Benjamin Booker chats with Kevin Cooper about the release of his self-titled debut album, his forthcoming tour, and how he was in the right place at the right time.
Benjamin Booker is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, born in Virginia Beach but now based in New Orleans. A former record store worker, his self-titled debut album was released in August 2014, which he describes as ‘boogie-blues’.
Kevin Cooper caught up with him in California as he prepares for his forthcoming tour of the UK. This is what he had to say:
Hi Benjamin how are you?
Hi Kevin I’m doing great.
How is life treating you?
It’s good here in California (laughter), we have just played a Festival here yesterday so it’s good; it’s a lot of fun. It’s great being able to hang out with friends.
How did you get started in music?
I guess I started playing the guitar when I was 14 years old, and then a couple of years ago I wrote a few songs and then picked it up from there (laughter).
Who were you listening to when you were growing up?
When I was a kid I loved punk and the blues and stuff. I also listened to a lot of Blind Willie Johnson and T Rex too.
Picking up on that you couldn’t really get two more diverse acts as Blind Willie Johnson and T Rex could you?
I know what you are saying Kevin but it’s really not that crazy (laughter). I have always thought of T Rex as being pretty bluesy. You take a listen to Lean Woman Blues, that’s a blues song (laughter) a lot Marc Bolan’s songs are blues songs.
You have based yourself in New Orleans, how is that working out for you?
I really like it down there; it’s a small town and because of all of the musicians down there, it has a good vibe to it and I think that I am going to be there for a while.
How did you, Max Norton (drums) and Alex Spoto (bass) get together?
I met Max when he was growing up in the same town that I grew up in. I had heard that he was playing music and he sent me a message and so when I went home to visit my parents during the holidays we played a couple of shows together. They worked really well and they were the first electric shows that I had ever played. From the beginning everything worked out really well. Last summer I went back to Florida and stayed there for a couple of months and I bought him back with me (laughter). Max had been playing in bands with Alex and so I asked him if he would like to join us and so Alex started playing bass with us in April. It just worked out really easy I guess. I had only played with one drummer before, and then I met Max and yes, everything just worked out really well.
You have recently played at the Newport Folk Festival, how was that experience?
It was a lot of fun Kevin, but the only problem was that we were only there for like four hours (laughter). We were doing the Jack White shows at the same time so we were like in a little car driving around so we were only in Rhode Island for twelve hours and then we had to leave. Newport is great, I guess that I knew a lot of people who were playing this year and it was just fun to see everybody. Newport has to be the most relaxed Festival in America; it’s very small and so as you walk around you will always see somebody who you know every couple of minutes so it’s nice.
Your music has been described as Blues-Boogie-Soul, how would you describe your music?
My music is like every type of music that I listened to whilst I was growing up. I have never tried to be a blues musician you know, and I don’t think that the record is a blues record, but there is some blues in it. I also listened to a bunch of folk, jazz, shoe gaze and punk so I wouldn’t like to describe it as any one thing in particular. It’s a mixed bag Kevin (laughter).
I have to warn you that the UK press will want to pigeon hole you Benjamin.
I know, everybody does, and all the press like to do that. But hey, that’s fine too. It makes it easier I guess for people who are looking for new music as they can see what it is really quickly and then go for it. So why not put me down for boogie-blues Kevin (laughter).
You recently released your self-titled debut album, how has it been received?
I think that it’s been received well; it’s been so weird I guess. We have been out on tour playing shows everyday and so for us nothing has really changed except that the shows have gotten bigger and have been selling out. I have noticed that people know the words to the songs now and I guess that the shows have gotten better. But regarding the record itself, those are really the only things that have changed. There are now people saying that they like the album but I haven’t really had the chance to look at anything that people are saying about the album yet. We have just been too busy travelling on the road.
I have to tell you Benjamin that I have been playing the album for a few days now and I have to say that it blew me away.
Wow Kevin I’m really glad that you like it. All of the songs on there are songs that I wrote for friends and were written for fun. It feels so weird because I didn’t know what people would think about it I guess. I didn’t know what to expect because it wasn’t like I was trying to make the classic rock record. They are all just fun songs and I am really happy that the response has been good (laughter).
Well the stand out track for me is Have You Seen My Son which I think is superb.
That’s my favourite track too Kevin. That was the first track that I wrote and so it has to be my favourite. That track is exactly what I was trying to do.
You are coming over to tour the UK, are you looking forward to that?
Oh yes Kevin, we toured the UK in May and it was great fun. We didn’t get to play that many shows, but I think that we are playing a lot more places this time. We only played Manchester, Brighton and London the last time that we were there but we are playing a lot of the smaller towns this time around.
What can we expect from the shows this time around?
Well the last time that we came over the band didn’t have a bass player so I figure that the band will be a little bit bigger (laughter). I don’t know, hopefully we will all have a good time. Maybe hang out after the shows and have a drink or something with the fans. That would be cool. I just like to play shows and have fun you know. I try to get people dancing, which is part of the whole thing. There is no lightshow or anything; it is just us and the music. It is just going to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll show. We are playing The Bodega in Nottingham and let me tell you, that is going to be one awesome show.
So you are going to keep it real and raw?
I think that the real side of things is because I am not making the record for anybody in particular, except for some friends. I do hope that the fans will accept that. I want the shows to be like the music that I listen to and that’s honest music.
So after the tour, which takes you around Europe and the UK, what next?
I think that we will get a small vacation, thankfully (laughter). Then we are heading out again and going down to Australia. A lot has been happening; we have been out on the road for a year and a half, the album has just come out, and it’s a long time to be away from home.
Have you put any thoughts into a second album as yet?
No, no, no I’m not writing, no (laughter). I do have half a dozen guitar parts that I have been messing around with and some melodies that have been recorded on my phone but I haven’t put any of those things together. I am just collecting things you know, along the way and then I will put it together I guess. But that is very far ahead dude (laughter) probably a couple a years from now, who knows. Putting out another record just seems so far away, so far in the future.
Writing and recording the album and then touring to promote it is just so time consuming.
That’s right Kevin; this is the hardest job that I have ever had. I have been working since I was 15 years old and like this is without doubt the hardest thing that I have ever done. So much of this business is about luck, and I would never tell anyone to start a band and try to make it in this business. I don’t think that I would be doing it if I had tried to do that, it was down to a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time but I’m not complaining (laughter).
Benjamin thanks for taking the time to speak to me. Good luck with everything.
Thanks Kevin. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, I appreciate it and I hope to see you in Nottingham.
Benjamin Booker will be appearing at the Bodega Nottingham on 11th September and The Ruby Lounge in Manchester on the 13th.