Seriously. He is the musical personification of Jordan Catalano. He's definitely cool, and he makes you feel cool, and it's all just...cool. Marco Benevento, Berklee schooled jazz pianist, keyboardist, experimental silence-filler, party-sound creationist, and general believer in having fun, has set his sails on another tour in support of his most recent release, Tigerface (Sept 2012). This record is especially different than its predecessors, as for the first time, it includes two tracks with vocals (by Kal Traver of Rubblebucket). Not unlike past albums, though, each of the ten Tigerface tracks is littered with musician friends* just sitting down for what, to them, is kind of a jam sesh, but to us unlookers, is a masterpiece of layered sounds & instruments, malleable in purpose given the mood. That is to say, that some days, I put on Tigerface while friends are over for a party, or other times, it soundtracks my morning coffee as I (attempt to) do the crossword. It fluctuates alongslide the listener, and in that I think it has power.
Almost exactly eight years later after my first Marco show (Langerado 2005), when he was touring with Joe Russo as the Benevento Russo Duo, I got to chat with him about this current tour. Headed out of his Brooklyn homebase, and into the midwest, I caught him in Cleveland, in preparation for his first show of the tour on April 1st. Here's what he had to say after what were probably some humbled, stumbly bumblies from my end.
Q: What provoked the usage of vocals on Tigerface? And how did the partnership with Kal come to be?
A: Well, it first started with This is how it goes - the second song on the record. When we recorded it, it was just the three of us (Benevento, Andy Border, and Dave Dreiwitz), Kal wasn't at the original recording session. We did four takes of the song, we used the second take, and improvised the vocal melody on the piano. After listening to it for a long time, we started hearing syllables and started writing them down, not real words, you know, just syllables. Then, my wife came into the studio and helped turn them into words. My wife and I and some friends sang it first, but it woulda been nice to get one vocalist just... nailing it. I envisioned a girl's voice, then I saw Rubblebucket play at a festival that we were at. That was pretty much it, I called her up and made it happen. Then I sent her the demo with my wife's singing to show what I was thinking. She totally killed it in the studio.
Q: So you kind of led the way on creating the track?
A: Yes, for This Is How It Goes, I wrote all of it, and Kal did the vocals. But on Limbs Of A Pine, Kal wrote the words and the melody.
Q: As far as hearing the syllables, and turning them into words later, isn't that what David Byrne did when he wrote the lyrics on Speaking in Tongues? Did that give any inspiration?
A: Well...I'd say it's pretty common for musicians to do that.
Q: You tend to collaborate a lot. What's your favorite collaboration?
A: I like collaborating with John McEntire (drummer, Tortoise) a lot. He's on Tigerface. We recorded together for two days back in 2000, actually in Chicago, at his studio, Soma, for the record Standards.
Q: As a Phish fan, I have to ask, how was it to tour with Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio?
A: I was definitely a Phish fan in high school. If you told me back when I was listening to Junta on cassette, that I'd be playing with them, I'd be like, "Yea right." It was really great in that way. There were elements that were mediocre as well, like, ...you're the keyboard player in the band...you're being led, versus being in charge. They were the guys we had to say yes to, and there wasn't a lot of creative input we could give. As far as song choices go, it was Trey's music. I think we played two of our (Benevento Russo Duo) songs the whole tour.
Q: So, was the nickname, GRAB (Gordon, Russo, Anastasio, Benevento), organic...or was that kind of the media?
A: (chuckling) ...the media, definitely.
Q: Ya, that didn't seem like you. So, tell me about The Royal Potato Family, your record label. When did that come to be, and what is your criteria for signing someone, if any?
A: Well, it started in 2008. It Started with just Me Not Me, and we put that out on our own label. It's grown since and some of my friends are on the label now too, who were struggling elsewhere with other record labels. There is really no criteria; if we like the music, and we like the people, like the vibe...if we feel like we can do a show with them. If we feel like they will be a nice change to the record label, we say, let 's do it.
Q: So, what prompted it?
A: It's more affordable to make records now than it was 10-15 yrs ago. There's less of an advance from a record necessary, because now we can do most of the recording on a computer. The quality can kind of lack, but with all the plug-ins you can make it sound a different way, I guess. It's... just... easier to make records, so you don't need as much money to make a record label. I like having the record label, because there's no middle man. It used to be like, record labels sending you their expenses, and it just didn't make sense. They can't show you where the ad money went, but you were charged for it. It felt like they were stealing kinda. It leaves you spending your own money to spend on your record, that is the downside, but its also the upside, because it drives you to make that money back, and gives you more motivation. Then you know, adding in friends and other artists, and creating kind of a scene is cool, too.
Q: Coming up on April 20, on Record Store Day, you will be re-releasing Invisible Baby. It is from 2008, so why bring it back now?
A: Actually because before, we released it on Hyena's label, and now we want to re-release it on our own.
Q: That makes sense, and is really cool. Congrats. Is there anything you really want people to know about you?
A: You should mention that I travel with my own piano. Its a small upright piano, with guitar effects hot-rodded. It's pretty cool.
Q: I guess today is April Fool's. Do you have anything up your sleeve for the crowd tonight as far as tricks go?
A: (laughing) Well, we're in Cleveland tonight. We'll probably just put on the tiger masks and have a party.
And that's why he's the coolest. Come out to Schuba's tomorrow for the Chicago-rendition of said party, it's sure to be a good time.
Marco Benevento plays at Schuba's Sunday, April 07, 2013 8:00 PM | 18+
*Tigerface features drummers Matt Chamberlain (Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell), John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea & The Cake) and Andrew Barr (The Barr Brothers), bassists Dave Dreiwitz (Ween), Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) and Mike Gordon (Phish), violinist Ali Helnwein (Traction Avenue Chamber Orchestra) and saxophonist Stuart Bogie(Antibalas, Superhuman Happiness).