CULTURE:A Conversation with Marco Benevento
There are very few moments in which you’ll hear a human voice when it comes to Marco Benevento’s music, but that’s fine. The music is enough, and when there’s a wizard like Marco at the keys, backed up by the equally awe-inspiring rhythm section comprised of Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and Andy Borger (Tom Waits/Norah Jones), you don’t really need much else. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting sucked into a trance when watching the Marco Benevento Trio play live, and it’s even harder to figure out who to focus on.
It’s instrumental music done right, but to avoid being trite it didn’t seem right to ask Marco about the pros and cons of producing music that has a minimalist attitude towards vocals. Instead, the focus was on gear, family, and goats—among other things.
One of the most eye-catching things about your live show, aside from the Tiger mask and dead-eyed bear, has to be your piano. Given the unique nature of your music it seems fitting to have this completely modified piano equipped with pickups, pedals, and other gizmos. What inspired you to flip the conventional upright piano on its head and to experiment with the layout you currently have? Also, does your piano have a name or special moniker you’ve given it?
Necessity inspired me. Those were the sounds I was hearing and making in the studio, so I had no choice but to figure out how to get them when we perform live. My piano's name is Gibbs - says it right by her keys - Gibbs - I bought her for $100 on craigslist! Anyway, yes I have Gibbs running those pedals and amps (with the use of transducer pickups) and I also have a looper that I use to trigger sounds (drum machine loops, mellotron loops and other recognizable sounds from our records) with my feet. I also have a synth and a laptop.
Also what is the origin story behind the Tiger mask and the dead-eyed bear?
The story is go tour in Canada. You can find them for sale at roadside rest stops. Next thing you know, they're an integral part of the show.
As a musician who’s considered one of the most entertaining and proficient piano players around, what are some music-related things you may or may not have an unhealthy obsession with? Are you constantly searching for something when it comes to music, and if so, what is it?
Wow - good question - when it comes to music I feel like you can't have an unhealthy obsession - right? I mean I could say I have an unhealthy relationship with my piano because it hurts my back most times that I have to move it in and out of my van, but even then it kinda feels good.
You’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with some world-renowned musicians. What were some of your most memorable collaborative projects and were there any that brought the giddy fanboy out in you?
Collaborating with John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake) was real cool. We did two days at his studio in Chicago (Soma) and it was real inspiring. Playing and recording with Matt Chamberlain has been real amazing too. No one can play the drums like he does and he can make ANY drum kit sound good! Touring and playing with Mike Gordon (Phish) was real fun too!
In regards to collaborations, the current lineup for the trio is pretty impressive. When I saw you at Mexicali in Teaneck, my buddy (you know him as the Trail Mix Guy*) and I were in awe of both Dave and Andy. How did you end up getting Dave (Ween) and Andy (Tom Waits/Norah Jones) as full-time members of your trio? And what is your favorite part about having them as your rhythm section?
Trail mix guy! Oh goodness please put me in touch with him! I love his work! My favorite part is when Dave plays his cassettes in the green room out of his Panasonic tape deck that he travels with. Oh, I also like when Andy plays the tom toms. So yeah, they're just absolutely amazing players, but they play to the song and that's what we're trying to get across with this band. The songs! But my favorite part of having them as the rhythm section is the hang. It's always fun!
Now you’re a family man, but your job requires you to spend a fair amount of time on the road. I imagine it’s a challenge to find the balance between work and family life. What has the experience of being a father, husband, and touring musician been like for you?
Well I pretty much choose when and where I want to tour. I don't have to say yes to the "boss" because the boss is myself basically. So I cap my tours at 10 or 11 days, mainly because I start to see diminishing returns from the music as well as missing my wife and two kids. So all in all it's pretty manageable. I like to get involved in the community where I live (Woodstock, NY) by recording and playing with a lot of local artists (A.C Newman, Tracy Bonham, Amy Helm) and also being involved with benefits for schools and anti fracking organizations, so it's important for me to be around and much as it is for me to be touring.
Last time I saw you, you were talking about your move to the Woodstock area. What brought you there and what has it been like to live there? How has it differed from where you used to live?
It's the best! We have goats, chickens and bees! And we make real good pickles!
In regards to Woodstock, you were telling me about the goats you recently acquired. Why goats and are there any other plans for other animals or farming endeavors?
Winding this interview down, what are some contemporary acts or artists that you’ve been digging lately? What are some of your all-time favorite artists or bands, and why?
I've been digging Foxygen because they made a freakin genius record with Richard Swift (who we will be working with soon on my next album). highly recommend getting that on vinyl. I really like Superhuman Happiness (on our record label The Royal Potato Family!) Such good party music!
What do you think the cultural function or significance of music is? Basically, why is music important to humanity?
So we can stop talking and listen!
*If you’re curious about the Trail Mix Guy referenced above, the mix Marco is referring to is Lakeside Maple Mix (https://www.facebook.com/lakesidemaplemix)
Words/Interview by Joe Dimeck