An Interview With Singer-Songwriter BEN LABAT On His Newest Music, Life Since Quarantine, Starting The Bayou Fever Sessions and Much More!
“Die Trying” is the newest single released by the singer-songwriter Ben Labat. Out now via Labatique Music this is his second from a three-song collection of tracks. “Die Trying” is a gritty horn-infused Americana cut adding depth to Labat’s emotional and vivid body of work, which already encompasses five studio albums and a handful of singles. The song was written and produced by Ben Labat, and recorded at The Music Shed studio in New Orleans, and then mixed and mastered by Robby Smith.
Labat took inspiration from his life when it came time to write this trio of songs. Speaking about the track, he says, “In everything we’ve done and will ever do, there was and is going to be a first step. Sometimes it’s tough to change or leave or start or even quit. The first step is always more than just that. It’s so much more.”
“Plain and simple, “Die Trying” is a roots rock tune about “going for it,” digging deep, putting your head down, clinching your jaw and pushing forward,” he says. “ I’ve always been a dreamer that wasn’t scared to act. It truly breaks my heart to see people give up on a dream, lose their passion or stop fighting for a near and dear cause, so this tune is for those of us that won’t. ‘We’re either gonna get there or we’re gonna die trying to.’”
The Louisiana-based songwriter has led an eventful existence, recorded with Greg Ladanyi, sang a duet with Jackson Browne, and the new series of singles reflects the influence of the journey. After a series of tragic events, in 2010, Labat launched Ben Labat & the Happy Devil as his creative outlet. The new band released four acclaimed albums, A Face for Radio, Soapbox Anthems, The Revival, and Homeward, between 2010 and 2017. All four self-produced albums showcased Labat’s rapidly maturing songwriting and increasingly expansive musical vision, while the band earned a reputation as a first-rate live act whose upbeat, uplifting shows offered a potent mix of powerful originals and artfully rendered cover material. Labat’s vibrant compositions are firmly rooted in the experience of a keen-eyed observer who’s seen the highs and lows that life has to offer, and who continues to absorb new insights while working and raising three children.
While in quarantine, Labat help spearhead The Bayou Fever Sessions, a group dedicated to assisting those musicians making a large part of their living on the road, supplementing that income through donations to perform more frequently as studio musicians on recordings under ‘The Bayou Fever Sessions.’ In addition, he performed live on WVUE-TV Fox 8 in New Orleans, as part of their Louisiana Rising Songs From Home sessions, and was interviewed by Nicholls State University radio station KNSU (91.5 FM) in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
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Learn more about Ben Labat in the following All Access interview:
Thank you for your time. Given these unusual Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for you? How have you adjusted to these times?
Thank you for taking the time to do this piece! Life is change, be like water. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay employed during this time, so my typical day involves family prep, work, gym, grocery shopping and then a little guitar or piano practice at home. No rock and rolling for me! I only had to cancel about 12 performances for the year and just stopped scheduling before we knew for certain what the future will hold.
I’ve written a ton of songs during this time and started experimenting with beats and synths — not something my Americana fans want to hear, but necessity is the mother of invention. We can’t get together and rehearse, so we make do.
What has been the hardest/most challenging part about being quarantined? Is your city starting to open up more now?
The most difficult part of the quarantine was watching my children be deprived of social interaction with other children. I think it is a crucial part of childhood development for social, emotional, and physical health and with no school, sports or play dates, I could see them getting frustrated. Granted, this is not a famine or war-torn region of the world, but you still don’t like to see your kids being held back.
Louisiana is doing a pretty good job at balancing the equation. Now we have to deal with two hurricanes bearing down on Raceland. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?
How have you been able to use social media during these unprecedented times? Are you finding that you use it even more now to stay connected to fans and other musicians?
I use social media a good bit and have even come to rely on it more recently. Not as much as I should, according to my publicist, but life being what it is, I just have a hard time thinking about everything as a “post” or “tweet”. I’ve never been great at it, but I’m getting better and can see some increased engagement recently and real excitement about the new material. Some of my younger counterparts just know how to work it into their lives. There are a couple fitness influencers at the gym and they are crushing that life, but I just try to stay connected to the real world and let my fans know when a new song or new performance will be happening.
What has it been like having to reschedule all your shows this year? What shows in 2021 are you are already excited for? What’s it been like?
It’s awful. Everything cancelled. Doing a few LiveStream, but no comparison to playing live. No shows booked for 2021. I really don’t know how some of my colleagues who may not have other sources of income are providing for their loved ones. What I see day to day, people are all over the place, all other types of industry are open, except small music venues that support music. The whole thing is a joke, really. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Lowe’s can stay open and have record sales with people crawling all over the store, and we can’t play a 45-minute set in a local venue.
Since we are all desperately missing live music, can you recall a favorite show of yours from the past?
The Hiro Ballroom in NYC 2015. I opened for the V.O.W. Allstarts and Anders Osborne came out and did a duet with me on a Jackson Browne song called “These Days.”
What do you think ultimately makes for a great show for you?
When we play the songs near technically perfect with soul, and the audience is hanging onto every lick and lyric. Could be 25 people or 2500, and that’s one of the things that I miss most about not being able to play a live show. You can’t replicate those feelings and emotions.
What about a favorite show of someone else?
That’s a tough one. I enjoyed seeing Radiohead, Jason Isbell and Jackson Browne over the last couple years, but Stone Temple Pilots were always my favorite live show — always! The De Leo brothers and Wieland just crushed it. It helped that I knew every lyric to every song!
Let’s talk about your new singles “So Much More,” “Die Trying” and “Rocket Heart.” What was the inspiration for these songs?
The trifecta here is loosely based on dream chasing and dream catching. The themes of “taking the first step,” “not having a Plan B,” “going down in flames,” and “make it or die trying” all pop up continuously throughout. These are really hopeful songs about not giving up, and oddly fitting during these times.
How would you say that they compare to anything else you have previously released? Essentially, how do they show how you have grown as a musician over the years? What has remained the same?
I’m not very good at this introspective type of analysis, but these three songs stick to an Americana-style genre more so than other stuff I’ve released. They feel like they belong together. Previously, my collections of songs would wander through genres, and I’d experiment a lot more with sounds and textures, trying to intentionally make the song strange. I stayed pretty tame with these stylistically, but took risks with the subject matter. All three songs are about going for it, no matter what — it could even be death or social suicide. I’m not sure if that’s growing as an artist, or surrendering, or one and the same. Don’t get me wrong — I think these three songs are fantastic, and I’m very very proud of how they came out. I just did not do the usual “add a weird bridge to that puppy and we’re done” thing. I’m probably learning when that will add or when that will distract from the song as a whole.
Do you have plans to release a full album anytime soon?
I have a ton of material in various stages of completion. I may finish working on some of that after the release of “Rocket Heart.” It’s some of the best and most introspective material I have, and I think that’s why it’s been so hard to finish. That material is sonically a happy medium in-between the “Rocket Heart” series of releases and the more experimental stuff I’ve created in the past. I would love for the world to hear it and get it off my chest.
Tell me about starting The Bayou Fever Sessions during quarantine. Where did the idea for this project first come from?
So many of my friends and colleagues were completely out of work when all the quarantine measures and restrictions started. They had no income, tours were cancelled, etc. I thought, Why can’t we pay some of these folks to record on a few songs? We raised a little money, paid these touring guys to record from home, and released four songs all written, recorded, and released during the first leg of quarantine. It helped a little, but we were unable to secure real funding. Businesses were closed, so everyone was holding on to what they had. Most of the donations were individuals giving $25 to $50 here and there.
How do you think future music is going to be influenced by this incredible and absolutely necessary Black Lives Matter movement that the US has been going through? How exactly is it inspiring you and your music?
Unfortunately, there will always be injustices of varying degrees and severities in the world as long as there are humans in it. Good people will continue to stand up when these injustices are discovered. That’s what Americans do. My children are being raised to treat all people equally, respect the law, and understand that skin color is no more significant than the color of someones eyes. While I am no political scientist or social media posting activist, my writing has always and will continue to touch on the human spirit, the hope that it embraces and the empathy necessary to make this rock a better place.
If you could get into the studio with any artist today and collaborate on a new song for you, who would it be and why?
I can’t pick one. Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile or Lori McKenna.
What would your dream music video look like right now?
It would be like a scene out of Mission Impossible or James Bond.
If you could go back and tell your younger musician self something about this industry or how your career was going to progress, what would you say?
Don’t give away your songwriting percentages, and write every idea that pops into you, head down.