This is my interview with Ben Rector on April 11th, 2012 in Cleveland, OH. Ben is an extremely nice guy and an absoluely incredible songwriter. It was a pleasure to meet him. Here are links to his videos for a cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BW_ugyj0lw and his original song “White Dress”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hfJtAe_pCY.
CHECK OUT THIS INTERVIEW ON OUR NEW SITE: http://www.jbrinlinginterviews.com/
Ben: So where are you from?
The Wonders are from there.
Yes they are. That Thing You Do is a great movie, right?
Might be….it’s one of my favorites for sure.
Agreed, how are you doing?
Doing good. It’s the second show of the last leg of the tour so yeah, it’s been going good.
When you prepare to go on tour, what is the one none instrument item that you can’t leave without?
What’s your must have food on tour?
Well I drink coffee when I’m home and on tour as well but I’d probably say, on this tour, we’ve made a habit of eating eggs benedict. Some of the guys in the band and I will wake up for breakfast in a city and just try to find a good breakfast place near there.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
I definitely am not the authority or anything but I would say the one thing that stays true universally is to find your on way to write good songs, no matter what genre it is. No matter what you are looking to pursue, you have to find your own way to do it well.
If you could give yourself advice 5 years ago, what would you say?
I’d say just work on writing good songs. I think that’s most important and then everything else will fall into place when you start to get on that track.
With your newest record, Something Like This, I saw that you produced it as well. How much different did that make the recording process compared to your previous records?
So basically, Something Like This and Into The Morning, I made with the same guy and I really enjoy working with him because usually what happens is I’ll write the songs then come up with some sort of arrangement and parts, and then we’ll both toy with them to figure out what works. It’s definitely a unique process because for better or worse, when you help produce, there is a lot more of yourself on those tracks. Not to say…Chad has an infinite amount of great ideas so not to say it’s just me but for better or worse, a lot of that stuff it feels like it’s on my shoulders.
Do you plan to produce more records beyond your own, I saw you’ve done another with Steve Moakler?
Yeah, that’s something that I really enjoy and I think that if those opportunities continue to come up, I’d definitely be interested in that. I would also say there’s a difference in having an aptitude for something or a readily available skill set. So I’d say that I approach producing the same way as a songwriter. But a big time producer that has worked a ton will definitely have all of the right gear that they have all figured out, I’m not much of an engineer but I feel okay with coming up with parts and arranging stuff. But I feel that if it’s something I really want to do, I need to dive into it a little harder.
You have a song on your last record called “When A Heart Breaks” that talks about learning of a terrible illness, is their someone in particular that inspired that song?
Not really, I think it was just the general feeling and I know a lot of people of been there and fortunately some haven’t. But it was a song just describing how it feels to be truly broken and that’s the point when you know that you need something bigger than yourself. It’s about the point when people say they need Jesus all the time, which I think can be accurate but it’s different when you are really in that position.
Your songs have been featured all over TV, is it still strange to hear yourself?
It is a little bit. When it actually comes on, it’s like ‘wow, that’s a little strange’ (laughs) but yeah, it’s exciting and I’m very thankful for that to have happened a little bit.
What bands or artists have influenced you most?
I would say a lot of older music would be the main influence like James Taylor, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Motown, a lot of the 60s and 70s era, but really like anything I hear becomes a little part of what I’m inspired by. I grew up listening to a little bit of older music and I think that’s still the music I would say is my favorite but I love all kinds of current music and am definitely influenced by a lot of current artists.
If you could co-write with anyone, who would it be and why?
Man that’s tough. I’d love to write a song with any of those people I just mentioned, just to be with them for an afternoon would be awesome. But there’s also a ton of songwriters right now that I really respect. Top 3, I’d say Paul McCartney is one of them, James Taylor is another, and…Randy Newman just because I think he’d be a hoot and I’d love to write with him and see what that’s like.
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
On this tour, there’s a new song we’re playing called “Forever Like That” where I get to play a little bit of electric guitar which I don’t normally play guitar at shows. I actually started out playing guitar which is backwards because most think I would have started on piano as most of my songs are on piano. I studied music theory on guitar so I guess I was a bit more comfortable doing that. I think that’d be my favorite on this tour just because it’s so different and fun to play.
Favorite place to play?
City-wise, I’d say anytime you are in a city that you’d visit if you weren’t playing music, it’s definitely wonderful. So like Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Austin, Kansas City. As far as venues, there are some really great places. I don’t know if I could pick one or even a couple. We got to play to Ryman on this tour in Nashville which has a ton of history there. That was fun. I think anytime you are in a city that you love, it begins to feel less like work and more like a vacation if you have some time to spend.
Who is your favorite band or artist that you’ve toured or played with?
Needtobreathe is up there. They might be one of my favorites. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to tour with people I admire and enjoy being around so a few guys that were mentors to me while I was in college were Matt Wertz and Dave Barnes. I started out when I was in high school and started listening to their music and really loved it and the way they handled their careers so I was able to become friends with them and sort of be on the road with them, I enjoyed that. I’d say if I had to pick one more, I did a tour with Five For Fighting and I loved John’s music growing up.
You’ve done a few covers already with both “Free Fallin’” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” is there a song you plan to cover next?
You know, I have been thinking about that. I know there are tons of people that do YouTube covers all the time and that is really cool. But definitely my primary focus is being an original songwriter and I don’t want to get caught up in that because it is almost its own genre now that people are making careers off of. But I will say that I enjoy doing it so much because it’s like studying a song in an entirely different way, to reconstruct and re-do it the way you would. I’m definitely thinking about that and I love doing it but we’ll have to see when it happens, I don’t know. Maybe this summer.
What’s your greatest memory in music so far?
I did a co-headlining tour with Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors and we had a show in Auburn. There aren’t a lot of venues in Auburn that are very large, not that we need one, bu they were all small enough for us to say we can’t play there. So we played in this field in the middle of the country and initially when we booked it, this person had a farm and had built a stage and it was very interesting. So it was described to us a certain distance away from campus, but it turned out it was 30 minutes from campus with no cell service in the middle of nowhere, you literally had to turn down dirt roads to get there. So we drove there and we were so depressed because we got lost trying to get there in the daytime and we thought that a) no one would find it and b) is going to want to come enough to drive 30 minutes in the dark into the country without cell service and pay money to see us. We were taking bets thinking a dozen people max. would be there. When we came out, it was down a hill, and Drew and I went up thinking that we could welcome people in to thank them for coming. We’re climbing up the hill and when we get to the top, and as far as you can see are bumper to bumper headlights waiting to get in to parking. There was actually like 6 or 700 people there, it was so awesome. It was a beautiful night in the middle of the country and it was a special moment for people and definitely a special moment for us. That’s definitely one of my favorites.
What are your plans for future?
The immediate future, once the tour is done, I’m going to go enjoy being home. We’ve been on this tour since Valentine’s Day so we’ve been out for a while but I’m sure I’ll be playing more shows in the fall and writing a lot this summer. Long term, I just want to keep making music and writing songs for people.