If you haunt these pages, Ben de la Cour’s name oughta ring a bell by now. I raved about the Nashville singer-songwriter’s terrifyingly terrific ‘Americanoir’ album Shadow Land HERE; then I gave away some limited-vinyl in the fall; and he even shared his Swan Dive video HERE a couple of months back. Today, the Nashville troubadour makes a return trip north to do battle with my dumb questions. See if he answers the bell after that.
What is your musical origin story?
I’ve played music as long as I can remember except for a fiv-year period in my teens when I got it into my head that I wanted to become a professional boxer. Honestly, I should be a lot better than I am at both of those things by now.
What do we need to know about your latest project?
I recorded it in Winnipeg with Scott Nolan on a MFM Grant. I’m a Canuckophile, got the Jets jersey and everything. It was a magical experience, going up there in the dead of winter during a polar vortex to make that record and being able to fly my brother out to play drums. I love the way the record same out and can say with complete honesty that it’s the least worst thing I’ve ever done.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
My genius and insight.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
It will increase your genius and insight exponentially.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
I think the first real gig I ever played was either at a street festival on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn or at CBGB. Both were with my brother in our little punk rock band when I was about 12 … and it’s been downhill ever since. I didn’t get paid anything — honestly the thought that I could get paid to play music didn’t even enter my brain until I was in my 20s.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you ever gave?
New Orleans, at Circle Bar. It was my first show coming back there after I moved to Nashville. Shows start real late there and I’d spent the whole day eating mushrooms because I thought that was the only way I’d be able to avoid drinking. By the time I went on it was almost midnight and I was fully deranged. I ended up breaking a bottle and trying to attack my friend before pulling the entire PA over onto myself and crawling out of the bar on my hands and knees shrieking. I also played at the opening of a perfume department at Bloomingale’s once and I got drunk and started making up songs on the spot and accidentally called the manager a whore.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I think Leonard Cohen at the Royal Albert Hall was the most memorable. It was transcendent. Going to see Slayer at Roseland Ballroom with my dad when I was 13 was also pretty awesome.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I’d like to be alive but also living.
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
RZA, David Bowie, Willie Nelson, Judee Sill or Warren Zevon.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Jimmy Buffet, Ghostface Killah, Slayer, Cyndy Lauper, The Eagles, Australian Crawl, Judy Garland, Nas, Gin Blossoms, Melvins, Taylor Swift and High on Fire.
How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Just off the top of my head I love Annie Proulx, James Baldwin, most of the Russians (Dostoyevsky, Babel, Nabokov and Chekhov in particular), Raymond Carver, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Michael Ondaatje, Carlson McCullers, Larry McMurtry, Tiana Clark, Jim Harrison, Sylvia Plath and Zora Neale Hurston.
Who would you be starstruck to meet?
My daughter in 20 years. And Taylor Swift.
What’s your favourite joke?
A guy walks into a bar with a brown burlap sack and slams it on the counter. Slowly, as the bartender watches, he pulls out a two-foot alligator
“Aw hell no. Get that fucking thing out of here!” yells the bartender.
“Hold in hold on. I just want to make a friendly wager with you and your patrons. It won’t take a minute, and as soon as I’m done I’ll be on my way. It’ll be worth your time,” says the man.
“Ok. Fine. I’ll allow it,” says the bartender, his curiosity piqued.
The man unzips his jeans and flops his dick out on the bar.
“I bet any of you sons of bitches that I can put my cock in this alligator’s mouth for ONE WHOLE MINUTE and it won’t bite it off,” yells the man across the bar.
Soon, money is exchanging hands, the patrons talking excitedly amongst themselves. Once the bartender takes the money and lays the bets down, the man puts his junk in the alligator’s mouth for one whole minute. The alligator looks bored.
“I told you I could do it!” crows the mysterious man as he counts his winnings.
“Now, before I go, does anybody else want to give it a shot?”
All the way at the end of the bar sits an old drunk, nodding off into his beer. He looks up at the man and says: “Man, I sure would like to try … but I don’t think I can keep my mouth open that long.”
What do you drive and why?
I drive a Toyota Corolla, because I’m a dad but I’m not old enough or rich enough to afford a mid-life crisis dad car like a Mazda Convertible.
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Invisibility. Also a superpower that would let me always be able to keep my daughter safe while allowing her to still experience and survive the full measure of loneliness that we all have to live with, to paraphrase Jim Harrison.
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I can hold my breath for 12 minutes. Not all at once, obviously.
What do you collect?
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Oh man. I guess the worldwide descent into fascism is hard for me understand at times. Also Game of Thrones.
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I’ve got a dog called William, she’s a pit lab mix from New Orleans.
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
Honestly, playing music has always been my dream and I feel very lucky and incredibly grateful to be able to do what I do. That being said, the second time I got out of the psych ward I decided I was going to become a social worker. So I’m currently applying to schools right now to do just that.
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
I’m left handed, but when I first picked up a guitar my dad told me I needed to learn to play right handed. He said, “You’re too young to understand this now, but one day you’re going to go to a party, and you’ll see a guitar lying around, and you’re going to want to impress some girl there by playing one of your dumb little songs (he didn’t say the dumb little songs part, I’m paraphrasing). And nobody ever has a left-handed guitar lying around.”