An Interview with Benjamin Wright of Benjamin Jayne

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Benjamin Wright of Benjamin Jayne. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his newest music, his opinion of the music scene today, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Benjamin Jayne, you can head over to their website, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Benjamin. Cheers.

Andrew:
Benjamin, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Benjamin:
Yeah, this past year has been a bizarre watermark for us all.

Well, I can’t say I have had any downtime. I am a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner working at a critical access care hospital in rural Vermont. My work has been busier and more acute than ever.

With all the collateral damage this pandemic has caused, it has led to an exacerbation in so many peoples’ mental health and addiction struggles. The volume of patients has increased, and the demand is so great that I have had to close my doors to new patients. It has revealed what some of us have already known, that there has been and continues to be a mental health crisis in this country and a dearth of providers in this specialty.

On top of my work in Psychiatry, I raise two young daughters. We had a stretch of six months where they were home with us around the clock due to school closures. Juggling being a father and working full-time at the hospital this year has been difficult, and my wife deserves a lot of credit for balancing her work and taking on more responsibilities with the girls.

I have managed to write and record this album though through all of this. I have looked toward family, exercise, and creativity to keep my mind balanced this past year. There was no stopping the material that became this record, Theater. It had to get out of me. It wasn’t just the pandemic that drove this cathartic process, but the disinformation campaigns around health care issues as well as the political insanity that has been driving wedges all around us.

Andrew:
Tell us your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Benjamin:
Well, I grew up in a very musical family. My mother taught piano and is a talented pianist, my father was a talented guitar player and played and toured some in college with his band, and my grandfather on my mom’s side traveled in the big bands way back in the day playing the Trombone. I heard he was banned from Texas for life during a gig for the governor of Texas. I’m not sure why, but I always enjoy hearing epic tales. True(?), I don’t know.

Anyway, so yeah, music was in the manure you could say. Most of my siblings play as well. My oldest sister majored in music and was a very talented pianist as well. Every one of us played an instrument growing up.

My first introduction to playing was my mom teaching me the piano. I started when I was very young, three or four maybe. But I’d say the true gateway was when my stepfather gave me my first guitar. He was a Blues player and played out often. He taught me some licks and gave me a Silvertone electric guitar. You know, the ones that the case was also the amplifier! Super cool collector piece in hindsight, but I sold it for gas money years later.

Andrew:
As an artist and songwriter, who were some of your earliest and more important influences? How did you find your voice as an artist?

Benjamin:
The first cassette I ever owned was The Cure’s Standing on the Beach. I absolutely devoured them as a kid. And by a kid, I mean six to ten years old. I also remember the impact a few records had on me. R.E.M.’s Murmur and Green were huge as was Fugazi’s Repeater. You don’t hear too much of their influence in my work now likely, but man they meant a lot to me and helped solidify my obsession with music.

My family’s love for music was a huge influence. Music was always being played, either by record or on an instrument. Additionally, we grew up amongst a very unique group of people. There was a farm nearby that we used to go to all the time. It wasn’t a working farm that you might think of, but it was a farm nonetheless, barn, outhouses, and acreage. They were a nursery for plants and flowers, etc. This was the extended family of Aldous Huxley. His son, Mathew, owned the home abutting the farm and his extended family lived on the farm.

They were an exceptionally gifted, artistic, and inviting family and we would go there and stay for days and play music for hours on end. I mean literally, a jam session would last over twenty-four hours with people taking breaks and handing the instrument off to someone else for a bit while they took a nap or cooked breakfast or something. Artists, musicians, circus people, writers…all kinds of people would come and go from all over the country and world. This shaped a lot of who I am today as an artist. I owe Patrick and Jane so much for the freedom and creativity they inspired at that farm.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about your album, Theater. What was the inspiration? Tell us about the recording. Where can we get the album, and what formats will it be on?

Benjamin:
Theater was inspired mostly by the political division manifested through the sensationalism and dishonesty some corrupt news organizations and their talking heads are promoting. Add to that the pandemic and our politicians’ betrayal of truth we saw play out last year that directly impacted health outcomes. It is all political theater and there is no accountability. It is sickening. Their denial of the climate crisis also made its way into this record. Our species is turning out to be such a monumental embarrassment. That inspires emotion and thus art. I wish we could inspire truth, accountability, and change in our leaders and systems. We are chasing the wrong dream. We need to focus on connectivity and purpose, and not perpetual growth of the stock markets or global economic and military power.

Andrew:
What drives and inspires you as a songwriter? Are your lyrics intensely personal, or are you merely telling stories?

Benjamin:
Inspirations: My patients’ mental health struggles, my children, politics, inequities, and their impact on the individual, system failures (government, healthcare, educational or otherwise), loss/death, my marriage, the climate crisis…my lyrics are typically very personal, but they might be buried in metaphor or disguised in story. Sometimes they are on the nose.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you enlist the help of outside voices? What goes into the decision either way?

Benjamin:
I have been hiring my college roommate Drew Skinner from Skinner Sound to act as both the mixing engineer and producer. We both studied together at Berklee. My sister and I will also co-produce. I think having a third-party producer helps hold me accountable to quality. He’ll have me do thirty more takes after I thought it was fine and he is always right.

Andrew:
How have you evolved as an artist with your most recent efforts? What’s changed for you?

Benjamin:
I am writing for no one but myself these days. I am way more honest with my work now than when I was in my 20s. I also have a solid income separate from music so it is all about the art and not the hustle. That is freeing.

Having kids has changed me. Working as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner has changed me. When I was younger, I was self-focused and now I have so little time for myself. I spend most of my hours nurturing and teaching my kids, and caring for and treating my patients. It’s humbling and provides a lot of life lessons on what is a priority and what advantages and privileges I have.

I pull much more from others’ pain and struggles as well as their joys and growth as I watch their journeys. That grounds and inspires a lot of my work right now. Also navigating the industrial medical complex and reflecting on the socioeconomic systems that cause so much of the suffering my patients endure influences my perspective. This world has a lot of screwed-up priorities and systems. A lot of bean-counting for the sake of bean-counting. Things don’t have to be so complicated, but we make them that way.

Andrew:
Touring is a big part of any working artist’s proverbial machine. With that being said, what do you miss most about touring?

Benjamin:
Well, I haven’t played a show since 2019. I haven’t played out regularly since I was in my 20s and early 30s. I took a long break from music when I went back to university to get a professional degree. Now I run a small psychiatry department and have two young kiddos so touring hasn’t been on the agenda lately. I do hope to get back to it as soon as I can. I do miss the camaraderie with the other players and the energy that the audience gives back. I’m not big into tech so online interaction is not my favorite. I miss that in-person connection.

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music industry these days? What needs to change for both the betterment of the artists and fans alike?

Benjamin:
Hmm, the state of the music industry seems a little confused. It just seems the industry has been a little behind the curve since streaming came along. I don’t have the answers to what needs to change other than to say the artist should receive a greater proportion of revenue from streaming as well as sales from downloads. It appears that overhead has dropped some for the label and they could afford to be more equitable. Contracts with labels and streaming services could be more artist-friendly as well.

I think labels should have a better presence online. I think they have time and the ability to figure it out. I don’t want to see the industry get lazy and just buy ads on Facebook or IG to promote. Maybe labels need their own social media platforms, not just websites. Again, I don’t know the answers, but I think there is a lot of potential for change.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Benjamin:
Radiohead’s Kid A, Andrew Bird’s Break it Yourself, Beck’s Sea Change, Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway, Peter Gabriel’s Passion, Califone’s Roomsound.

Albums typically represent a moment or period in our history. So once again, I reference film. An album will be the soundtrack to that period and like a smell, will send you back in an instant. The emotions and meaning of that period of time will inexorably be linked to those songs. The albums I mention were present during some meaningful times and transitions in my life.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists, and why?

Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Califone, Radiohead, and Sun Kil Moon. Man, I don’t know why…Andrews’s attention to detail and playfulness with words, Califone’s unique experimentation with miscellaneous noise, simplicity made to sound so complex with great melodies, Sufjan’s melodies and textures, Radiohead’s everything, Sun Kil Moon’s haunting melancholic and warm atmospheres…I think one thing that they might have in common is that all of these artists’ music could easily be the soundtrack in a film, creating such distinct emotional landscapes.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about, and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Benjamin:
Film, architecture, and cycling. I don’t think architecture has directly inspired a song yet. Film has, especially documentaries or films based on real events. Film can capture such intimacy and really showcase the vulnerabilities as well as the capacity of the human spirit. Those feelings can easily translate to music. I studied film scoring at Berklee College of Music, so the marriage of those mediums has been a strong interest of mine for many years.

Cycling can inspire song due to the sheer beauty of the landscape I often find myself in when I’m riding. I live in Southern Vermont and at the foothills of the Green Mountains. Cycling to me is a meditative experience, where I’ll spend hours out on these country roads with nothing but my thoughts and the natural architecture of Vermont. I need to move my body to keep my mental health fresh. Cycling is medicine as is music and film to me.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Benjamin:
I am all digital now. I still have a couple of cases of CDs but got rid of most of them and my tapes with my recent move.

I buy my music on Apple mostly and stream on YouTube. I don’t enjoy it as much as going to a local record shop but it’s the habit I’ve found myself in lately. We do have some great record shops here in town though. I have to get down there and support them more than I have been.

Andrew:
Last question. In a world that’s been so confined by the constraints of big business and the alienation caused due to the internet age, how do artists find their footing these days? What advice would you have for younger artists?

Benjamin:
First thing is first, the material has to be solid. It has to be a genuine and honest reflection of the artist. Writing for an audience is not sustainable in my opinion. After that, as much as I dread the “process,” you have to develop an internet presence. The audience wants to have access to you on a much more regular basis compared to when I was younger. Established artists don’t have to be as active, but up-and-coming artists need to be posting on social media sites weekly if not more. I love the process of creating art but have struggled with being comfortable selling my image. So, you need to get over that fast!

The internet age can both be an alienating experience or a liberating one. I think my best advice is, to be honest with your art and get over yourself and invite the audience into your life on social media platforms. The younger generation seems to have an innate sense of that. Regarding big business, I think they are the dinosaurs here and need to figure out where they fit in with this industry’s evolution. Artists have much more control of their direction and much more access to their audience these days. I just hope the pay structures can be modified, especially with touring being on the skids during the pandemic. Who knows what the touring scene will look like in the coming years so artists need to be compensated more equitably.

Interested in sampling the work of Benjamin Jayne? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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