Benvenue Talk "Jean Elizabeth," Jazz, and More
Mon, 14 Feb 2011 14:33:48
Benvenue slide a little jazz and funk into propulsive hard rock on their debut EP, Jean Elizabeth.
It's a one-two punch of guitars, drums, bass, and vocals that's pummeling and potent. It's also stylistically the NorCal quartet's alone. While heavy music trends endlessly ebb and flow, Benvenue wave the flag for when metal was just a little more daring and experimental. You'll remember the name Jean Elizabeth after one listen to Benvenue…
Benvenue frontman Francis Blay spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about Jean Elizabeth, sneaking jazz influences into their songs, and so much more.
Be sure to catch Benvenue live at The Roxy on Friday February 25 with Warner Drive!
Did you have one vision for the EP as a whole, or did it come together song by song?
After it's done, you'd always like to say you had a complete vision of what you wanted to put out, but that was definitely not the case [Laughs]. Some of the songs that Sid [Slater, guitar] and I wrote are almost three or four years old. We just had to get some of them on the EP, so that's what we did. We had three new songs, but we'd actually made a lot of the other songs in college. It turned out pretty well. The new songs were "No Way," "21/8," and "Be Your Own." "She Did" was an old song. It's funny because Sid and I both went to Berkeley. We were just a couple of students trying to write some songs. After three years, we had the opportunity to go in the studio. Mostly, it was just Sid and I that had these ideas. Sid had a lot of rock influences, and I like jazz. I think you can hear that in the songs we made. For the most part, people have been relating to the songs and digging them, which is great!
Where does that jazz influence shine through the most?
In the bridge of "21/8," there's a part Sid thought about that had a little bit of a jazz influence. The whole EP covers so many influences though—from jazz to hip hop. Tommy Aldo Sonin [bass] has been playing jazz for almost 20 years. That ultimately influences the music a lot.
Jazz has a free form intensity similar to hard rock.
Absolutely! Tommy joined the band eight months ago, and it's helped our music tremendously because he's so on the spot. If we want to jam, he can play anything off the top of his head. It's pretty amazing how he's able to do that.
What's the story behind "No Way?"
That's actually my favorite song on the EP! It was written in Los Angeles about two-and-a-half years ago when Sid and I were living down there. Sid had gone through a really bad breakup. I also related it to my move back to Northern California. The verses are open, and the chorus is strong. I enjoy playing it live. I love this song! It started with Sid's breakup, and we took it from there. It's basically about the breakup. Sid had a couple ideas of what he was feeling. I basically heard what he had to say and related them to some of the things I was going through. I sat down and started writing a bunch of the lyrics, and it came out. I put down what we both wanted to say.
Which artists shaped you?
I've always been a huge fan of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. There's something about Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell's voices. I really enjoy that style of music. The '90s alternative grunge era influenced me a lot. Growing up, my dad's Cuban, so there's a lot of salsa influence. My mom was totally into Rod Stewart growing up too. I'd say my top two influences are Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. You can't go wrong with that at all.
How do you stand out in this scene?
A lot of bands are copying each other these days. It's hard because you hear something you like and you want to play it. Genuinely, we write music that we like and we feel doesn't sound like anybody else. I don't think our music sounds like what's going on right now. Hopefully, people dig it.
Where do you typically draw from lyrically?
I'm a firefighter, and that's my full-time job. Obviously, with my job, you see a lot of things that aren't the best things to see every day. For me, since I live by myself, writing is a way for me to get some things off my chest. I definitely try to put that into some of the songs that have been written. There are good and bad things. I try to express a lot of the things I'm experiencing through the music.
If you were to compare the EP to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
That's a great question…let me think. I'm trying to compare it to one of my favorite movies. I would say Garden State, but that's a little soft. I feel like it doesn't have anything too harsh [Laughs]. I'll go with that though. The reason I say that is that movie has so many ups and downs with triumph, love, and death. For us writing this album it was like that. We had so many ups and downs. There was a time when our bass player went to play for the San Diego Chargers, and we thought we weren't going to finish it. Then he came back, and we finished it. At the end of the movie, the two people ended up being together. That's what happened with us. We actually were able to finish the album.
Have you heard Benvenue yet?