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Published: 2017/01/06
by Matt Inman

A Woodstock Session with Marco Benevento

The last time we spoke with Marco Benevento, the Woodstock, NY-based keyboardist and songwriter was on the verge of releasing his latest solo album, The Story of Fred Short, and embarking on a long year of touring with his trio, which was about to go through some changes, as regular bassist Dave Dreiwitz was being temporarily (at the time) replaced with Karina Rykman while Dreiwitz toured with newly reunited Ween.
Now, Benevento, who supplements his solo work by playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead—among other collaborations—is readying for another solo tour, this time in support of his first official live record, has formed a strong musical bond with his new bandmate and has a new PledgeMusic campaign where he’s asking fans to help out his tour and join him along the way. Phoning in from his Woodstock home studio after a Colorado trip with Almost Dead, Benevento outlines his tour and PledgeMusic plans, looks forward to a new year filled with shows (including the long-awaited official reunion of the Benevento/Russo Duo) and a new studio album and recalls his top highlights of 2016.

How was the trip out in Colorado?

It was really fun. We played Denver and Boulder and Aspen, and then we played—our good friend just started a new weed company, and they make really good chocolates with like—they know somebody in Nicaragua that has a cacao farm and they’re doing all ethically grown cacao and making sure the locals are cool with what they’re doing. They’re super legit. The company’s called Binske, and they’re super cool, super high-end.

Can you tell me a bit about the new live album? Had you done one of those before?

No, we haven’t done an official live album. We’ve put out live shows that have been multi-tracked and that sound good, but this one we did at this incredible studio here in Woodstock [Applehead Studios]. I’ve actually mixed my record TigerFace there, and I also mixed our record Story of Fred Short there. It’s a big place, so they’ve been putting on concerts in the studio and recording them and releasing them. It’s part of a whole thing called The Woodstock Sessions —Medeski Martin & Wood and Nels Cline did one there, Bad Brains, Rich Robinson, Vieux Farka Touré. He’s from Mali in Africa. It’s cool—it’s on a farm, they served dinner outside, there’s goats running around, there’s this huge pig, they have a llama and horses. It’s this beautiful piece of land with an enormous studio that holds about 100 people. They put a live audience in the studio, and you’re there all day soundchecking, and there’s people in the control room if you want to hang out. So it’s basically like a record, but we did it in front of a live audience. One of the things I wanted to do was play “The Story of Fred Short” in its entirety—meaning the whole side B of our new record, which is seven songs that kind of morph into each other. So that was a fun experience, and yeah, it is our first official live record. It was cool to play the songs live and know that the stuff was going to be captured professionally and sound really good. And we’re playing a bunch of shows in the winter and spring to promote it. And of course, right now I’m working on another studio record.

Was that something you sought out?

No, they’ve actually been trying to get our band to do it for the last two years, but we’ve just been on the road so much that it’s been hard to. Actually, the guy told me that I was the reason that he started in the first place—he was hoping to have me be the first person, but it took me two years to finally get there.

Can you talk about your new PledgeMusic campaign?

The campaign is a way for us to try to connect with fans a little bit more and have people maybe write a setlist or come backstage and spin some records with us. When we go on the road, we actually travel with our own record player and a case filled with vinyl and we like to just hang out and spin records before the gig and after. We’re just trying to connect with folks and see if they’re down to help our tour. Because we have so many dates, and it’s just really expensive. There’s not many tours where bands like us, playing relatively smaller rooms—like we’re playing in front of 500-700 people in those major markets, and, realistically, hotel rooms and expenses don’t get covered and someone winds up losing money, which is basically me. So we’re trying to get people involved.

I have a studio here in Woodstock, and one of the [perks] is if you pledge, I think, $1000, you can come here for a day and record with me. If we do get money, we’re hoping to maybe expand the stage setup and get some different lights. Another good thing about PledgeMusic is it gets you sort of saturating the social media market a bit, so people are like, “Oh, what’s he doing.” Which is good publicity all around. I think people like knowing they can help a band, even if it’s only like 10 or 20 bucks. They like knowing they can help musicians out.

The last time we talked, you were just about to have your first rehearsal with Karina. How has that musical relationship been going so far?

Well, Dave Dreiwitz found the perfect sub. Ween is back together again, so Dave’s very busy playing with them and realized that it’s too much for him to do, and he met Karina a while ago and knew that she was a cool chick, a cool hang. She actually plays heavy-metal guitar. When he knew that he was kind of on his way out, he actually called up Karina, and they got together and he taught her all the songs. He went to her house and played her the songs and showed her how he was playing them. He got her to sub for this three-day tour or something, and she just absolutely killed it. She’s super chill and fun, and she’s young and she’s got a lot of energy. She really embraces the fuzz bass moments of the songs, even though they’re short moments—she puts her leg up on the monitor and whips her hair around and kills it. I think it helps, visually, for people to see somebody so into it. And she’s a cute lady—I’m seeing all these young, 18-, 21-year-old boys in the front row standing by Karina just checking her out. I’m like, “Hey, look at those little geeks.” [Laughs]

Going forward, are there plans for Dave to come back or is Karina the one now?

Karina’s the one now. I mean, if she couldn’t do a tour, obviously I’m sure Dave would do it. It’s up to Dave. I’ll take Dave back onstage with us at any time. I love both of them equally. They’re just amazing bass players, and luckily there’s no rift or anything. It was all a very natural sort of evolution. But Dave’s busy, and if it does happen it’ll be super fun.

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