wasn’t trying to get him to do old things that I liked. I got the credit, but I think I just pressed record.”

What’s your favourite work as a producer?
“I’m very proud of Leigh Nash, The State I’m In. We put so much thought and care into making that record and I think we nailed it. Producing records is a bit like being in the audience, you just try to keep that excitement going.”

What are your thoughts on vinyl?
“I’m so glad that it seems to be here to stay because it’s the best-sounding format there is, hands down. You know, it is absolutely the best fidelity when pressed and mastered correctly. I listened to the last Queens Of The Stone Age album the other day on vinyl and it just sounded so fucking good. There’s something about a vinyl record that kind of lives as you listen to it.”

Jack plays about a lot with the format – vinyl within vinyl, locked groove outros, alternate intros depending on where you put the needle… What do you make of all that?
“I think it’s great man, he’s making it fun. He’s a little bit of a Willy Wonka, a crazy inventor always thinking about these ideas! That’s what I love about Jack.”

Felix Rowe