Interview with Marco Benevento

By BISS List Staff Writer, Arya Jha

BISS List caught up with Marco Benevento, in support of his upcoming show on Friday April 14th at the Independent. I got to catch up with him before his show in Seattle, discussing everything from his outfits to crowdsurfing and upcoming JazzFest show Worship My Organ! Read on….


Biss List: Happy Spring! How is your west coast tour going so far?

Marco Benevento: YES! Tour has been going awesome, we have a new live record out so we’ve been playing a lot of songs off of that.


BL: The Woodstock Sessions came out in February and it sounds amazing! So I have always wanted to ask you: where do your amazing striped outfits come from?

MB: Ha ha! I know right! I started watching some old rock and roll documentaries, and I was like, ‘I don’t wear anything! I don't have, like, a THING’. I remember Mick Jagger saying, *Marco Uses a British Jagger Accent*  ‘You have to play the part man, you have to play the part!’ Then I realized, I have to play the part! I’m way into Jack White, and the Stones, and Elton John, and all sorts of artists who have a little something going on. About four years or so ago I was walking in Ashbury Park, New Jersey, and I walked by this striped suit. I kept on walking, and I kept thinking, ‘Man I gotta go back and buy that thing’. I bought it, I bought a whole suit and I had no business doing it, I dropped like 200 bucks or more on a whole outfit. I put it on and walked into the venue and everyone cheered, “YA MAN!”


BL: Well you have definitely gotten your money's worth out of it.

MB: Seriously. Now we are all wearing white, I have another suit too, we follow that style with a little variation. I do like that; I never did that in the past. I remember doing a gig awhile back and we sound checked and I had a t shirt on and jeans and the lady was like, ‘Okay when you’re done with your soundcheck, you can go to your hotel rooms and change.’ And I said, ‘I’m not gonna change I’m just wearing this’ and she said ‘Ohhhh’. I thought, Aw Fuck I gotta look good ya know, I gotta work on something!


BL: Can you tell me who the character Fred Short (of the album “The Story of Fred Short”) is?

MB: Fred Short is a made up character that has evolved over time. I live off of Fred Short Rd in Woodstock, NY. My gears were spinning when I wrote all this music, I thought, I could make up a whole story about Fred Short. He was this Native American shaman, he used to live on the same eight acres I live on now. Hundred of years ago he used to have ceremonies on our property. He used to tell people that you have to be kind to the earth, it's gonna get too hot, the sun is going to explode, if we don’t take care of the environment. Fred Short had a very environmentally friendly message. The story is, that I also collect pianos, and I refurbish them. I find pianos on craigslist that I can use for spare parts. I always tell people that I went to go get a piano at this guys house and I put it in my van and I was about to drive away. He asked me where I live and I said ‘Fred Short Road’ and he said ‘Oh this piano was actually in the Short family! It used to belong to his daughter’ or something like that. So I went home with this piano and wrote the story of Fred Short.


BL: Has the character Fred Short manifested itself into your reality at all?


MB: Oh yea, definitely. When my studio record came out about a year ago, I would tell people these stories and not let them know if it was real or fake. I was doing this radio interview and told the whole Fred Short story and some lady emailed the radio station. She said ‘I’m not sure if Marco realizes but Fred Short wasn’t a Native American, he was my great great grandfather.’ Then she told me the real story of Fred Short. It was so funny. I wrote her back saying ‘Thank You, the story was something I have been making up, not trying to spread anything that’s not true!’ She responded saying ‘It’s all good, Fred Short is actually buried in Kingston NY.’ We went to his tombstone and took pictures of his grave, and I thought maybe we could make a video for the next record that shows his grave or whatever.


BL: That is creepy and Amazing! You always come to San Francisco with an amazing band, last year you came to San Francisco you had Dave Dreiwitz (bassist of JRAD, Ween) in your band! Who are we going to see at the Independent?


MB: Ween got together again so Dave is full on with Ween. I was lucky to be able to tour with Dave for those couple years. Now Dave recommended another bass player, her name is Karina Rykman. He went to her house and taught her all the music, she is 23 years old, and has amazing stage presence. She has insane bass lines, epic rock and roll stances on the monitor, jumps around, just kills it. That’s a new edition that we are all excited about. Andy Borger, the drummer that I have been touring with for 6 years now is still hanging on and is killin’ it. He sounds better than ever, I keep telling him that every night too. It’s a pretty tight band, we have 6 records plus the live record, so we have a hefty catalogue of music to scroll through as needed. Right now we are playing The Story of Fred Short in it’s entirety live then doing a bunch of other songs from the various records we put out. We EVEN have, as it always goes, a bunch of new tunes that we are road testing as well.


BL: The Bay Area is so excited for the show this Friday! You've done so much this year, and it’s only April. We’re here talking about the end of your west coast tour, but you started the year off by re-uniting Benevento-Russo Duo. How was re-uniting Benevento Russo Duo, and how is it different after all the years of JRAD?

MB: We haven't done the Duo in so long, in ten whole years which is crazy. One of the hardest things about the duo, well back then I was playing Hammond Organ, versus just Piano which I play now. Granted they are both keyboards, but the thing with the Hammond is you play bass with your feet. So I had to re work the whole foot bassline thing out. We did a bunch of rehearsals before the gig, and I was thinking, I don’t know how I did this when I was 26.


BL: Is it kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time?
MB: Yea! It was so hard! We got it together for the few gigs we had this year, and then we kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Dude that was so hard’. An hour and a half of music with just the two of us, when we’re closer to 40 and not drinking two bottles of Maker's Mark before the gig, it’s harder. We’re healthier now, it was difficult, but SO much fun. The joy in peoples faces that wanted us to do that for awhile now, was really nice to see. I don’t really know when we’re gonna do that again.


BL: You have always been prone to a lot of secret shows. From the Radio Bean in Burlington VT to the Boom Boom Room here San Francisco- why the secret shows? What does that do for you?

MB: When you’re on the road and playing every night, there is nothing worse than having a night off. I don’t like a night off when I'm on the bus with my crew, we’re all together, we finally got together to make this tour happen. Night off, what do you mean a night off? We have all our gear, let's load it in and play a show! Some venues don’t like that actually, Higher Ground (Burlington VT) wasn’t happy about the Radio Bean (Burlington VT) show. What do you mean? It’s Super Bowl Sunday! No one wants to hire us for a gig except the Radio Bean. We barely made any money anyway. I like to stay busy.


BL: We all appreciate those intimate shows! What piano are you touring with right now and how did you find it?

MB: Gibbs a craigslist find. I painted it black and put some pedals on it. It’s holding up well.


BL: From playing with Bob Weir at the Fox in Oakland to Oteil joining the Freaks Ball at the Brooklyn Bowl, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has come along way. Can you pinpoint your favorite JRAD moment so far?

MB: Definitely. This past Brooklyn Bowl run. The first weekend I was watching the crowd and thought to myself, Man I wanna crowdsurf. Second weekend of JRAD comes around and I told Joey about it before we get on stage, but no one heard it but him. At some point during the show there is a group of fans in front of me, cheering my name, even though I wasn’t playing a solo or anything. Marco, Marco, MARCO! Joey gives me the nod and encourages me to go for it. So I crowd surfed! Joey let it go on for a minute before telling the audience to bring me back up to finish the song!


BL: Finally, here we are, and New Orleans JazzFest is coming! You have plenty of shows down there this year, and a fan favorite that always sells out is BooM BooM RooM’s Worship My Organ. This year it is at The Maison on May 5th! Can you tell me more about Worship My Organ and how you approach the show?

MB: Worship My Organ is great because it is all improv. The show is so special every year, because there is no rehearsal, set list or conversation between the musicians before the show. Especially with such experience and talented musicians on the bill, such a Medeski and Walter, the sounds are always unique and impeccable. Always a great show!


BL: Thank You for all you do Marco! Keep up the Rock and Roll!! See you on Friday!

MB: Yay! Thank You Guys!