An Interview With Independent Musician, BEN RECTOR On His Breakout Single, “Brand New” and Much More!
Posted On 04 Mar 2016
Tag: 106.1, Abe Stoklasa, All Access, All Access Music Group, ANR/ROAR, Artist Interview, Beatles, Ben Rector, Billy Joel, Brand New, CAPITOL Records, Caroline, Cody Fry, Conversation, David Hodges, Dawes, Fayetteville, Hoda, Home of the Brave, James Taylor, John Lennon Songwriting Contest, NAMA, Nashville, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, Ryman, Songs That Duke Wrote, St. Lucia, STAR 103.3, The Men That Drive Me Places, The Moth, This American Life, TODAY, Tulsa, Twenty Tomorrow, University of Arkansas, Vulfpeck, YouTube
Ben Rector is a perfect example of an independent musician achieving big success. Rector released his first self-titled EP featuring the song “Conversation” while attending college at the University of Arkansas. The song went on to win the Grand Prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2006 making him the youngest person ever to win the award for the pop category.
Touring frequently on weekends and during breaks in the school year, Rector released his first full-length album, “Twenty Tomorrow,” in 2007 followed by “Songs That Duke Wrote” in 2008. In 2009 Rector was awarded the NAMA award for best male singer-songwriter in Northwest Arkansas. Rector’s sixth and most recent album “Brand New” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Ben Rector has now sold over 400,000 albums and four million single-song downloads and performs for sold-out crowds across the country. Now, with the help of ANR/ROAR and Caroline/Capitol Records, the title track from “Brand New” is currently approaching Top 20 on the Mediabase Hot AC chart.
Learn more about Ben in the following All Access interview:
1) Please tell us what it was that got you interested in music?
I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but didn’t really connect with music until a little before high school. I spent hours picking out songs on a guitar my uncle had loaned me, and I remember being really drawn to music. A good song could make me feel a specific, powerful thing, and that felt really magnetic to me.
2) What was the inspiration for your new single “Brand New?”
When I started making the record, my goal was to make something that felt like a first record again. I had just finished three or so years of intense touring and quick record cycles. When it came time to make the record I didn’t have much gas left in the tank. I wanted really badly to make something that felt effortless, that just jumped out of the speakers and had the same infectious energy that I felt when I started making music. I had noticed on previous records that there was usually an inspired song or two that came right after the end of the recording process, so I left about a month open after recording before mixing and mastering. I started the song in Nashville with Abe Stoklasa and finished it in L.A. with David Hodges (both really great writers) and it really ended up feeling like a thesis statement for the record.
3) Please tell us how you went from releasing your first EP “The Conversation” while attending the University of Arkansas, to selling 400,000 albums and four million single-song downloads and playing approximately 200 shows a year?
Really slowly, honestly. I played about 200 shows in college, spending most of my weekends traveling to cities in an eight hour radius around Fayetteville. By the time I graduated, things had grown enough that I needed to do it full time, and I decided to move to Nashville. From there I continued to make and release records and tour (I was fortunate to snag a couple good opening slots as my touring business grew) and people continued to be kind enough to share my music with their friends. There really hasn’t been one thing that totally changed the trajectory of my career. It has been a pretty gradual process. 4) What is your approach to songwriting? How do you capture the inspiration when it comes? I feel like the longer I write songs the more I realize I have to learn about the process. The thing that I keep seeing is that every song is a combination of discipline and inspiration. Some songs are tougher to put together and others feel like you just found them. Either way, I think it’s important to hone your skills as a writer so that when the inspiration strikes, you’ve got the tools to fully realize the idea.
5) Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I love a lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s. I grew up listening to a couple oldies stations (STAR 103.3 and 106.1) in Tulsa, OK. Guys like Paul McCartney (and the rest of the Beatles), Billy Joel, Randy Newman, and James Taylor are all people I’d put in the ‘desert island records’ category.
6) How are you using social networks to market your music and keep your fans involved?
I try to keep things fun and genuine on social media. People are bombarded with messaging and advertising all the time, and while I definitely do use my accounts to keep people updated on my tours and records, I try not to ask for things too much. I think it’s easier to connect with a person than a brand.
7) Please describe your experience the first time you heard your song on the radio?
It was a total ‘That Thing You Do’ moment. It was really exciting, something about the way they compress or EQ it at the station (also potentially it is the same and I was just excited) makes it sound official, if that makes sense?
8) What other songs on your new album are you excited to share with your fans?
I really enjoy playing ‘The Men That Drive Me Places’. It’s a sentiment that I think a lot of people can relate to and one that I’m really glad I get to shine a light on.
9) You recently received a great response when you appeared on the TODAY show. Please tell us what it was like performing “Brand New” for the first time on national television?
We had a really great time! I feel like a lot of the time TV stuff can feel rushed or stiff, but everyone on the show did a great job setting us up to win, and we all genuinely had a blast playing the song. I was honestly worried Hoda was going to fall down because she was dancing around so much. 10) Is there anything in particular that you’d like people to take away from listening to your music? I hope they enjoy it, that it feels well-made and genuine, and that it brings them a little bit of joy even if it’s just a little bit for a little while.
What do you do in your spare time? When you aren’t performing or recording new material, what do you all like to do for fun?
I really like golf, jogging, and also any form of playing catch (frisbee, baseball, football). This is terribly boring but I also really like real estate.
Who are some of the artists we might find on some of your playlist now?
Lately I’ve really been enjoying Dawes, Vulfpeck, and St. Lucia. I also listen to podcasts a lot. I really love “This American Life”, “Home of the Brave” and “The Moth.”
So far, what experience has really stood out to you as a performer?
On the fall tour we got to play two sold out nights at the Ryman in Nashville. On the second night, we had a live string section play with us and it was probably the most purely enjoyable show I’ve ever played. The arrangements were really beautiful (Cody Fry, a guy in my band wrote them) and the players were fantastic. I can tend to get in my head a little when I perform, and I felt like I was getting to watch something unfold instead of feeling like I was making something happen.
Thanks to All Access writer Mark Strickland for the great questions!