Eric Benet: The 13th Floor Interview

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Self-styled “old school” R&B/soul singer Eric Benet is making his way down under for his very first New Zealand performance at The Studio in Auckland on November 24th.

Benet has just released his new, self-titled, album and his itching to play it for Kiwi fans.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Eric Benet a few days ago to find out more about the live show Eric Benet plans to bring to Auckland.

Click here to listen to the interview with Eric Benet:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: Since you haven’t been here before, maybe you can give folks an idea of what to expect, as far as a live show. You’re bringing a band with you, I assume. What kind of thing do you have going on with the audience when you play?

EB: I come from the old school, where it’s all about straight, real, raw musicianship and musical talent; so, people can just expect authenticity.

MD: Excellent! How do you connect with a new audience? Do you read them? Is there anything that you do to get through and make a connection?

EB: Yeah. I think when you’ve been doing this as long as I have… an audience has its own individual personality, often times, like people do; but the good news is: if they came to my show, then they definitely came to enjoy themselves; so, getting them to get in the mood, really doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.

MD: Speaking of ‘old school’: did you play a thing called the Georgia Jam Fest, a few days ago, with The Temptations and Eddie Levert and SOS Band, and things like that?

EB: Yeah, that was great! Sharing the stage with legends like that is always an incredible honour. There seems to be a resurgence, as of late, to old school R&B, because what they’re calling R&B in 2017 is so vastly different from what I grew up with and what I do and what I’ve been doing for the past twenty five years that people miss it; people want to hear real instruments and they want to hear real soulful singing.

MD: Do you think people know the difference? Can they tell the difference between what you’re doing from something more contemporary with pre-recorded tracks?

EB: Yes, they can tell the difference. What’s especially interesting to me, is if a brand new artist, who’s twenty three years old, is, basically, doing a live instrument and the old school method of making music, then, to this new audience out there, it sounds like something that’s fresh and new and amazing, and, “What is this new sound?” It’s called instrumentation, is what it’s called! But I think if it’s myself or any of my contemporaries from my generation, if we do it, we just sound like a bunch of old fogeys doing that old thing. It’s interesting that way, but people definitely can tell and feel the difference.

MD: Yeah. I think it comes across in the performance, because it’s an actual performance and there’s a difference in that, than just pushing the play button. I had a look at your Twitter feed, and I noticed that you’re politically active, as well as musically active. Do you roll that over into your performance as well? Have you tried to get your audience activated?

EB: I try not to. I think I like to make one or two innocuous ‘please get out there and vote’ comments every now and then, but I really try not to. People didn’t come to my show to see any kind of political agenda; so, I don’t bring that to them; but, as far as I’m concerned, my Twitter is me – my personality and whatever’s on my mind. Now, I think the world is in dire straits, and the last thing we need is an egotistical, science-denying idiot as a leader; so, I’m very vocal about that.

MD: Myself – you may notice I have an American accent – speaking as an American who lives overseas now…

EB: Well, I was going to ask you where you were from!

MD: I moved here from Rochester, New York, and I’ve been here for twenty-some years, and it’s really interesting watching the American political scene from outside of it. You’ll find that there’s a huge overseas interest for all that stuff – you probably already have – but especially in New Zealand. The election was just a couple of days ago, right?

EB: … Oh, you mean Virginia and New Jersey? Yeah, that was pretty amazing! It seems there’s a reason for us to hope that people are rejecting the xenophobia, the racism and the small mindedness of one party. I hope New Jersey and Virginia are a trend for change.

MD: It definitely feels like voters are trying to send Mr. Trump a message, but he doesn’t seem to be receiving; so, it’s hard to tell.

EB: I don’t really think he’s capable of any type of empathy, or receiving any type of message like that.

MD: I noticed that you were promoting an impeachment petition, and I was wondering if you’d considered if Mike Pence was to replace him, though?

EB: I’ve gone through a lot of internal debates about that, and you’re absolutely right. Mike Pence is against, pretty much, everything I stand for… but I honestly feel that Donald Trump has some psychological issues in addition to his megalomaniacal, egotistical self. I think Mike Pence is calculating, but… I don’t think Mike Pence could go to bed and mistake some indigestion from something he ate for a need to launch nuclear missiles. I don’t think Mike Pence is that guy, but Trump, I’m not so sure.

MD: It seems like things are changing. We have a new government here in New Zealand as well, which is more left leaning, and people are feeling a bit refreshed because of that. Hopefully, it’s a trend that’s going to cruise around…. Anyway, back to the music: you also have a new album out; is that right?

EB: Yeah! It feels really good. It’s a self titled album, and it’s just me in the studio with some really amazing musician friends, and people that I’ve been working with for some time now, making some incredible music. I didn’t go in to say, “Let me have this theme for this album,’ or, “Let me try to fit it into this ‘whatever.’” We just went into the studio and let it flow; and we’re really happy with what we came up with.

MD: And you’ll be featuring some of that in the show that we see?

EB: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely!

MD: What kind of band… configuration do you tour with?

EB: I’ve got to keep it lean and mean. To be quite honest, I ain’t ‘balling’ like that; so, I can’t really afford to bring my full situation over there. It’s going to be really lean, but you won’t really realise it when that sound is so full and funky and in your face!

MD: Vocally: what do you do to do what you do? Do you take things from singers that you’ve listened to in the past, or do you try to come from within? What’s your process?

EB: You mean… maintenance or my vocal creative style?

MD: Your vocal creative style….

EB: I think, creatively, I am just a product of everything that I’ve listened to when I grew up – and I listened to a lot of stuff! I was raised in the church; so, obviously, it’s in the foundation of ‘gospel-ey’, soulfully bluesy backdrop to my voice, but I grew up listening to so many things, that it’s probably a collection of that. I grew up listening to Queen. I grew up listening to – obviously, it’s a cliché – Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire…

MD: Well, Stevie was everywhere!

EB: Stevie was definitely everywhere! I listened to a lot of Gino Vannelli – I don’t even know if people know who he is anymore. It was mainly Soul, R&B with some specklings here and there, of classic rock, is, pretty much, what I listened to.

Click here for more information and tickets to see Eric Benet in Auckland.

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