This summer, hallucinatory keyboard wizard Marco Benevento pulls back the curtain on his hazy home studio with Benevento — 40-minutes of small-batch psychedelia bubbled up from the base of the Catskill Mountains.
Titled as a nod to Paul McCartney’s first solo album, the record is a similarly loose, low-key affair. Like Macca’s eponymous release, Benevento is a solo work, where song sketches and sunrise jams share space with more constructed tracks.
With few exceptions — guest percussion from Mamadouba ‘Mimo’ Camara on a handful of songs, and backing vocal appearances by his wife and kids — Benevento played all of the instruments. He also produced and engineered the album, all from Fred Short Studios, located at his Woodstock, NY home.
“This record really acts as a psychedelic window into my studio and my brain,” Benevento says.
Recording was conducted amidst stacks of gear in varying states of repair, all fodder for inspiration during long quarantine-dictated solo jam sessions.
“The studio was a good place to be trapped,” Benevento says. “Surrounded by tape machines and gear. The album started to become this document of a crazy dude losing his mind in the woods — and maybe regaining it.”
Benevento has since decamped to a new, significantly larger, home studio. As such, the album acts as a swan song for — and love letter to — his former workspace.
“Wall-to-wall keyboards, mics, amps, drums… The place was about to explode,” Benevento laughs.
In this environment, Benevento unlocked his archives, mining for unfinished song ideas, and surrendered to the machines, coaxing beats and melodies from both go-to favorites and gear that had long since seen a dusting.
Deeply indebted to the West African psychedelia of artists such as Kiki Gyan, Francis Bebey and William Onyeabor, the songs are rhythmic and repetitive, built into thick mosaics of sound. And each track features at least one keyboard solo, allowing Benevento ample time to explore sounds from the deepest recesses of his studio.
Opener “Like Me” exemplifies the laconic, home-brewed headiness of the album: a minute and a half of sun dappled keys slipping along atop a nodding drum machine groove. “The Warm Up” is the sound of Benevento kicking off his day in the studio, literally warming up with a cup of coffee in hand.
“That’s just me sitting at the piano in the morning, getting the day started, saying alright, let’s play,” he says. “I like that element of just walking into the studio, turning on a keyboard and a drum machine, overdubbing some simple things and thinking maybe that’s done?”
Yet, while a mellow, smoked-out vibe prevails, the album still packs a set of tracks destined to set walls throbbing as Benevento and his band return to clubs this spring and summer.
“Do You Want Some Magic” stomps along with beat-and-keys strut that wouldn’t be out of place on a later-day Beastie Boys record, while “Mountain Cougars” grooves like LCD Soundsystem robotripping in a studio that swapped views of skyscrapers for fog-licked mountains. “Marco and Mimo” pits Afro-Caribbean melodic lines and sing-song, ear worm vocals against the bump ’n’ grind of Camara’s percussion.
In contrast to Let It Slide, his minimalistic 2019 full length collaboration with producer Leon Michels, Benevento is heavily saturated and experimental, built from countless layers of keyboards, bounced to 4-track tape.
Lyrics were created in collaboration with Al Howard, a San Diego-based poet. Howard handed over a 10 pages of lyrical sketches which Benevento worked into his tracks, occasionally chopping and mixing the lines, adding in words of his own.
“It was a new thing for me to dive in to — using someone’s lyrics,” Benevento says. “Or, I should say, finding a way to fit someone else’s lyrics into my tunes. I was a bit fed up with my own lyrical ideas, and was immediately drawn to Al’s writing.”
“Winter Rose,” a fizzy, mushroom-dusted slice of sun-flared soul highlights the ease of Benevento and Howard’s collaboration. “If every thorn came with a winter rose / then everything was worth it, yes, I suppose,” Benevento sings as keyboard runs percolate and synth washes sway.
Despite stresses of the global pandemic, the vibe at Fred Short was deeply peaceful and creative as Benevento patiently worked through years of accumulated ideas, lost, as he says, in the wonder of Woodstock. The experience ended up being so inspiring that — in another nod to McCartney — Benevento II is in the works.
“I guess all my records are kind of experimental and weird but this one is really unique,” Benevento says. “Records are just snapshots of time, and this is from a time when it was just me, dialing knobs and making mixes and inventing how things could sound.”
As such, Benevento is sonic time capsule, a worm hole beckoning listeners to enter and explore. Throw away yr maps and dive in.
Royal Potato Family