Ben Rosenbush on Duluth, Jacob Hanson, and what A Wild Hunger means
|Photo by Will Keeler|
Gimme Noise spoke with Ben before his album release at the Cedar on Thursday on writing for the new album and the processes behind the songs.
Ben Rosenbush (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, cello)
Zach Miller (drums, piano, percussion, vocals)
Matt Patrick (guitars, multi-instrumentalist, vocals)
Aaron Fabbrini (bass)
Lyndsay Peterson (vocals)
Kip Jones (violin)
Jacob Hanson (electric guitar) - special guest
Gimme Noise: Ben, you've been writing for a while now with a debut album under your belt; how do you feel you've changed as a songwriter since the last album?
Ben Rosenbush: I consider myself more songwrestler than songwriter. My process always begins with a melody I'll live with for some time that finds the right chords, and then I begin the painstaking effort of wrestling it down with words. I spend a good amount of time frustrated, anxious, and banging my head against the wall. But what I lack sometimes in the ability to call forth a song effortlessly, as some seem to do in our community, I meet with perseverance and the simple duty of picking up the pen again and again.
The songs on my first album however came out with much more immediacy. They were born out of failed love and new love, and those kind of songs come to the surface without much bait. But for this album I wanted to realize something not so reachable for me, and to develop as a writer.
Instead of continuing to write confessional songs I kept wanting to tell stories. A story is a way to allow humanity to play out. A story allows us to discover our own humanity and our shared humanity, which I think is incredibly useful. My hope as a writer is to write a story in a song that a listener can enter like a room, and find that what's there looks an awful lot like their own story.
You have a lot of pastoral elements and themes on this new album. What flavored the songs when you were writing?
One of my favorite poems is "A Still Cup," in which the author, Hafiz, says, "the Pitcher needs a still cup." Like a lot of people, in order for me to write it's important for me to be still, to posture myself for inspiration. To find that stillness I'll most often turn to spending time in some natural landscape--woods, prairie, water, mountains. When I go to these places it's inevitable that their scenery will work it's way into the songs.
I can barely ever write a song that doesn't have water in it. It's something I've tried to shake but can't. Maybe I'm haunted by Lake Superior or something.
I gravitate toward metaphors and images that derive from the natural world, because for me they feel somewhat ageless, and primal, and the right kind of humble.
There's also a lot of storytelling aspects on A Wild Hunger, especially on songs like "Duluth." Did these stories come from personal experience?
I think anything I write is in someway and inevitably autobiographical. Most of these songs have stories with fictional characters, but at the same time, I feel like I am each of them.
The song, "Duluth," is probably the most straightforward in telling a personal story. It centers on several key images from my childhood. Growing up in Duluth as a young kid, my family and I spent as much time as we could at Park Point, the long narrow strip of beach on Lake Superior that connects Minnesota and Wisconsin. We used to build fires on the beach at night after we'd been swimming in the cold water all day, and I used that image as a metaphor for how the moments of our past echo throughout our lives. The line, "every spark became the sun of a new day", is to say that those young moments left an indelible impression that continue to shape who I'm becoming. Often times those moments for many are heavy and destructive, ones to seek refuge from. But for me I was fortunate to have family that gave me many moments to celebrate.
When I was in college I left with an underused creative writing minor. I've attempted many times to write a collection of short stories but that never came to be. I think in a lot of ways this second album is a melding of those two muses, writing short stories and making music.
How did The Brighton contribute to the evolution of the songs? Did you approach them with the pieces, and they changed from there?
Our band's process is that I first write the tunes, often out somewhere in nature as I said. I generally have a developed sense of the emotional trajectory I am hoping for, as well as the arrangement for the tune, but I leave room for the others to help shape the songs.
Zach Miller and I then spend a good amount of time in preproduction. He and I work so well together and have a natural camaraderie over these past two records. We grew up together in Duluth and have made music together for some time. He contributes a great deal to the rhythmic approach and overall production of the song, having a real skill for seeing the whole. This record truly stretched both of us as we were tried to go places neither of us had been before.
The next stage is to convene at Matt Patrick's studio to find out what the songs will really be. His studio, The Library, is a "Grand Central Station" for so much good music that is happening in the Twin Cities. He's an incredibly talented producer and mix engineer, and also a key member in the band Greycoats. Jeremy Messersmith and many others have recorded at The Library. Matt contributes a ton of great ideas to the tunes, and how we can record and capture them the best. Aaron Fabrini, Lyndsay Peterson and Kip Jones then also add so much artistry and well-placed parts in the music. It's a creative group of folks that is at times silently intent and focused, at times excitedly explosive, and at all times a freaking great hang.
How did you meet Jacob Hanson, and how did you come to working with him?
I met Jacob when he and I were both played with Stardweller for a show at The Cedar (I was playing cello). I really loved the ways he was approaching the guitar and thought he would contribute in some unique ways to our next album if he were open to it. He was!
What did he contribute to the album?
I think it's safe to say Jacob is an experimentalist. We all had a great time working together in the studio for an initial three days of tracking, simultaneously recording bass, drums and my live scratch tracks. Jacob played over the tunes experimenting until we found what we were all looking for. The collaboration between us all took the songs to where they are now, which is always a surprise and always a new discovery. Jacob is responsible for a lot of the atmospheric textures the guitars added to the songs. Those textures have played a significant role in becoming the tapestry behind and the setting for these stories.