Dear Ben, you are from The States, precisely from the Garden State of New Jersey. I read you came here to study and deepen your musical education. Would you like to tell us something about this path?
I used to be a baritone and after finsihing conservatory I came to Italy to study voice and eventually find an agent and start auditioning. About a year later I met Odette Di Maio (ex frontwoman of the band “Soon”) and we started writing songs together and performing as a folk duo. Folk music and songwriting has always been my passion and I eventually realized that being an opera singer wasn’t really for me.
You are a baritone of classical derivation; your voice is enchanting, deep and very adaptable to different intonations. Is it a gift you recognized when you were still a child?
My voice changed early on and matured while I was still in high school. When I was 16 I started spending the summers in Europe in order to perform and study voice. Ever since I can remember I sang. In high school the kids would make fun of me because I constantly sang opera down the hallways and disturbed classes. I still sing constantly today…I think it’s my primary means of communication. I have sort of an awkward personality and find it easier to hide behind melody.
There are huge differences between the American way of living and the Italian one. Would you comment this?
Americans are much more independent and pragmatic. Italians are co-dependant and spontaneous. I think I am probably in the middle. I couldn’t imagine living with my parents past the age of 18 and alot of my friends are in their mid 30s and their mothers still iron their underwear, give them money and make their bed. Then again I am still shocked that people go bankrupt in the US when they get sick and you can’t even go to the movies without the fear of being shot. Boh, good points and bad points like everywhere I guess.
You seem to have followed in love with our traditions. Still, there are some critical points you deal with in your songs. Which ones?
I get frustrated by the Italian lack of initiative. Everything is work and if you have an idea you are shot down almost instantaneously. Instead of motivating each other Italians tend to knock each other down. I don’t understand how the country of Da Vinci, Marconi and Eco has become so fucking complacent. I don’t think Italy was always this way but I think in recent years everything is just such a hassle.
“The Pines” is terrific in all its aspects. It contains folk as well as songwriting roots. This melange is powerful and lively. Nonetheless, it doesn’t fail to impress for its contemplative features. I think about “Barnegat”, for instance. Did it take long to forge this characteristic style?
This album is very particular because of Andrea’s massive influence on the sound and feel of the record. It took me a long time to get these songs together by he was able to give them and the album the “shape” they needed. He understood immediately the sort of sound I was going for. I really think this is the first time where I felt everything came together easily and I have finally developed my own sound. Better late than never I guess.
Which song of this new EP you are more fond of? Why?
Lithograph Train. Writing that song was an extremely cathartic experience. It helped me understand why I made the choices that I did in life. The song is simply about me talking to a younger version of myself and what advice I would give to him. I think the most important thing that I have realized is that movement for the sake of movement has no real purpose. Your problems remain the same wherever you go. Like a “Lithograph Train” life is just a series of repeated actions and constantly moving only gives you a false sense of change.
Narrating being a foreigner yet so integrated due to your love for our land. Is it difficult?
I am at the front door of middle age and I am beginning to ask myself if immigrating was the right choice. Although I feel the quality of life is much better in Europe I feel as if I have complete lack of a support system. I feel completely removed from my upbringing and feel no real sense of belonging to any culture at this point. So, yes. It’s a bit hard but I am happy that I chose to come here and I am a better person for it. I have many defects but provincialism isn’t one of them and that’s mainly due to the fact that I chose to move here.
Are you organising an Italian tour? Which are your expectations about it?
I am working with a guitarist in Naples and will probably start playing a few gigs around March. I think I want to spend more time playing out of Italy. I’m not sure what the response will be to this album. It’s very wordy and I think there will be significant linguistic barriers. Watch this space.
Do you plan to remain in Italy?
Boh. You can never plan for anything but I think I’m pretty much settled here. I would love to move to central Italy though. As much as I find Naples a fascinating city and without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful I think my personality is more suited to places like Tuscany or Umbria.
Have you got a dream in the drawer?
Honestly, no. I just want to be happy, eat cake and maybe one day get to drink a few glasses of Chateau Margaux 1989.