Marco Benevento

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Marco Benevento reminds everyone that ‘being you is important’ with positive piano wizardry on Let It Slide

Aggie Theatre | February 6
Public House – Crested Butte | February 7
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom | February 8

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By Sarah Baranauskas

In one of Marco Benevento’s favorite films, Here Is What Is, the documentary about prolific musician and producer Daniel Lanois, there is a scene where Lanois and Brian Eno describe the creative process, as Eno pushes back on the assumption that music just flows easily from natural talent. “Eno is like, ‘You’ve got to tell people music comes from shit! It comes from nothing!’” Benevento recalled. “Music is this little seed that you have to nurture to grow into a flower. It doesn’t just happen by itself. There are a million things you are doing to make it grow. This little two-and-a-half minute song, it takes two years sometimes to get it together. Songs come from nothing. That’s kind of cool.”

Benevento’s latest release, Let It Slide, came out of a lengthy nurturing process. But, like everything in Benevento’s musical world, it was a damn fun journey.

“I have them as two separate things in my brain,” Benevento said, during a recent interview with The Marquee from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. The keys master was fresh from rocking The Brooklyn Bowl with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead the previous night which caused him to reflect on the relationship between JRAD and his own band. “I wear that [JRAD] hat, and then I, literally, wear a hat with my band. It’s a fun switch. It’s like being a superhero and living two different lives.”

In the latest issue of Benevento’s solo story, he worked with famed producer Leon Michels as his co-pilot. This provided a different approach than previous projects that saw Benevento at the helm. A long-time fan of Michels’ work, Benevento was introduced to the producer by their mutual friend, musician Richard Swift, who tragically passed away in 2018. Benevento trusted Michels with his music completely, and the result is a beautiful example of what can happen when you let go and put faith in the collaborative flow.

“I didn’t have any problems with being a ‘yes man’ the whole time because I truly liked what he did,” Benevento said. “I felt ready for a Marco-meets-someone else kind of record. It’s a collaboration, really. All the songs are mine but getting Leon’s hands and ears on it changed everything. He gave it his all. Leon was not holding back in the quality department.”

The album was recorded at Michels’ studio, Diamond Mine, in Queens, N.Y. Tracking with Benevento on piano and Michels on organ, the trio was rounded out by bassist and drummer Nick Movshen. Capturing the initial tracks as a trio, they employed an old-school approach, recording to a reel-to-reel tape machine.

“One track was drums, totally mono,” Benevento explained. “The other was Leon and myself. Then we balanced the two tracks on an 8-track recorder, with Nick overdubbing the bass.”

Although the Queens cuts were laid down in less than a week, the overdubs were done over a period of two years, Upstate, where both Benevento and Michels live. It wasn’t perfectionism at play though — it was purely due to Benevento’s busy touring schedule and Michels’ slate of other projects. “It was super casual and fun,” Benevento said. “I have made records a lot faster but I enjoyed this slow pace. It meant we were really able to get into the details.” The result is an album that still captures the spark of immediacy while giving attention to these finer sonic points. Besides snagging the scorchy, dance-ready vibe, the instrumentation is often delightfully slippery. This is most apparent on the “Gaffiano” interludes that pepper the album, where the piano sounds almost like a harp, or perhaps a Japanese folk instrument. This uncanny sound was created by putting gaffer tape across Benevento’s piano strings.

“We were tracking and the piano sounded too pianoy for me,” Benevento recounted. “Live, I will reach into the piano and mute the strings with the palm of my hand. But then your range is limited to an octave, or maybe just a fifth. But, if you use gaff tape along the whole piano, you can have two hands on the piano. Gaff tape on a piano — Gaffiano!”

Colorado fans will be able to experience these new tracks live when Benevento and his band come through in February. Keeping up the energy to bring that raucous, live show night after night can be a challenge when you spend as much time on the road as Benevento does, but, no matter the unpredictable nature of touring, he just rolls with it.

“There are always things that come up in a live setting,” he explained. “Whether or not you went out the night before, what you ate, or weren’t able to eat, before the gig. Maybe the sound is bad or the lights are hitting you in a weird, distracting way. Every musician deals with stuff like that. When I think of the kind of shit people dealt with in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s like, we can deal with it sounding weird in a 500 person room in Colorado. I’m pretty good at not sweating the small stuff.”

To help themselves feel at home in the green room space, Benevento and his crew bring a record player and a few choice favorites to spin on the road. The current tour selection includes The Beastie Boys’ The Mix-Up, Love Joys’ Lover’s Rock, and Leon Michels’ own El Michels Affair’s Return to the 37th Chamber, one of Michels’ instrumental explorations of Wu-Tang Clan. It may sound like a frivolous ritual on the road, but what happens backstage helps set the tone for the ecstatic throwdowns each night. As Benevento said, “We are all super positive — and everybody knows it’s time to rock when it’s time to rock.”

From setting the stage, literally and figuratively, Benevento’s spirit serves as a great example of how there’s so much to celebrate when we follow our own unique roadmaps. “Just stay true to what you want to do,” he said. “Be creative. Put your color and your vibe out there. Whatever you think art is, it’s important to do it. Being you is important. So, I’m just sticking with what I’m doing and doing the best I can with it. I like how it’s evolving.”

Aggie Theatre | February 6
Public House – Crested Butte | February 7
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom | February 8

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