US - Massachusetts - Full Moon 122 - 09/07/06
Middle-aged and proud of it - Ben Deily returns
Twenty years ago, it was his contribution to the Lemonheads - and not necessarily Evan Dando's - that elevated the Boston band to cult status early on.
After three albums together, Ben Deily called it quits and - as most of his fans probably still think to this day - fell off the face of the earth. He did release an album with the band PODS, that also featured his brother Jonno, in the mid-90s, but since then he only kept us entertained via his extensive website. Until now: With Varsity Drag's For Crying Out Loud, Ben's first album in about a deacde is out now and it's a very pleasant surprise.
probably cleverer and wiser lyrically, these songs, save for the occaisonal piano part, pretty much sound as if they wouldn't have been out of place on the classic first three Lemonheads albums, Hate Your Friends, Creator and Lick. Now there's even talk of another PODS album and a European tour at the start of 2007. We got in touch with Ben to find out the details...
LK: What's it like to be Ben Deily in the summer of 2006, and is it any different compared to, say, the time around the release of the PODS album?
Ben: "Hmm, well, it's a lot OLDER to me now, that's for certain. "How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth, blah blah blah..."
is another world, ain't it? Let's see: when the PODS CD came out, I was still (belatedly) finishing up university and living in Boston, Kurt Cobain was just nearly - or newly - dead, and an innocent planet earth had yet to conclude that every human being needed to carry a cell phone at all times."
"What else? I was on the verge of getting my first real copywriting job. I still owned the ol' Gibson ES-335. Then, as now, I was rather ambivalent about being involved in "music." (Plus ca change...)"
"Fast forward to 2006. I'm pleased to be pretty decently established in my profession-well, as established as anyone gets in advertising-and free to fantasize about chucking it all and hitting the road as a vagabond punk rocker. Sigh.
But now, as then, I'm a little too attached to the creature comforts of hearth and home. And to my sanity, frayed as it is. I guess I've never had sufficient lust-for-being-the-center-of-attention to fuel a "career" in music. Plus, I guess I'm just fundamentally lazy, LOL. Juliana Hatfield was right about me:
I'm middle-aged and proud of it."
LK: To me, the Varsity Drag album sounds in parts like a very pleasant step back in time. Was it - in one way or another - meant to be that and how much do the (other) band members have to do with it?
Ben: "Yeah, the Varsity Drag was definitely and defiantly a throwback. Even the "contemporary" bands that we were listening to were definitely stuck somewhere in the 70s or 80s. Basically, if you came of age listening to the Replacements and Hüsker Dü and the Descendants, that's what you wanna play. Even shameless contemporary MTV imitators of the genre can't spoil it for you." :-)
"The other guys in the band definitely have more capacious taste and breadth of knowledge than me - Ian, our drummer, is a former death metal guy, and Will and Greg are big fans of everything from the Beach Boys to Teenage Fanclub to Wilco. Alas, I'm generally so ignorant of what's going on in music that it's kind of pathetic. I have all my old favorites on vinyl - most fortunately on CD, at this point - and I usually only add something to my personal playlist if it's (a) someone who I know, (b) something someone sends to me, or (c) I randomly encounter it on the radio or TV. I never actually go looking for new music - there's, uh, just too freaking much of it. It's intimidating."
LK: How did you approach the sessions? Did you try to set yourself different goals than on previous albums?
Ben: "Heh heh... the primary goal for us, I'd have to say, was just to get the freaking thing recorded before we all got distracted. Largely due to the help of our friend Bob Spector, we managed to get a bunch of basic tracks
down: he dragged an ADAT down to our rehearsal space - which was a carpeted shipping container in an industrial lot out by San Quentin prison - and he set up microphones and we did the basic tracks in a day, as I recall. We finished and mixed about two-thirds of them, as represented on the CD. The rest are pretty much done except for vocals, but...sigh...who knows if they'll ever be finished?
think the source tapes are already lost, actually. Disgraceful. As we say in the 'Drag, Rock and Roll is such a hassle."
LK: With (to my ears at least) an obvious red thread running through pretty much all of your recordings - would it be fair to say that (as far as songwriting is concerned) you're still inspired by the same things all those year later?
Ben: "Definitely. Girls... there's always a girl. Some girl or other.
And summer. And the mish-mash of poetry I spent seven-odd years of college memorizing.
I guess if anything has changed, it's that other things have crept into the back of my brain and curled themselves around songs and crept in...stuff like advertising, Kafka, ambition, the increasingly more soul-bruising experiences of betrayal and loss and redemption that happen as you get older. But yeah, it all basically still comes back to girls."
LK: I suppose the Unbalanced guys - who form the backbone of Varisty Drag - played a major role in getting you back in the studio and on stage.
How exactly did they achieve that?
Ben: "Well, here's the story... back in the benighted 90s - when AOL was an ISP of choice, even for the forward-thinking - I had the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org," or something like it. That's how Will and Greg somehow tracked me down - they had been big Lemonheads fans, they said, and had somehow gotten ahold of the PODS CD, despite our best efforts to make it completely unavailable. :-) (I think they bought it at the old TAANG! records store on Melrose in L.A.)"
"Anyway, they started emailing me, and asked me to come see their band Unbalanced in a few weeks time. It was just across the San Francisco bay from Berkeley - where I lived - in San Rafel, at a club called the Faultline. Hey, I thought, why not? It was just the kind of tiny, grungy place where music sounds best..
complete with a small crowd of enthusiasts and friends, some surly sound guy, a cranky owner somewhere behind the bar, heaps of other bands' gear piling in front of the stage, the whole nine yards. Anyway, I loved the show-they were drunk and silly and uncannily Replacement-ish, and shouted to me from the stage.
What's not to love? I bobbed my head and stomped 'til my feet till they were sore."
"After the show we kept in touch, and after a bit Greg let me know that Will had suddenly "moved to Indonesia to teach English" on very short notice (but that's another story), and he (Greg) wondered if I wanted to get together with the other members of Unbalanced and play some time. So I did. The Indonesian economy tanked, Will came back eventually, and we all kept plugging away on most Sundays and the occasional weekday night after work. Our friends from Bracket (of Fat Wreck Chords) set up our first show, and we started playing out pretty regularly in SF."
LK: I assume you enjoyed the experience of writing and recording this album - did that come as a surprise to you? You seemed to be quite happy to distance you from any kind of music-business related matters for a long time?
Ben: "A surprise, indeed. In terms of enjoying it, hmm... well, I did and I didn't. Certainly, I've never stopped plunking around on guitar of an idle evening, and even "writing" songs. I mean, it's always an incredible feeling to have a song arrive in your brain, and even better to collaborate with some other folks and hear it all come together. And it's sometimes great fun to play live, once you actually get on stage and all the lugging and driving and pre-show nonsense is over."
"But hoo, boy... it was also everything not-so-fun that I remembered about BEING in a "band": the commitment to rehearsing, the energy necessary to pull a performance out of yourself when you just don't feel like it, the inevitable interpersonal weirdness/misunderstandings/hurt feelings... frankly, I have no idea how these rock stars do it. :-) Bloody exhausting. I'd rather watch someone else do it. Or better still, stay at home and listen to a record."
"That having been said, it was great fun. I'm gonna do it again one of these days, I have no doubt."
LK: Are you here to stay? In other words: Will it take you another 12 years until your next release?
Ben: "Well, er - knock on wood - I, Ben Deily, am here to stay on the planet for a bit longer, I hope. As to more records, well, seeing as we're putting together a Varsity Drag tour for the continent (scheduled for very early 2007), there may yet be more to come from that outfit. As for other projects, my brother Jonno and drummer Dave Richman and I have all agreed in principle to record a follow-up PODS album... schedule: ASAP, TBD. Hah! Too many folks with day jobs, too many children. Still, it's gonna happen: the songs are written. It's be fun. So hopefully the next year or so will see some more music from me and my "associates." It's always about finding the time, sadly enough... but, then again, it's nice to have a life."
LK: It seems that you had a pretty successful life/career outside the music industry since the late 80s - how big is the part that music in general and VD in particular play in your current life?
Ben: "I suppose I've done alright. And after all, I've never tried to be a "professional musician." Lack of nerve, I suppose... :-) that and the dependence on simple routine and creature comforts I mentioned before. Again, what with a European tour in the offing in a few months' time, it looks like Varsity Drag will be starting to take a little more of my daily time in the coming months. Should be fun to rehearse again and re-learn our own songs for the umpteenth time. Oh, and I guess I'll have to track down a functioning guitar. In all seriousness. (I sold it a little while ago - for the 2nd time in 10 years - for a nice 12-string acoustic on the theory that "I won't need this ELECTRIC thing anymore, will I?"). Pathetic, isn't it?"
LK: Much has been said about you and Evan getting back together, albeit only briefly. Did you think: We could have done this years ago or did you really had to wait that long?
Ben: "At the risk of sounding overly hippie-ish, ahem, yeah - the karma for that meeting had to roll around of it's own accord. And it did, just when it was the right time. (OK, that DID make me sound like a hippie.)"
"What can I say? It was fun. It was strange. It was an absolute soul-deep confirmation, for me, that I had been right to not spend the previous decade touring or trying to be a rock star. It obviously takes a toll, and not all of us are willing-or eager-to pay it."
LK: For something a little more general: What is your definition of good music?
Ben: "Anything that doesn't send me careening across the room, diving for the volume knob, wishing I had been born deaf rather than having to hear something this godawful. :-)"
"Kidding. The fact is that I tend to go on obsessive kicks of listening - to opera (Italian, preferably), or old gangster rap, or Roxy Music - indiscriminately.
Ironically, "indie" rock is the genre I listen the least to. As in, barely at all. But as far as that kind of good music goes, let's see: I guess I'd say my definition would be something that feels real and human, not too slick, and not TOO ridiculously adolescent. (Me, I've only succeeded at it a few times.)"
"Oh, and preferably something that you can strum along to and sing without too much difficulty, because that's so often the best way to get inside a song and really enjoy it. So, um, songwriters of the world, PLEASE don't write anything too hard for me to hack out on an acoustic guitar in my living room. Please. :-)"
LK: Was there a special event in your life, a piece of music you heard, that made you decide to become a musician? What was it?
Ben: "Probably having a piano and a guitar in the house when I was little, and a sometimes music-teacher for a mother, didn't hurt. My babysitter was a guitar player, too, come to think of it. And the Rudolf Steiner school I went to had a ton of music-recorders, etc. Yeah, the "musician" in the sense of "making noise" aspect of it was pretty much inescapable."
"As for writing music, the major turning points probably included the first Cars album, and Hüsker Dü's Metal Circus. I was young. I could go on for pages with other influences, but why bother? :-)"
"Meeting Evan made a huge difference, too. We really encouraged & egged each other on in High School, and created a kind of personal environment where writing songs seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. Sometimes that's all it takes.ü
LK: What did you buy from your first money earned as a musician?
Ben: "Hmph. I have no recollection. Probably something naughty. Like drugs. Or books."
LK: And lastly, any famous last words?
Ben: "An excellent catch-all question: lemme think. The bully pulpit is mine! Such responsibility! OK, first: Varsity Drag - as I mentioned - is gonna play a northern European tour from mid January to mid February of 2007. We will, of course, be playing the usual mix of my old Lemonheads and PODS tunes, as well - and probably an unexpectedly ridiculous cover or two. We're looking to hit the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, and maybe a few more spots - so watch your local venues and myspace.com/varsitydrag for updates."
"Second, people can almost always find me and/or track my silly little existence through bendeily.com."
"Oh, and finally, I fervently wanna recommend the following bands TO WHICH YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING:
The Underwater City People (underwatercitypeople.com, myspace.com/underwatercitypeople)
The Rainman Suite (therainmansuite.com, myspace.com/therainmansuite)
Poluluxe (populuxehq.com, myspace.com/populuxe)
"Well, I suppose that's it. Thanks, and goodnight."
Copyright © 2006 Carsten Wohlfeld