It isn't uncommon for many musicians to take the DIY approach to their own music, but there are a few who take it a step further and offer their services to others. --- I mean, why not? For many musicians, the idea of paying out for studio time is an expense far beyond their budget, but sitting in a basement studio with a friend from another project to record your album on the cheap is a great stepping stone to get your work out until you're able to afford more on another album. Today, I'm chatting with one such musician who went down that very route, as Chris Bennion from Red At Dusk sits down to talk about his career in music, becoming a DIY producer, thoughts on the music scene and more. (All pictures courtesy of Chris Bennion.)
Gavin: Hey, Chris. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chris: I’m 19 years old, born in Kailua, Hawaii, and raised in Springville, Utah. I’ve been raised traveling; my dad’s an English professor at BYU and he’s gone on periodic semester-long trips to England, hauling his family along with him, so I’ve lived collectively four years or so in England. Considering my parents are an English professor and a psychologist, I’ve had a profound interest in both of those fields, but music’s always been at the center of my attention.
Gavin: How did you first get involved with music, and what were some early influences on you?
Chris: Since I was tiny, I’ve been steeped in The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beach Boys, thanks to my parents. Because of them and my older siblings’ infatuation with '90s bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana, and my oldest brother’s love for eccentric electronic music, I had an eclectic blend of influences from a young age. I decided I wanted to become a musician during a talent show I went to in middle school. A group of kids played a Blink-182 cover, and there was something so charismatic and inviting to me about the entire scene. These kids had practiced and gotten the songs down, performed it for an audience that reacted so positively and immediately in a way that you can’t expect from art or poetry. That kind of reaction, a physical one that someone can’t really fake successfully, that’s the kind of reaction I wanted to elicit from my art. The first album I ever bought was Demon Days by Gorillaz, and it remains to this day my favorite album, if not because of its absolute familiarity. My earliest songs, in my mind, were an attempt at a perfect mix between Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ and Demon Days -- who’s to say whether I succeeded or not or whether that’s really an appealing goal?
Gavin: You're currently attending BYU, seeking an English degree. What made you choose the Y and how has the program worked out for you?
Chris: In a nutshell, I chose the Y at first because it was the cheapest alternative. My dad being faculty at BYU is lucrative as far as tuition goes. I was certain I wanted to do English because I want to write stories. I think it would be really cool to publish a childrens book someday, illustrations and all. However, I didn’t think I’d have to wade through hours and hours of literary theory to be seen as a credible author, so I’ve decided to switch to a music major, which I suppose I should have started with all along. I’m excited about the new major, although I’m just tackling G.E.s for the next year rather than classes specific to my major.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local music scene and playing around town?
Chris: Throughout high school, I played with a band called Red & The Rovers, which was fas- paced, hard to listen to, but, inexplicably, had a decent following. We never seemed to break out of that constant group of fans. Provo has a great music scene, thanks in no small part to Velour and Muse Music, both on University Avenue. It was rough for me to play shows, at first. You write, practice and perfect songs on your own, and build up an expectation for yourself to perform a certain way, and once the show is over you tend to be discouraged in your performance. After nearly every show when I first started performing, I was convinced I had played terribly and questioned whether I should continue playing music. I’ve gotten used to the occasional screw-ups and I’ve had to make up some lyrics on the spot because I’ve forgotten the ones I wrote, but for the most part I’m satisfied after playing shows, and this satisfaction came through lots of practice dealing with discouragement. Provo’s scene has been patient and supportive, and the other bands are always interested in each other and love to help each other out. There’s a strong feeling of familiarity between Provo bands, even with the newcomers. Everyone’s incredibly supportive, and we’re lucky to have people like Corey Fox and Kaneisha Johnson who run Velour, who legitimately care about the bands that perform at their venue and help them a lot as far as marketing and advertising.
Gavin: How are things going with your current project, Red At Dusk?
Chris: Things are going well as far as songwriting goes. I haven’t been playing a lot of shows; mostly, I’ve been backup for my good friend Emily Brown at her shows over the past few months, but I’m happy about my production lately. I have access to better equipment than I’ve ever had before, and the difference in sound quality is amazing. I’m excited for people to hear it. I’ve been working on a full-length album, the title of which is pending, but it’ll consist of several new songs and some remakes of older songs of mine that I’d like to sound better. I’m excited about Red At Dusk, more than I have been for a while. I’ll collaborate in other projects but, for the most part, Red At Dusk will be my focus, what I’m most ambitious about because, being a solo project, it’ll be the project that I have complete creative control over, the music that will most accurately represent me.
Gavin: What made you decide to get more behind-the-scenes and work as a producer?
Chris: I’ve always listened to a large variety of music, and it shows in my songwriting. I’ve written strictly acoustic songs and then the next day, I’ll write something that could belong in a nightclub. I’ve always been sure that I don’t want to stick to one genre, and being a producer would mean I’d get to work with all kinds of sounds from all over the place. I love collaborating with other artists, and although sometimes I have troubles with creative control, I’ve come to love helping people find the best sound they can. Being a producer obviously wouldn’t be my sole choice in the music industry -- I want to be a musician first and a producer second -- but I think those have to come hand in hand anyways for a producer to really understand what’s going on.
Gavin: How was it for you learning the ropes for recording and essentially becoming a producer by scratch?
Chris: It was slow. I started with GarageBand on the household computer, which was in the busiest room of the house, so my recording was always restricted to late at night or days where I was home alone. I’m also the youngest in the family, and so there’s a new batch of my siblings’ kids who break in through the doors and scream continually over weekends and surprise visits, and despite my best efforts to conceal them, sometimes they end up in my recordings. My parents are more supportive than I could’ve hoped for, and they bought me a Macbook and Logic Studios as a high school graduation present, which has been the best thing that’s happened to my music production. When I first opened Logic, I was blown away at everything I didn’t know, especially considering I’d become pretty fluent with GarageBand, but through hours and hours a day of experimenting, I’ve learned enough to be pretty confident in it. It’s been difficult, and an incredible amount of work, but it’s what I love to do so, of course, it doesn’t feel like work.
Gavin: How have some of your sessions gone, and how has it been working with talent in Provo?
Chris: For the most part, I’ve produced my close friends’ music, including Emily Brown’s newest album Green Things. It was grand working with her. We recorded most of the album in Moab, Utah, which was better than I could’ve expected. For most of Emily’s album, I recorded her singing and playing guitar in a single track, then wrote the rest of the mix myself. Some of the songs we worked on together, but most of the time I was recording the album she was two states away in California, so she obviously put a lot of trust in me to mix it in a way she’d like, which, hopefully, I did. I think the album turned out incredibly well, and it’s been well-received by everyone I’ve talked to. I think Provo has a pretty spectacular range of talent in a wide variety of genres, and it’s cool to be in the mix as it all happens.
Gavin: I know you have plans down the line for formally putting together a studio and label. What's the progress so far on that?
Chris: Thus far, I’ve started a meager website and I’m working on raising some cash. That’s about the extent of my record label so far. For the moment, I’m focusing more on building up my reputation as a local musician, and advertising for my label will hitch a ride on that. This isn’t to say that I’m not ambitious about this label, but that I think it’d be more pragmatic to work on being a musician first rather than establishing my own independent business; it means competition and, frankly, I’m in no state to be successful quite yet.
Gavin: Moving on to statewide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Chris: I think it’s incredibly diverse and has a lot to offer. Provo’s local shows are so incredibly different from any other shows I’ve seen. There’s something so welcoming and familiar about every show I’ve been to here. That kind of familiarity isn’t super-prominent in other venues, even within the state, that I’ve been to. However, I think that the local scene has this mentality that they can’t break away from the local, or that by breaking away from the local they’re somehow betraying other local musicians, and so the scene tends to stay in one place and stagnate. This isn’t to say I’m an exception to this mentality, but I think the scene needs to adapt and continue to grow, and sometimes that means more experienced bands should move outward in addition to supporting the local.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Chris: Older, more experienced musicians should move outward, experience the national music scene, and bring that experience home to the local as living examples that small local bands can be successful on a national level. Bands like Fictionist and Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees do this well. Tyler’s been at many of the local shows that I’ve been to, and performed with The APT in an open mic I played at in December. There needs to be more of that kind of familiarity between the big bands and the smaller ones struggling to make a living off music.
Gavin: Not including your own projects, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?
Chris: The APT and Chance Lewis together on stage is always a good combination. Every time I’ve watched them perform, I’ve had a kickass time. Book On Tape Worm is a band I’ve been somewhat close to, one of my best friends being the former pianist in the group; they're a band that deserves all the attention they can get. Scott Shepard, their front man, is an exceptional songwriter and an ambitious musician, and although they have a good local following, they deserve to be adopted into the national scene.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?
Chris: I love 90.9 and 91.7 FM; they tend to not disappoint. They focus on the underground music scene, which is great, but it seems to be more on the national level rather than Utah’s scene. This may be a product of circumstance, but the only special I’ve heard in the past year on a local band was one for The Moth & The Flame, to advertise for their new album. I know it’s not realistic financially to play less recognized music, but it’d obviously help boost our local scene significantly if we did more specials on up-and-coming local bands.
Gavin: What do you think of file sharing these days, both as a musician and a music lover?
Chris: That’s a tough question. As a small musician who struggles to make an income by it, people tend to be more understanding and pay the money for music I sell. But for the gigantic, world-touring behemoths of the music industry, I feel less guilty about grabbing some songs off my friend’s computer than I do with local bands. I think it’s a matter of the ratio of income for the musician. Growing musicians need all the monetary help they can get, and if the lack of a sale will make a significant impact on the musician’s income then I say cough up the five bucks for the poor guy’s album and show some support. However, if it’s Beyonce or Foster The People we’re talking about, I think it’s just fine to get your buddy to burn you a CD.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and your projects over the rest of this year?
Chris: Well, I’ve decided to serve a mission for the LDS Church, for which I’d leave as early as next summer. That’ll put a two-year hiatus on any of my production. But, as far as Red At Dusk goes, I’m planning on releasing a full-length album sometime this winter or early into spring, and I’m currently in the process of writing and recording songs for that. For production of other projects, Red at Dusk takes precedence for the next year. I’ll be setting up shows over the next few months to advertise for the album, and, hopefully, sell a lot of copies. I want to get my music out there as much as I can, but I’m afraid I’ve been less proactive about marketing myself than I should’ve been. I’ve been more focused on production and studio stuff rather than getting out there and playing, and I intend to work on that over the rest of the year.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Chris: My friend Emily Brown’s newest album Green Things which I produced. She’s the best songwriter I’ve ever met and it was a pleasure working with her, and I want her album to be as successful as it deserves to be. You can find the album on her Bandcamp. Also, Book On Tape Worm has a new album, entitled All The World’s A Stage, that will be released in October, and from what I’ve heard off the album it won’t disappoint.
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