Interview: Benji Hughes
Fri, 03 Oct 2008 13:13:53
Benji Hughes Videos
"Speak softly and carry a big hook" should be Benji Hughes's motto. The burly singer's soft-spoken nature belies the fact that he can carry a melody to the heavens and back. The man knows how to write a catchy tune, and his two-disc debut album, A Love Extreme, is packed full of them. On the album, the Charlotte, North Carolina native muses upon hipster parties, Flaming Lips shows, weirdo neighbors and "Hollywood" girls, with a certain panache that few of his contemporaries can cop to. He's clever, insightful, intelligent and sensitive—quite a combination for a rocker. But, he does rock, and that's the bottom line.
Sitting in his record label's conference room, Hughes is quiet and pensive. However, he comes to life once his music or Los Angeles are brought up. "I love L.A. It's so great. There's just the best random stuff. Look out. There's this cat that rolls around, and he makes the most out-of-control tamales. It'll be 1 in the morning, you're having drinks, and you'll be like, 'Man, it sure would be nice to have something delicious now.' Then here's this cat with a cooler full of kickass tamales. It's like, 'Yes, this is right." That does not happen everywhere [Laughs]." Through his soft Southern drawl, Hughes gave ARTISTdirect an exclusive interview about kickass tamales and much more.
You spent a lot of time here doing the record. Do you feel like it's a second home?
I've been coming out here for years working on stuff. I've lived here for a few years. I go back and forth so much that it feels comfortable to be here. I like getting the different vibes out here. Once I get here though, I feel like I never get to stay long enough.
Why did you choose to do a double album?
We worked on the record for about three and a half years. When it was time to put it all together, we didn't want to leave out too much. There are tracks on there from when we started right up until the end. It just didn't seem right to leave out too much because it represented where we were when we began all the way through until now. You don't want to put out a record that's like, "That's where I was two years ago." You want it to be as current as it can be. Narrowing down that set of songs to half of what it is wouldn't have felt right. It just seemed like the right way to do this. I can't say I set out to do that, but by the end, that's the way it was.
Is there a reason for putting some songs on disc one and others on disc two?
If I was going to pick one CD to throw on at a party, I'd put the first one on. It was put together where there is a slow jam on it at the end, but tempo-wise, it's not that slow. It flows nicely, and it's upbeat. The disc has good vibes. It's about half-an-hour long. It's fun.
You can put the album on and enjoy it at a party or listen to it alone. Songs like "You Stood Me Up" and "Why Do These Parties Always End the Same?" are great. Would you say they're particularly L.A.-based?
I can dig that! I wrote those songs in L.A. so it makes sense.
You capture the way people act out here with that quirky, flaky sensibility.
There's so much going on out here. It's always like, "Hey, look at that! Oh, what was that? What just happened?" You know? [Laughs] I can understand how a person could get distracted fairly easily.
"Tight Tee Shirt" also has a Los Angeles vibe.
I like that one too. Tight tee shirts are cool on babes [Laughs].
There are too many dudes wearing them out here though.
[Laughs] Whatever, it's fine. I'm not into it as much as I am with the girls in the tight tee shirts.
Does songwriting come naturally for you?
Yeah, I feel like I've got a knack for it. It's something that I definitely work on. I've worked on it for a long time. I'm not writing a song every day. It's not like that. I don't have 700 songs lying around, and I don't write three songs a day and all that jazz. I wait for something to really hit me. If I feel great about it, and I think that someone would enjoy listening to it, then I'll try to make sure it's as sweet as it can be. But I never know when it's going to happen.
You create the whole musical vision, right?
I worked on this record with Keefus Ciancia, a great friend of mine, and Gus Seyffert Keefus and I wrote a lot of the songs together, so there's a lot of him in there. It's the two of us together making this thing go down. Then you bring in these great musicians to play on your stuff and it adds an extra little something else, so it's not just Keefus and I. I like when people come in, and they're doing their thing. That's definitely what's great about having people come in and play on your stuff. You don't have to tell them, "Do this, or do that"—unless you need to because they're totally hating it [Laughs]. Then you might just be like, "Maybe you want to come back another time."
Where did the album title, A Love Extreme, come from?
John Wilson and I were talking on the phone one day. Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin got together and made an album called A Love Supreme, and they're doing John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. John [Wilson] and I were laughing about it because it's Mahvishnu Orchestra's John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. They're all tricked out spiritual and stuff. They're talking about having dreams about each other and saying they had to record together because they were having dreams about each other. It's just kind of funny. I'm not dogging them out or anything. I'm just saying it's funny and trippy. Anyway, somehow A Love Extreme came out as the title because I'm extreme and everything's extreme—well, certain things are more extreme than others. It just came to me, and it just seemed perfect. I was like, "That's totally what we're calling the record, A Love Extreme." It's funny, and sweet.
It feels like a very personal record for you.
Oh definitely. There is a theme there. I don't want to say anything about it. Maybe it's love [Laughs]. There is something that the whole thing's all about. It's the same thing in a few different ways, but everything is geared around this. Nobody would do anything if it wasn't for other people. Why do you care about getting anything done? Girls are pretty much the reason why anybody does anything as far as I'm concerned. What else is there to worry about?
It seems like these songs could've happened to you the night before you wrote them.
Maybe they did. At the end of the day, you make music so people can enjoy it. It makes me feel really good when people enjoy it because that's what it's supposed to be. It's like, "I did something sweet. Awesome." People like to have fun. I like to have fun. We have that in common. When we all get together, it's a blast.
What's the live show like?
There's no set list. We just vibe it out and see what's going on. We don't practice or have a set list. We just play the songs. My guys are great players, and we don't have to think too much. It's totally rad.