Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Joe Benoit (formerly of the band The Regulars) about his new record ‘What Kind of World’.
The Power Pop year 2021 has a wonderful start and ‘What Kind of World’ is one of the reasons for this.
How did this record come together?
This new record is absolutely the product of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m sure plenty of other artists have similar stories about the way 2020 unfolded for them. I can tell you that I wan’t initially planning to write or record a full album of material. I wrote the song “The Longest Weekend” early last spring when NYC (which is where I live) was the epicenter of the pandemic.
I recruited my friends Dan Miller, Kieran Kelly, and Sam K. Shaw to contribute their bass, drum, and mixing talents respectively. We did all of this remotely with everyone working out of their houses and home studios. Once the track was done I decided to release it as a single on my website. I wanted to do something for the frontline workers who were so bravely risking their lives for the sake of everyone else.
So after about two weeks of the song being available on my website, I donated the $500 I had earned in downloads to a charity called Frontline Foods. I decided to keep writing and recording after receiving such a positive response to the single. It basically just became a snowball effect, with one song giving rise to the next.
On some songs I played all of the parts, but I had friends who sent me their tracks for some others. In addition to the friends I mentioned earlier, a few guitar parts were played by fellow NYC musician Jeff Litman and my former bandmate Brian Clark. I even coaxed my wife Rebecca Banchik into singing some harmony vocals on a couple of tracks, and they turned out great.
The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?
I just want people to hear it! I still find it strange that rock music has sort of receded into the background in terms of popularity. I don’t expect tens of millions of people to discover me or to love what I do. I mean that would be nice, but it’s totally unrealistic given the way things have shifted in the industry and in pop culture. That being said, the recorded versions of these songs are more important now than ever because live music is still on pause. I am incredibly thankful for each person who downloads the album, shares it with a friend, follows me on social media/streaming services, or adds me to their playlists!
You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?
I’m suspending reality here, but the three songwriters I would choose to work with are Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, and Rick Nielsen. These guys are all major influences on me for different reasons. Tom Petty was one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. His word economy and ability to draw the listener into the world of his songs are pretty much unrivaled as far as I’m concerned.
Similarly, I think that Paul Westerberg (both as the chief songwriter in The Replacements and as a solo artist) has that uncanny ability to cut through the bullshit and express himself honestly and succinctly. There are songs that he has written that in my mind summarize the entire human condition.
Lastly, I chose Rick Nielsen because I’m a huge Cheap Trick fan. He also seems like he would be a lot of fun to hang out with. And honestly, is there anyone who’s written more badass riffs and songs over the course of their career? I mean we’re talking about the guy who wrote “Surrender” here!
When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?
I think it was when I completed the chorus on “The Longest Weekend.” I had the verses in place, and I had a progression and melody for the chorus. But I was struggling with how to end the chorus. It made sense for there to be some sort of tag line at the end of it. I just wasn’t sure what it should be. I wanted to rhyme with the lyrics “We’re living in the longest weekend / You’d think it would be fun.” The bolt of lightning moment came when I landed on the line, “I never thought I’d say that I want Monday to come.” Solid gold, baby. Solid gold haha.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
I think that is definitely true. It’s not easy to make a great record. But anyone can dip a toe in the recording process these days to mixed success. And because peoples’ tastes have changed to be more accepting of tracks that have been edited and auto-tuned a thousand times over, even people who have no business seriously releasing music can do exactly that. And while technology makes it possible to record, release, and share music from the comfort of one’s bedroom, the simple truth is the internet is completely oversaturated with music. So it can be incredibly hard to get people to hear what you’ve created.
You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?
On one hand, I think my music sounds like a blend of all of my favorite genres and styles: power pop, 70s hard rock, 60s pop, arena rock, and 90s alternative. However, I do think my songs offer up little sonic surprises that the listener may not see coming. It could be a melodic alteration or a harmony that only appears at a specific time or a seamless key change or a percussive element.
I think that’s one of my favorite things to do: take a relatively simple three or four-minute rock tune and sprinkle in a few little bits of ear candy that set the song apart. I often get compared to power pop artists like Matthew Sweet, Raspberries, Big Star, or The Gin Blossoms. And that totally makes sense because I draw a ton of influence from those bands. But then a moment later, you might hear something super crunchy that would fit right in on an AC/DC track or a harmonized guitar part that sounds reminiscent of Queen or a forlorn sounding acoustic ballad that would be right at home on a Nick Drake or Wilco album.
What can I say? I like to keep the listeners on their toes.