Interview with Rene Benton

After reviewing the most recent album by Rene Benton we were lucky enough to catch up with the guitar maestro.

Rene, can you give us a bit of background on your history and who or what made you pick up the guitar? I am a typical Midwestern kid. I got a plastic guitar when I was seven years old along with a drum set, both were toys. It’s funny, actually. My little brother busted my bass drum head, and boom, a guitar player was born! After that I listened to a lot radio, watched a lot of TV, and learned more. I always had an ear, and just started to develop bit by bit. My earliest influence was George Benson. Loved the scatting vocals, and his playing was more than jazz, or at least to me it was! Then Roy Clark. I knew about country, but in time I found out he was so much more than that. He could do country, classical, jazz; he was my first exposure to a studio guitarist, and it made me want to try and imitate as many styles as possible. I grew up playing R&B, Funk, and Gospel. So, someone like this really inspired me to diversify my playing styles & technique. I was very much into 70’s Funk bands too. One band in particular, Cameo, had two incredible guitarists & vocalists; Anthony Lockett and Charlie Singleton.Following them, I was heavily into the Minneapolis Funk scene happening in the States. Prince ruled the world, but it wasn’t him that did for me out of that. It was Jesse Johnson. He was a Prince protégé, who was a guitarist in a band called The Time. They had a Funk/Rock vibe. I had never heard anything quite like it before! The Funk was heavy, and they added a slightly heavier distortion on the guitars. As time marched on I got more and more exposed to heavier stuff like Thrash, Neo Classical, Death metal, etc.

Your tour and support history is a bit like a who’s who. In all of those incredible names, who has been the stand out and who are the heroes? I guess when I look at it, it is a who’s who! *laughs* I am a working musician. I have played in 38 states and 50 countries, and have toured, performed & recorded with many folks. The truth is they all stand out evenly, because the lessons you learn being a side guy is priceless, and every time I walk away wiser. I can’t narrow that one down! *laughs*

Thanks for providing us with a copy of Xpressions, which is an excellent piece of guitar work and singing. The cover seems to tell a story. Can you provide the background to that? There was a former bandmate of mine who was also artist. His expertise was in water colours. I asked him to create art for the record I had coming out, gave him the names of each song, let him listen, and a couple of months later he came up with that. So each character or scene symbolizes a song.

Diving into that album again, what was going on in your world when recording, ‘Inner City Blues’? As I said before, I came up playing R&B and Soul. That song is a cover originally by Marvin Gaye. He died years ago. I always liked the song and wanted to put a Rock take on it. If you listen to the original, it will make the song even more interesting for sure! There wasn’t much happening in my world, per se. Coincidentally, there was a long happening in he world at large as fate would have it. It connected with the times, but it wasn’t intentional.

Moving from Xpressions to Xpressions Too. The first album seems much more soulful than ‘Too’. Was that a conscious decision to change tact or does it just work out that way? Well there a lot of things at work there. “First Xpressions” was recorded in 1996 and 1997, and the soul vibe comes from me singing, which is something I didn’t want to do, initially. I was forced to do it, because I wanted more of a Chris Cornell type guy. I sadly couldn’t find someone who fitted the bill, so I recorded it myself. A different vocalist would have given everything a very different feel.“Xpressions Too!!” I wanted it to be purely instrumental, and cater more to today’s audience. That’s why the songs are short. People nowadays want everything now, and as an instrumentalist we have to understand that people want a solo, a good groove, some form of a hook, and melody line and then it’s on to the next song! Also, I want to expand beyond the average guitar fan.That’s why I took to the streets in Melbourne and Auckland. I went up to random people, let them listen to my music, and got their thoughts. I just made sure they at least listened to Rock, if not a song like ‘Push/Pull’ could be frightening! *laughs* All in all, it was a natural progression, I think. You give people what they want & what they need.

Xpressions Too” being the new album has a great insight in the song ‘Lyfe Support’ and an incredible bridge, where we seem to bring the patient back to life (Lyfe). Where does that inspiration come from? Thank you for liking ‘Lyfe Support’! Like most musicians, I have a vivid imagination. So I said to myself; if a person having a heart attack could collaborate with a heart, and they got together and wrote a song… What would it sound like? So the smooth part is the person having an ordinary day, and the heart represents the change into tempos, and things becoming more aggressive, and all those notes! The sustaining note at the end represents the person flat lining. We will have to wait for “Xpressions Three (Final Chapter)” to see If he comes back to Lyfe!

The subtitle of the new album is Short Storeez. Does that mean that behind every song you have a mental picture, a story, behind the composition? Well I wanted every sound to tell a short story, but, more importantly to deliver a mood. Like smelling something while passing a corridor, or catching a news flash on your computer. That quick mood swing is what I was aiming for. Also, since the songs are shorter in length it forces the listener to go back and listen to it again.

I’ve watched the NAMM presentations where artists, backed by guitar makers, engage the public. Is this a whole new business or just a part of the world where the artists need to be more available to the fans? NAMM has been around for many, many years. There is a summer NAMM in Nashville, also another one in Russia, which use to be in Germany. It has more to do with seeing what is the next big thing as far as equipment goes. Artist connecting with people is more of a side bar. It’s not open to the public, so you need some credentials to get in. For me it has more to do with catching up with my endorsers, possibly performing and connecting with friends, and meeting new companies that I can possible build a lifelong relationship with.

I hear that you’re a bit of a traveling man, been all over the globe. What’s next for Rene Benton – any tour plans? Out of the last 365 days, I calculated I was home approximately 97 days last year. This year, I will be touring (tentatively) with a Christian metalcore band called Blasted Tower. Mostly stateside, though. Writing and tracking for that as we speak. Also, I’m getting back together with a friend who happens to live in London. A Swedish Pop artist by the name of Gigi Hamilton. I’ll be working with a producer based out of LA named Bree Kay, too. She’s doing interesting things in the Pop music idiom. I try to align myself with forward thinking people. I love most genres of music, so I never know who I will work with from day to day, which keeps life interesting.

We always finish on the dumb question, that’s the golden rule. When we get the movie of Rene Benton, who takes the lead role? RN – That’s a tough one! It’s a toss-up between Samuel L Jackson and Will Ferrell!

Rene, thank you very much for you time, we greatly appreciate it

Interview Craig Grant


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Review: Rene Benton – Xpressions Too

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