An Interview with Marco Benevento Before Friday’s Stop at Nietzsche’s

Marco Benevento is coming to Buffalo this Friday for an intimate night of music at Nietzsche’s.  The experimental pianist, who’s known for his engaging live show, will be joined by his band which features Dave Dreiwitz on bass and Andy Borger on drums.  The three were last in the area when they headlined the Night Lights Fall Music Festival this past September and fans of Marco have been eagerly awaiting his return.  Opening up the night will be WeazilDust (Packy Lunn from Jimkata doing a DJ set) and Lazlo Hollyfeld who play regularly in the area and will add to a night of great music.

I got the chance to sit down with Marco and discuss a few things from his upcoming album to his approach to the stage.  Marco is exactly how you’d expect him to be when we talked: personable, genuine, and appreciative of all of the support he’s had throughout his career.  Our talk only lasted a half hour, but the insight into his music and life went pretty deep as his candid answers were anything but rehearsed.

Jeremiah Shea: It’s been a little while, but what was the experience like having Holly Bowling sit in with you on more than one occasion?

Marco Benevento: It was awesome!  The first time it happened, we were playing in San Francisco and the audience was really close to the stage.  The point of the gig was a fundraiser for Bread and Roses and every cent that came into the door went right to that organization.  Nobody got paid for the gig, it was just volunteered time.  Because we were setup so close to the audience, people could actually reach the piano from the audience and press a key down.  I was jokingly saying, “It’s $2 if you want to reach up here and play a couple of keys.”  People just got out singles and were holding money in the air to reach up and play.  Holly just jumped up on stage and I was like, “Oh shit,” but she sat down next to me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a crazy fan and I’m friends with Dan.”  Dan is our sound guy, so I knew it was ok and she jumped right into “Atari.”  We totally rocked out and she knew the changes, and then we recreated that same experience at the Highline Ballroom in NY.

JS: I know you guys are experienced in improvisation, but how was it being the one who was surprised?

MB: Oh it totally made the night, especially in San Francisco.  There were a lot of people who thought it was planned, so it was a cool experience.  I was totally taken back by her knowledge and how she just knew all of the chords and didn’t flinch.

JS: You’re a guy who is always testing new ideas and mixing things up musically speaking.  What new projects have you been working on?

MB: Yeah, my band, which includes Dave Dreiwitz on bass and Andy Borger on drums, went out to Oregon and we recorded with this incredible engineer/songwriter, Richard Swift, who is my age and plays with The Shins and The Black Keys.  He’s just this genius engineer with a studio outside of Portland and we made the record with him that is primarily a vocal record.  It’s all new music I wrote and instead of being instrumental, I put words to my melodies.  We’ve been testing it out a lot lately, but the new record is the biggest project we’ve been working on.

JS: Is the plan to still have the album out this Fall?

MB: Yep!

JS: Now the vocal approach is a little different from what you normally do.  Was that Richard’s idea or yours?

MB: That was my idea going into it and prior to going into it, we had made demos at my place before we went in.  I knew I wanted to do it and I thought I should do it with a guy who has done a lot of that stuff.  It was all something that I had planned out, but I wanted him to be the guy to capture it all.  We did it in three days and it was just a very natural evolution of sound for me.

JS: Have you been tinkering with any new gadgets lately for your rig?

MB: One of my favorite gadgets is my Boss DR-3 delay pedal which was made back in the 70’s or 80’s and is just rockin’. I also have this Casiotone RC-1 which is predominantly featured on the new record.  I sampled a lot of it from the Casio that’s here in my studio and it’s one of the best drum machines I’ve ever heard in my life.  I want to do a whole album with it because it’s that amazing.  The RC-1 has been rockin’ it for me and I never see it for sale or find anyone that knows about it.  It’s just a hidden gem that is so badass.

JS: How was your experience at Bowlive this year?

MB: I’ve been doing that with them for about the last five years and it was great.  They asked me to do it this year, and I said yes, but only if we covered “Soulful Strut” by Young Hault and “The In Crowd” by Randy Lewis. Those are both old school, funky piano jams from the 70’s and were instrumental hits at the time.  It was a lot of fun and they have a great thing going over there.

JS: You had a pretty packed schedule at this years New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  How was that experience as a whole and what was your favorite gig?

MB: I played about 1-4 gigs a day over the course of ten days, so it was busy.  I got the chance to play with George Porter, my old band, and a bunch of other gigs.  It’s always fun to play Jazz Fest.  My favorite gig was probably playing at the Fairgrounds right before Phish with Anders Osborne.  Playing for that many people at the Fairgrounds is a real treat.

JS: You are very personable on stage and it seems as though you like the interaction with the crowd.  How do they shape the show and what does it do for you to have that back and forth?

MB: You get so much energy from the audience.  If there’s 50, 200, or 2000 looking at you, dancing with you, and listening to you, you feel that when you’re on stage.  It’s hard to describe, but you feel that.  You can sense that maybe a lot of them are on acid and it’ll be a weird night or they’re drunk and belligerent, and we play to that.  We never write a set list down, so when we go on stage, nobody knows what’s going to happen.  I try to feel out what the crowd wants to hear next.  You can ignore that feeling from the crowd as a musician and play what you’ve already decided on playing, but I don’t like to do things like that.  I like to go out there and think, “what do these guys want to hear?”  You really get a sense of what the audience wants while you’re out there being focused on.

JS: You’ve said this past year that you wanted to do a residency at the Red Square in Albany this upcoming Fall.  Do you have any details on that?

MB: The last time I played a gig there, I was egging the crowd on and announced on the mic, “Tell the Red Square we want to play here every Saturday in October,” and the crowd went nuts.  What I said leaked online and we had planned to do it, but the promoter had his hesitations.  We were talking about doing it this October, but I don’t think it’s going to happen unfortunately.

JS: What upcoming festival gigs are you most looking forward to and why?

MB: We’re doing this really great one in Oregon, just outside of Portland, called Pickathon.  It’s incredible!  It has such a wide variety of music there and I just really like it.  It’s not every jam band you’ve ever heard of playing there, it’s more a big variety and I just love that!