Primary Instrument: Organ, Hammond B3
Marco Benevento is set to release Me Not Me, a new studio album featuring interpretations of songs by artists including My Morning Jacket, Leonard Cohen and Deerhoof. The ten-track collection arrives within a year from release of Benevento's critically acclaimed debut studio effort, Invisible Baby. Like its predecessor, Benevento is joined on the sessions by bassist Reed Mathis and drummers Matt Chamberlain and Andrew Barr. The band recorded at Chroma Sound in Seattle during days off on a West Coast tour earlier this year. Engineer Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Antony & The Johnsons, Phish) mixed the sessions in Brooklyn. Of further note, Benevento takes a giant step into the 21st century with the formation of his own label, The Royal Potato Family (distributed by MRI/Red), for the worldwide release of Me Not Me.
When I first started touring with the trio, in addition to my own material, there was a great opportunity for me to perform tunes from other artists that I'd always wanted to play, both a combination of older rock songs and modern tunes that are part of our current culture, explains Benevento. So the next step was to make a record with some of this material. I decided to leave the harmony of the songs pretty close to the originals, but really get into messing with the arrangements. I got into sculpting sound around the original piano parts by using some of my favorite keyboards and re-amping them in interesting ways.
Marco Benevento initially garnered national attention playing Hammond B-3 organ and Wurlitzer in The Benevento-Russo Duo, but he shifts the focus to acoustic piano with his own trio. Throughout Me Not Me, he proves himself one of the most compelling sonic innovators of his generation, re-imagining the instrument by running it through pickups, delay and distortion pedals and a Fender Super Reverb Amp.
He shapes and shifts the aural depth of the recording by adding layers of Ace Tone drum machines, Farfisa, Optigan, Mellotron, tack piano and other unconventional keyboards, while using circuit bent toys to further develop the emotional character of the songs. In Leonard Cohen's Seems So Long Ago Nancy, one can almost see the warm glow of analog color. With a sharp ear for dynamic contrast, direct acoustic piano readings of George Harrison's Run Of The Mill and Beck's Sing It Again are set apart through the pure sound of hammer hitting string.
From a recording standpoint, we experimented with a lot of new ideas this time around. I actually surprised myself with some of the things we tried. I put cardboard on the piano strings and created a 'banjo' effect on 'Now They're Writing Music.' For 'Golden,' I ran my 1890 pump organ into an old tube pre-amp. I used lots of Optigan drums on 'Heartbeats.' This album has more layering of different musical textures than the last one. Bryce and I worked closely in developing that approach as an underlying concept for the record.
However, amid all the mind-bending sonic imagination, the core of Me Not Me is the collective energy of Marco Benevento's trio. Reed Mathis, Matt Chamberlain and Andrew Barr provide a take off point for searing post-jazz improvisations. A rendition of Deerhoof's Twin Killers surges with group-mind electricity, resulting in some of Benevento's most frenetic piano work on the album. Heartbeats, originally performed by The Knife, is reinvented as an instrumental electro-clash jam. The enchanted lyricism of My Morning Jacket's Golden floats above a hypnotic pulse, allowing the performance to patiently reveal itself in parts both pastoral and vast. The classic acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin's Friends is riffed out on acoustic piano, but it's the trio's unrelenting finesse that redefines the song in a new light.
The three original Marco Benevento compositions included on Me Not Me underscore his natural inclination for simple pop melody, multihued sound and playful composition. Now They're Writing Music was first debuted in a rough sketch when the pianist was a guest on The World Cafe With David Dye. Benevento claims the toys themselves wrote the song. The instantly familiar Mephisto, often performed by The Benevento-Russo Duo in a much different context, is the closest the album comes to a straight-ahead jazz performance, hinting at 1970's Keith Jarrett. On the other hand, Call Home seems to summon the spirit of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Benevento is actually a pop formalist, albeit a sneaky one, and, for all his improvisational chops, a textural minimalist very much in the tradition of Brian Eno or Sigur Ros. Chaos and chance are the calling cards, but his songs are always accessible. -- Village Voice
Benevento uses everything from hip takes on '70s pop balladry (particularly the lonesome sound of Jackson Browne's piano playing and the decorative flair of Elton John's) to Radiohead's stretched-to-the-limit sense of time, The Pixies' humor, Air's electronic color palette, and They Might Be Giants' humorist experimentalism to make something uniquely his own in song form where improvisation, rhythm, sound, and space are the new thing. -- All Music Guide