We’ve been bringing you spotlight interviews on the members of Louden Swain, and we have our final interview of the series for you! This time, it’s with Louden Swain‘s front man, Rob Benedict! Rob talked to us about how he started with music, guitars, writing, playing shows, and much more.
Nerds and Beyond: Can you tell us more about how you got into music and playing instruments?
Rob Benedict: I really don’t know where it came from. I just have always been moved by music — it was always a big part of my family. No one in my family played, but we all were fans. My dad used to be a radio DJ and listened to Jazz and Big Band stuff when I was little. I would sit for hours in the room with the record player and play record after record. My friend Kurt and I used to pretend we were in a band and make pretend videos on an old VHS camera. He started to learn keyboard (his “pretend” instrument) so I asked my mom for a guitar (my pretend instrument) for my birthday….
Nerds and Beyond: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
Rob: The very first song I learned was a blues riff in G. It thumbs its way through the blues scale. I remember thinking I CAN PLAY A SONG after I got it down.
Coincidentally I later learned that same riff was one of, if not THE first song that Billy learned. Trippy, right?
Nerds and Beyond: What was the very first guitar you bought?
Rob: My mom bought me an electric guitar out of the Sears catalog. It was a imitation Fender Strat that was very cheap. I got it for my birthday when I turned 12 and took lessons for a couple of months. I ended up playing it all through high school in my high school bands.
Nerds and Beyond: How many guitars do you own now? Which one is your favorite to play?
Rob: I own about 12. My favorite to play is my new Ernie Ball musicmaker “Valentine” guitar – the newest my collection. It’s so sweet – but I’m hesitant to take it on tour, because my touring guitars get pretty roughed up. Maybe soon. My fave to write with is my Martin acoustic. It’s just so easy to pick it up and play.
Nerds and Beyond: Who are your musical influences? Who do you look up to?
Rob: My earliest musical influences all came from my oldest sister Nancy. I have fond memories of listening to everything she was listening to, all vinyl which is what we listen to in the dark ages. The tastes range from R&B: Sly and the Family Stone, Earth Wind and Fire, to rock and disco: Boston, ELO, Queen, Bee Gees. When was a teenager I was heavily influenced by MTV, from Prince, U2 and The Police all the way up through Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the early 90s.
As an adult I am continually inspired by artists who try to break the norm. I find myself swaying further away from pop music (even though I can respect it) and drawn to alternative and new music that breaks boundaries— current faves are Radiohead and Thom Yorke , Grizzly Bear, the National, St Vincent, Bon Iver, LCD Soundsystem….the list goes on.
Nerds and Beyond: Which artist, album or song had the biggest impact on you as musician?
Rob: As a musician and songwriter I am still influenced by the classics – The Beatles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon. When I’m looking for chord progressions I’m always finding myself going, “What would McCartney or Lennon do here?” Or, “How would Neil frame this chorus?” I think George Harrison has written some of the sweetest chord changes that ever were.
As a lyricist and front man I’m heavily influenced and impacted by Eddie Vedder. He really struck a chord with me early on in the way that he could put anger or emotion into one biting lyric. And to watch him perform on stage he has the ability to take a song that was already at 10 and turn it up to 11, in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do.
Nerds and Beyond: Did you start writing songs when you were younger? Or did you get more into writing as your career progressed?
Rob: The first song of any substance that I wrote was when I was in high school. It is called “Under the Willow Tree” and it was heavily influenced by U2’s “The Joshua Tree”. I recorded it with my buddy Kurt’s help. There’s a recording of it on cassette tape somewhere – I need to unearth it. From there I just started writing more and more. I was never confident enough to show them to anyone until I met Mike Borja. We started hanging out with our friend Dave and playing covers. At some point I got up enough courage to bring in one of my own. He did the same, so did Dave…and Louden Swain was born.
Nerds and Beyond: You’re currently part of two bands: Louden Swain and The Station Breaks. Can you talk about each of those? What is the songwriting process with both of those bands?
Rob: Louden Swain songs either come from me and are translated by the band, or music is written one of the guys and I add lyrics. The result from either of those processes feels very personal, emotional. There is something about pouring my heart into a LS song that is irreplaceable. It almost feels more vulnerable or something, because ultimately I am up there singing by myself. I don’t mean this in a negative way – I love this feeling. It’s like being on the edge of a cliff and knowing I won’t fall with those 3 playing along with me. For The Station Breaks, many of those songs are co-written from the beginning. And even the ones I take in by myself are ultimately sung by me and Jason. Many times we sing together with Billy by our side so it doesn’t feel as vulnerable. In a positive way, it frees me up a bit which is a nice break.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s your favorite Louden Swain song to perform live and why? Favorite Station Breaks song to perform?
Rob: It’s hard to answer the Louden Swain question because it’s always changing. I’ll rediscover a song we haven’t played in a while then we’ll play it until it starts to get stale and we’ll put it away again. But if I had to answer I think I’d have to say “Amazing”. That one never gets old. I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written.
For The Station Breaks, I’d say “The Rest”. That one always surprises me live. When I start, it feels self indulgent or something. But as it goes along, I feel the emotion I had when I wrote it and it comes back to me. The crowd always feels to be taking the journey with me. I feel like it’s a secret weapon of ours.
Nerds and Beyond: What was your favorite song to re-imagine musically on Louden Swain’s new album, “Splitting the Seams”? Which do you think was the most challenging?
Rob: “Rock Song” was my favorite because it got a complete makeover and I think this new version is my favorite. With songs like “Big One”, “Silverspoon” and “CA Nation” it was more difficult in that I loved the originals so much. So it took more work to reimagine in a way that made us go, “Oh THAT’S interesting…THAT’S a version we’d like to play.” I still love the original versions of those songs a lot, but the reimagined one are very strong on their own.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you enjoy most about the smaller Louden Swain shows or The Station Breaks tour?
Rob: The best part is that we get to play our own show, with just our own songs in the setlist. We get to craft a beginning, middle and end, and show the audience what the Louden Swain experience is all about. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing SNS but it’s harder to give a full picture of what we are when we’re limited in how many original songs we can put into the setlist. We have a catalogue of about 80 songs so it’s a great chance to put a more, intimate experience, a real sharing back and forth between the few hundred people in the club and us.
For The Station Breaks, I just love having the opportunity to hang out with that group of guys – since its a rarity we get to hang out and play together.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s one of your favorite memories from performing?
Rob: There are so many, again its hard to pick. Every night we play “Amazing” and the audience shouts back “so captivating” or when I open my eyes during “She Waits” and the audience is lit up with candles, my heart stops a bit. It means so much to me.
Nerds and Beyond: What is one of your lyrics that you’re incredibly proud of, or is your favorite?
Rob: I like “I’m the captain of my story”, which is quite empowering. Although truly it’s only the first half of the message. The line is, “I’m the captain of my story, but I’m looking for a mate,” referencing a first mate on a ship. It’s like that realization at the end of the book Into the Wild when he decides you really do need to spend life with other people. It can’t be done alone. Life is about sharing, interacting. It’s about self realization through friendship and family.
Nerds and Beyond: Who would your dream collaboration be with?
Rob: I mean my obvious answer is Eddie Vedder. He is such a great lyricist – it would be great to get in there and hash it out with him. I would also love to work with Glen Hansard for the same reason. He’s a beautiful lyricist and has such a great grasp on melody. Basically it would be like school for me, a HUGE education — to be able to work with people on that level.
Nerds and Beyond: We always love to ask nerdy questions to close out an interview. So, what’s a movie you’ve seen in the last year that has really stuck with you?
Rob: I really enjoyed “US”. It stuck with me, made me think. I think it’s a genius concept and has such depths. I’m also so blown away by what Jordan Peele has accomplished. He’s a friend of mine who has really taken off in such a glorious way. I’m super proud to know him.
Nerds and Beyond: What is your favorite book?
Rob: There are many but at this moment I’d say “The Secret History” by Donna Tarrt. It was her first book! And it literally had me on the edge of my seat at every turn. So smart, the characters are so rich. I love that book.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s your favorite movie soundtrack?
Singles, The Big Lebwoski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Mission…
Nerds and Beyond: Lastly, what do you nerd out to, what are you a fan of?
Pearl Jam Fan Club member since 1994 dude!