Ben White Is a Southern Boy by the Sea
You can hear Ben White's Southern roots in the folk noir he plucks out in ominous dropped tunings complemented by some mean slide-guitar work, banjo, fiddle and harmonica. Backed by multi-instrumentalists Gab Rivera, Clancy Cramer and Shawn Kibler, Long Beach's White is finishing up a debut LP he expects to release sometime this fall; immediately thereafter, he plans to hit the road for extended touring.
OC Weekly: Listening to your material, I'm hearing a Tom Waits vibe. What artists would you cite as influences?
Ben White: There are timeless, distant influences such as Townes Van Zandt, Cormac McCarthy, Hank Williams, Doc Watson, James Taylor and Clint Eastwood; and then there are more present, tangible influences such as Dave Van Patten, the Low Anthem and the guy at the farmers' market whose name I don't know.
Is there anything you can call a signature element in your songs?
Honesty. I feel that the greatest validation any form of art can receive is the [acknowledgment] of being honest. I think we truly strive to find honest ways to communicate experiences that have proven themselves to be true to us by singing the lessons we have learned, the failures we have made and who we hope to become.
How did you get into playing guitar and writing songs?
I started fiddling around with it when I was 14. The majority of my parents' free time was spent around the piano, playing and singing songs. I think my sister and I sort of got drawn into the whole thing. We didn't know much else but music growing up. I just always thought it was the only thing I knew how to do.
Did you grow up in Long Beach?
I grew up mostly in the South. My family is from North Carolina and Tennessee. Somewhere in there, we migrated to Florida, and then spent a stint in Oklahoma. So I'm pretty much a Southern boy.
Some of your material, such as "I Killed a Man (For His Wife)," touches on some dark subject matter. Are you a dark person?
I don't know. I guess everyone has dark places. And I feel that, for some reason, in those dark places, we see the greatest possibility for hope. That is why I think I write the way I do. I want to meet people in those dark places. There is a place of honesty, of vulnerability when you have reached the end of yourself, when you realize that you are not where you want to be as a person, yet you have a vision for who you want to become.
How do you generally form your songs?
I don't know that there is necessarily a formula. Sometimes, I spend months trying to gather an idea to create the song. Other times, like the last song I wrote, it takes the time walking to 7-Eleven and back for a pack of smokes and an egg-salad sandwich.
It's been awhile since your last release. What's next?
Yeah, it's been awhile. We are working on our first full length to come out in the fall that we are really excited about. We have developed as a band so much over the past couple of years and are excited to present what we have become since our release in 2009.
Any tour plans?
We are definitely planning on touring, as well as playing plenty of shows in Southern California, and are picking up some shows on a tour with Bradley Hathaway in the next month. We are currently booking a West Coast tour over the summer and are planning on touring more once the record is released.
This column appeared in print as "Southern Boy By the Sea."
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