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Brendan Benson Gets Friendly

The Raconteurs Frontman Goes Solo at Velvet Jones

Brendan Benson
Courtesy Photo

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: As one-fourth of the blues-rock supergroup The Raconteurs, Brendan Benson was the floppy-haired, pop-minded straight man to Jack White’s crazy licks and yelping deliveries. Coming off two highly successful albums with the band (2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely) and a string of arena and amphitheater tours, Benson returned home last year to put the finishing touches on a solo record—his sixth—that he’d long had in the works. The result, August’s My Old Familiar Friend, finds Benson at his most polished and carefree writing-wise, drawing critical comparisons to everything from Paul McCartney’s Wings to ’70s symphony rockers ELO.

“I didn’t think [this record] was ever going to be,” Benson half-joked recently from a hotel room in Seattle. “I think I probably started writing it when I was last touring solo. Then The Raconteurs started, and I was off doing that. Then there was the small problem of not having a label. … And now people are asking me, ‘Why so long?’ They’re always accusing me of having writer’s block or being in some kind of funk. I’ve just never been on the same label for more than one record,” he laughed.

Coming off his cowriting, coproducing role with White and The Raconteurs, Benson can recall the struggle that came with the need for a new solo album. “I was not looking forward to it, actually. I was having so much fun with The Raconteurs, making records with other guys—that was the coolest thing ever. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to make my record, alone in a room, like I always do.”

To combat the loneliness, Benson even brought on famed record producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), which he now laughed off as a “big mistake,” then backpedaled. “I’m just kidding. It was great,” he said. “I’d never worked with a big-time producer guy like that. … I think he just made the songs sound so perfect, and I didn’t like that. In the end, everything was nice and tidy and fixed and cleaned up, but that’s the stuff that is the song, to me. That’s the stuff that makes the recording really interesting and exciting. Like happy accidents—there was none of that.”

Accidents or not, the production on My Old Familiar Friend has won Benson and Norton more cheers than jeers. Perhaps more importantly, though, the adventure has helped Benson to realize just why he loves making music. “I’m kind of a neurotic guy and OCD, and I like stuff to be in its right place and orderly and all that,” he explained. “But when I’m writing music, that all just recedes, it goes away, and I don’t feel that way at all. That’s why I like to write music; nothing is worrying me. And I think Gil was kind of neurotic about music, so …” He waited a beat, and then laughed, “I spent a lot of time sleeping in the control room.”

Brendan Benson plays Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Friday, February 19, at 8 p.m. Call 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.

PERFECT STRANGERS: Also this week, Texan six-piece The Strange Boys storm the Biko Co-Op Garage (6612 Sueno Rd.) for what promises to be one of the biggest and best Isla Vista shows this quarter. Along with Washington, D.C., heavyweights Chain & the Gang and Santa Barbara’s Gardens and Villa, the Boys’ show promises old-timey blues deliveries, surf rock-style guitar licks, and enough funky backbeat to get feet tapping and hips swaying. The party kicks off Wednesday, February 24, at 8 p.m., and is open to all ages. Visit sbdiy.org for details.

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