The Schoolhouse Rock companion text (non-rhyming version), in the chapter called “Music as Social Science,” states, “when two strong personalities exist within a single creative entity (a “band”), their respective visions collide.” Fortunately, when this happened within Red Bennies, it wasn’t an episode of destruction, but rather a corrective quake.
Vocalist-guitarist David Payneful started Red Bennies in 1994 with upright four-stringer Paul Butterfield. Drummers would come and go until 2000, when drummer Nate Pysher and guitarist Eli Morrison (a standout creative force in such bands as The Wolfs, Ether and Puri Do) enlisted. The sound-soulful, psycho-intellectual, quasi-stoner rock-would cut wicked incisors; Payneful’s emotive, Chris Cornell/Robinson-meets-Rob Tyner yowl set against a magnificent rock cacophony in which Morrison’s fuzzed-out Marshall riffage was a highlight.
It worked, establishing Red Bennies as one of Salt Lake’s premier underground bands and garnering a deal with Oakland indie label Vaccination Records (home of Rube Waddell and Idiot Flesh), which released the band’s third CD, Announcing, late last year. But despite this, the sound was a slight compromise for Payneful, meant to accommodate the other members, chiefly Morrison. It would emerge as a complication when Pysher and Morrison lost interest and departed—amicably—just before Announcing’s release. Payneful would be forced to step back and assess the band’s direction.
“What it boils down to is, I started the group, we played for a long time and slowly, as a result of people in the group not bein’ stoked about what we were doing in the group, I kinda compromised my personal style and what I really wanted out of the group emotionally or whatever. I don’t know how to explain it, besides just sayin’ I just wanted to do exactly what I wanted to do.”
If he sounds bitter, he’s not. He’s elated at the opportunity to revisit his original intent for the band while maintaining friendships. The fun, which had been lost, is back. “I was kinda like, ‘Wow! I can do whatever I want. This is awesome!’ It was all super good. I mean, before they left ... it was just kinda like a job, you know? The fun of the group became the most important thing, so they had to go because they weren’t havin’ it. Eli’s having a lot of success with The Wolfs, which is awesome.”
A rebuilt Red Bennies, featuring drummer Mike Sartain (Optimus Prime, Fumamos, Starmy) and keyboardist Terrence Warburton (Iodina, Static Cult) would continue to practice at The Moroccan, the erstwhile underground venue in which Pysher resides and Ether, Alchemy, Optimus Prime and The Wolfs also record and rehearse. Red Bennies would warp back to the band’s original feeling, replacing the previous, overwhelming sonic wash with a more lucid version showcasing Payneful’s vocals and wooly guitar, Butterfield’s “smushy” bottom, Warburton’s ringing Rhodes and Sartain’s precise, driving rhythms.
The new lineup debuted at the Urban Lounge on New Year’s Eve, a show originally meant to mark the release of Announcing, but served as a dual release for that and a quickie calling card for the new Bennies, Yes, It’s Lo-Fi. By the band’s humble account, the show wasn’t their best-but no one’s calling it an omen. Longtime fans might miss Morrison’s wall of fuzz and powerful backup vocals, but if Yes, It’s Lo-Fi is any indication, the band will continue its ascent locally and nationally.
“Now, the main thing is the soulfulness of our performances, individually,” explains Payneful. “That big washiness [has gone] away and you can hear what everyone’s doin.’ That’s how it used to be in the first place and we’re going back to it.”
“Yes, the New Year’s Eve performance sucked,” he confesses, “But hell yes, we kick ass. In a month we’re gonna really rock.”