Marco Benevento

Photo by Neal Casal

 

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Biography


Marco Benevento is used to doing a lot of things for himself: Since he launched his solo career six years ago, Benevento has co-founded the label that releases his music, The Royal Potato Family, and built the studio, Fred Short, where he works every day that he’s not on the road. And in the past, of course, he’s written, arranged and played his largely instrumental anthems, leading a band from behind his customized piano and a tiny armada of drum machines and sequencers, keyboards and pedals.

But until Benevento set out to complete his fifth album under his own name, he’d never sung his own songs, a strange omission for music that’s so often been lyrical. That changes—decisively, assuredly, triumphantly—on Swift, the boldest and most bracing album of Benevento’s career.

“I never really liked the sound of my singing voice. I have a low voice. I can’t really sing too high. It’s nasally,” Benevento confesses. “But I had to get over it. And now, singing is awesome.”

Sure, 2012’s TigerFace opened with two vocal gems, the greasy “Limbs of a Pine” and the gorgeous “This is How It Goes.” But Rubblebucket’s Annakalmia Traver had handled those melodies, and Benevento assumed for months that she’d handle these, too. At one point, though, he decided that he liked the way his voice was sitting in the songs he was building; that it felt not only interesting, but surprisingly intuitive. His wife, Katie, would join him in the studio and sit with him at the piano, helping him to shape strings of nonsense syllables into words he liked. And in November 2013, he invited Ween’s Aaron Freeman, a nearby neighbor and longtime friend, to visit the studio and offer criticism of what he was singing and how he was singing it. Freeman had specific quibbles and improvements, but he largely approved of the work Benevento had done, providing the boost that powered Swift toward completion.

“It was nice to be tested and prepared by a singer I really like. It was validating,” Benevento explains. “I’m surprised it took me this long to sing, but growing older, getting into music by The Band and James Booker and the Grateful Dead, the singing door has opened. It’s a new instrument.”

Benevento’s urge to commandeer the microphone and fill the record with his thoughts isn’t a mere power grab from a bandleader. To the contrary, bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and drummer Andy Borger (Tom Waits, Ani DiFranco, Norah Jones) flex more than ever before on Swift. Dreiwitz dances atop the start of “If I Get to See You At All,” his rich fuzz-tone affording the melody the feeling of a sinister carousel. And on “The Saint,” he and Borger emerge as powerhouse, the viscous bass line rumbling over drums that slow and spring, stutter and stomp. A minute into the track, Benevento has to wait for just the perfect moment in which to slide his silvery piano. Swift is an unselfish album, then, guided more by a sense of giving songs maximum impact than proving the incontrovertible worth of the players who made it.

That directness is due in large part to Richard Swift, the esteemed indie rock producer who invited the trio to his Oregon studio to record the album that, in turn, Benevento named for him. Benevento’s sister-in-law lived nearby, so he’d gotten to know Swift through years of touring. He’d also fallen in love with his work thanks to Swift-helmed albums such as Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic and his own song “Lady Luck.” Benvento says that several mixtapes Swift compiled and put online—humid spheres of vinyl static and rubbery bass, woozy soul and swerving rock—saved his life on several long, late-night tour drives. He trusted Swift’s ears, and he wanted to put this record in his hands—to go to Oregon, record for three days, let the producer produce, and do as little tinkering to the results as possible.

“I was sick of going back to my studio and turning a session into something else. I wanted my process to be different. I wanted someone else to say, ‘Leave it like that,’” Benevento says. “I was surprised how easy it was going to be. I made two or three edits, and it was done.”

That comfort and energy radiate throughout Swift, an album that’s every bit as delightful and kinetic as its title suggests. Opener “At the Show” is a handclap invocation, the big-bottomed drums and Benvento’s fleet keyboard line motioning toward the dance floor. “Eye to Eye” moves with an indomitable, street-smart swagger, while closer “Free Us All” prompts eyes-closed, mouths-open bliss. Even “No One is to Blame,” the album’s ostensible down-tempo drift, can’t suppress the excitement of the new setting, the new singer or the new approach. Its climax offers arching catharsis, Benevento’s multi-tracked harmonies curving like a rainbow.

“To finally make a record that feels and sounds like a record; something that is musically consistent and almost thematic, whereas my other releases have been so stylistically diverse,” says Benevento, “is, for me, an accomplishment.”

He did it himself, you could say—and then some. The Royal Potato Family releases Swift on LP, CD and Digital on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

For more than a decade pianist Marco Benevento has been amassing an extensive resume of composition and collaboration. His albums set forth a vision that connects the dots between MGMT and Tortoise on one side, Brian Eno and Brad Mehldau on the other. In the live setting, his performances reverberate with pulsating dance rock energy, which has led to numerous high profile appearances, ranging from Carnegie Hall to Celebrate Brooklyn, Newport Jazz to Bonnaroo. Benevento has been invited to open for The Books, Ben Folds and Rubblebucket, while headlining shows from coast to coast.

The 36-year old artist took a major step forward with the release of his 2012 album, TigerFace. The ten-track collection is painted in a myriad of sonic colors, shimmering with acoustic piano, synths and analog keyboards, while the songs are seemingly conceptualized from every wisp of melody that's ever tickled his ear.

In 2014, Benevento returned to the studio to record his latest work with producer Richard Swift whose resume includes The Shins, Foxygen and Tennis. Together, they focused their attention on a collection of news songs Benevento had written that expand upon his lush instrumental piano rock to include vocals. The album, entitled Swift, will be released September 16 on Royal Potato Family.

As anybody who's seen Marco Benevento perform can attest, with eyes closed, smile wide across his face and fingers free-flowing across the keys, the pianist is a satellite to the muse. With a devout and growing fan-base, Benevento is an artist whose story is only beginning to unfold.

"Benevento jams with a concentration on the textures and colors available in his keyboards and arsenal of manipulated pedals and effects. His songs feature deceptively rich, catchy melodies and straight-ahead grooves that expand with subtle mounting gestures." - Rolling Stone

"A musician so original that he can ultimately only be judged against his own standard." -All Music

"Marco Benevento is an incredible instrumentalist…but is at his best when he's using those skills inside of his own great songs, especially the ones that suggest the grandeur of The Flaming Lips." -Indy Week

"It's safe to say that no one sees the keyboard quite like Marco Benevento's genre-blind mashup of indie rock, jazz and skewed improvisation." - Los Angeles Times

"Marco Benevento is one of the most talented keys players of our time." - CBS

"Benevento's colorful, improvisational, piano-based compositions stretch so wide and cover so much sonic ground that the idea of genre seems quaint. Very quietly, he has been evolving into one of the most vital figures in jazz or rock or post-jazz or post-rock or—all of music." - Kansas City Pitch

"Imaginative at heart, Benevento demands you to be too when engaging with his work. Otherwise, you probably are missing out on something special. Driven to experiment with chords and melodies with the intention of getting a little dirty along the way, Benevento’s collisional approach is refreshing and absolutely delightful." - Consequence of Sound

"Benevento jams with a concentration on the textures and colors available in his keyboards and arsenal of manipulated pedals and effects. His songs feature deceptively rich, catchy melodies and straight-ahead grooves that expand with subtle mounting gestures." - Rolling Stone

"It's safe to say that no one sees the keyboard quite like Marco Benevento's genre-blind mashup of indie rock, jazz and skewed improvisation." - Los Angeles Times

"Benevento's colorful, improvisational, piano-based compositions stretch so wide and cover so much sonic ground that the idea of genre seems quaint. Very quietly, he has been evolving into one of the most vital figures in jazz or rock or post-jazz or post-rock or...all of music." - Kansas City Pitch

For more than a decade Marco Benevento has been amassing an extensive résumé of composition and collaboration, sparking the interest of a seemingly endless list of acclaimed musicians, including Carl Newman, Mark Eitzel and Matt Chamberlain, all leading to collaborative efforts along the way.

Benevento's latest album, TigerFace, out now on The Royal Potato Family, was recorded and mixed by Tom Biller (Silversun Pickups, Elliot Smith, Fiona Apple) and Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Antony & The Johnsons, Akron/Family). His fourth studio recording to date, it represents Benevento's next step in the exploration and evolution of his precise yet freewheeling piano-driven songs. Over the course of the ten-track effort, the pianist incorporates a myriad of sonic color and melody, while calling upon musicians like 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). For the first time, Benevento uses vocals, inviting Kalmia Traver (Rubblebucket) to sing on two tracks.

“This man is really on to something special,” says Traver, describing the recording process as “a blast of yes-wave amazing fun energy--there were no ‘NOs,’ only lots of laughter, belting and joyousness.”

Benevento’s previous releases, Between the Needle and Nightfall [2010], Me Not Me [2009] and Invisible Baby [2008] have reached critical acclaim from the likes of NPR, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times and Relix. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke described his music as, “deceptively rich, catchy melodies and straight-ahead grooves that expand with subtle mounting gestures.”

 

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