Posted On 01 Dec 2017
Louisiana-based Americana band Ben Labat & The Happy Devil released their fourth full-length album, “Homeward,” earlier this year on August 18. The collection’s lead single, “Set It On Fire,” is driven by organic instrumentation and culminating on a hypnotic melody, the song proves immediately undeniable and unshakable.
Labat says, “‘Set It On Fire’ is roughly about those souls that are near and dear, but ultimately end up down a road so dark and cold that none of us can follow. Find inner peace by setting their memory on fire.”
Marking the collective’s first new music since 2014’s The Revival, Homeward represents a distinct and conscious embrace of Labat’s folk and Americana roots. These 10 tracks exemplify his vivid lyricism and impressive songcraft, delicately weaving together harmonica, ukulele, piano, and acoustic guitar to create a rustic sonic palette. Over this entrancing backdrop, he carries undeniable hooks and lyrical musings that are as ponderous as they are powerful.
Since kicking off his career in 2006 as part of The Terms, the Louisiana born and bred Labat has quietly become one of Americana’s most striking voices. He’s performed in legendary venues everywhere from New York and Los Angeles to Nashville and New Orleans. Moreover, his songs have sound-tracked key moments in The Ghost Whisperer, The Real World, Jersey Shore, the films Mini’s First Time, and Middle of Nowhere starring Susan Sarandon. Homeward sees him return to the sounds that always inspired him and kick off his brightest musical chapter yet.
To keep up with Ben Labat & The Happy Devil on social media, visit:
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Learn more about Ben Labat in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year?
Not that specially. In 2017, we wanted to play a little bit more. We’ve played a handful of shows, which is good. We try not to waste our time and play any venue. We’re creating momentum and focusing on the album.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What kind of music do you listen to when you are working?
It’s a safety hazard to listen to music at my job! Even when I work out, I like to use the time to think or clear my mind. I’m there to do work and be my own driving force when running and working out or doing Jiu Jitsu for three hours. I usually listen to news radio in the car, unless the kids are in the car. A lullaby for the baby, the boys are into Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Maybe I’m missing something… we should be catering to 5- and 6-year-olds. They want to listen to music all of the time. The same song over and over again. “Set It On Fire,” the chorus that repeats for 3 minutes, it’s their favorite track because it’s simple and repetitive.
Growing up, have you always wanted to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Memory: playing in Methodist church with my mom. Hymns: earliest musical memory. I remember it being a chore. They would fuss if we held a note too long. Church is silent, and if you kept on singing, well …. I played in a marching band, but didn’t play guitar until 11. Piano lessons didn’t stick. I really wish that I would’ve stuck with it. STP: first concert, in Louisiana, for the Tiny Music Tour – probably my favorite album, and Purple. Didn’t give Tiny Music the credit it deserved. At 14 I played it over and over and over again.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I see myself almost as almost anything. I literally could. I get bored easily. That’s why I’m not a good full-time musician. Right now, my job is as Quality Control Manager, basically industrial computer PLCS flow logic computers. If I wasn’t doing this, maybe an engineer, oncologist, welder/carpenter, vet or Jiu Jitsu /CrossFit instructor. I’ve actually taught both Jiu Jitsu and CrossFit, but maybe owning my own studio. I could never be a nurse. I tried it, but didn’t like cleaning people’s wounds. Maybe a college physics professor. I taught high school physics as well as robotics.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
This particular album, there’s a lot about the city I call home, Raceland, Louisiana. It’s a small town. I can look around at every kid in my kid’s class and I more than likely grew up with their parent or at least know them. I really like that closeness of the community. We know everyone. All my family and my wife’s family, immediate family, lives here. That definitely had a lot to do why I came back.
How do you think that you have continued to grow as an artist year after year? What has remained the same about you and your music?
We continue to grow just from what life brings you every year, week, month. Acknowledge that and embrace it when you’re writing. What has not changed is my day gig is a Quality Control Manager, wheather it’s computer software, piping, everything has to be pretty high quality to pass. I like to think the music we make we take a little bit longer so that every lyric, every piano hit, and guitar lick is thought out. In the end, the creative process is scrutinized and checked and rechecked and listened to. I don’t want to listen to Homeward again because it’s been through such an extensive critique process. I got that from working with Greg Ladayni. He was so nitpicky and would always say, “Now it’s going to take as long as it has to,” and at the end of the day, he was right. The final product has all of our names stamped on it. It’s our legacy, and I want it to be the best product it can be.
In your career, you have experienced several very difficult tragedies. How do you think they influenced your music and the kind of songs that you write? In one way, do you think that music helped you recover from them?
Sure, music is a great recovery. I didn’t stop writing after any of the tragedies. I stopped for two years after a bad experience with the industry, but writing helps you get through all of that. If you have an outlet that’s not a bad vice — like writing, athletics, painting — something creative helps you get through hard times.
It’s affected my songwriting now since The Terms and Greg’s passing. My songs are not super bright, but they have life experiences in them. You can cry and talk about it for a bit, but you have to move on.
How did the band that you have now all come together? Why do you think that you all work so well together these days?
We have four staple guys in the band and a rotating keyboard player (live and in the studio) who is a police officer during the day. We play well together. We don’t do music for a living and I think that has a lot to with it. Our bass player, David, is an IT guy. Our drummer, Travis, is sponsored by Ranger Boats. Jerry does logistics for Edison Chouest, a local boat company. The fact that they are committed to those jobs, we realize when we have the opportunity to play, write, and record music, we don’t have time to fuss with each other or get hung up on the artistry.
We do this because we like it. We still have to work, change diapers, etc. We love music and like creating it.
On August 18th, you released your newest album, “Homeward.” What was it like putting that collection together? What was the inspiration for these songs?
Putting this album together was a little more personal than the others in the past. All the songs were written and arranged with me and an acoustic guitar. The band then began adding instrumentation and then we got some friends of ours to sing and play piano. We recorded bass and drums at the Music Shed in NOLA. The mixes then went to a few of our mixing engineers for tweaking. Overall, the process was lovely, fulfilling and stringent, just like I like it.
I have read that “Homeward” is your most folk/Americana-style album. What is that exactly?
That means that these were the acoustic songs that were folky and Americana. The songs are songs that we had finished but that didn’t meet the cut on the other three albums. Some were written in 2010. I knew they were good songs, and they ended up being collectively good together.
You have had so many incredible touring and performing experiences. Can you think of a favorite moment or two that really stand out as the most memorable and meaningful to you?
I can think of two. In 2006, I got to play “These Days” with Jackson Browne as a duet in Baton Rouge. In 2012, I went on an east coast tour with Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. I was opening for them at the Highland Ballroom in New York, and Anders Osborne had heard me singing “These Days” during rehearsals and asked if I was going to play in my set. I wasn’t, so spur of the moment, Anders asked me to perform “These Days” with him on slide guitar and myself on vocals, in front of 1,200 people. We winged it. It was pretty awesome!
How do you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you hope to be a good role model for young women today?
What I really enjoy is that I can sit at the piano and just play whatever I want to play, or guitar, and hum along. No particular song. It’s a great passer of time, a stress reliever. I also enjoy sitting at the piano and my kids want to play with me and sit on the piano bench with me.
Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kings of Leon, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, U2, Sam Cooke, Dawes, Jason Isbell, Josh Ritter, The Killers, Radiohead, Kris Kristofferson, The Head and The Heart, Paul Simon, and Jackson Browne.
I love parenting up with female singers on songs like when we had Ansel from Hydrogen Machine. So, I would love to work with Maren Morris and/or Florence Welch.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
We to give a little happiness to our fans. As cliché as it might sound, the album and our music is all about hope. Our songs touch on death and things not turning out the way you want them to, but the underlining end result is still hopeful. Careers end, people fall in and out of love, but there is a happiness in being hopeful and waking up another day, and moving forward. Hope it makes people feel good for a while. Makes people think a little bit. Some closer that they’re going through that’s rough.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Not everybody will do things the way I did. Don’t burn out by playing too much. Have fun with it, but don’t take it to the point where you’ve exhausted it. Jackson Browne told me to write everything down when I asked him a similar question. Find a balance which is different for everybody.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
We’re going to keep doing this as long as we can, so keep listening. As long as we can make it, we will keep making it. There is inspiration in everything.