BENJAMIN SCHEUER DIscusses His Debut Record, Being A Playwright and Much More!
Posted On 21 Jun 2016
Songs from THE LION (Paper Music/ADA) is the debut full-length record from award-winning American singer/songwriter, guitar player and playwright Benjamin Scheuer.
The album’s lead single, “Cure” focuses on Scheuer’s treatment for and recovery from advanced stage cancer. The New York Times raves, “the youthful vulnerability of Benjamin Scheuer makes [the video] moving.” Directed by award-winning filmmaker Peter Baynton, who was inspired by the photography of Riya Lerner, the video is the latest in a series of award-winning collaborations between the pair. Baynton’s video for Scheuer’s “Weather the Storm” recently won the Public Choice Award for Best Music Video at the British Animation Awards, while Scheuer and Baynton have won prizes for their two previous collaborations on the videos for “Cookie-tin Banjo” and “THE LION.”
Scheuer marked the album release by hosting a one-night-only gallery show with photographer/collaborator Riya Lerner at the Leslie Lohman Prince St. Project Space in New York City on June 7th, featuring images from the pair’s limited edition 2014 artist book Between Two Spaces, of which The New York Times notes “The poignancy of Mr. Scheuer’s and Ms. Lerner’s images arises from the implacable effect that estranging clinical spaces impose on previously secure domestic places.” 50 percent of all proceeds from the show’s sales benefited the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Songs from THE LION—available now for pre-order via iTunes and Amazon—features music from Scheuer’s critically acclaimed one-man musical memoir THE LION, which has played sold-out runs off-Broadway, in London, and at theatres around the United States. THE LION recently celebrated its 200th performance of the National Tour. Scheuer wrote Songs from THE LION as he was playing gigs around his hometown of New York City. “I was singing about my dad, who died when I was thirteen. Singing about a romantic relationship I was in that went well until it went bad. Singing about my diagnosis with, treatment for, and cure of advanced stage cancer.”
Scheuer goes on to elaborate, “Record producer Geoff Kraly and I decided that we wanted the production on Songs from THE LION to fulfill the same purpose that the lighting, set design, directing, acting, costume design and all that stuff fulfills in the theatre show. In many ways, this album sounds the way I hear the songs in my head while I’m performing THE LION in a theatre.”
The record features performances from drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails) and bassist Chris Morrissey (Sara Bareilles), was engineered by Grammy Award-winner Pat Dillett (Sufjan Stevens, David Byrne, Nile Rodgers) and mixed in part by Kevin Killen (Peter Gabriel, U2, David Bowie).
THE LION has won numerous awards in both the U.S. and U.K., including the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, a 2015 Theatre World Award, and the Off-West End Award for Best New Musical.
Scheuer, hailed by the New York Times for his “reflective pop-folk songs with catchy choruses and just the occasional burst of angst,” has also toured with Mary Chapin Carpenter (who authored the liner notes for Songs from THE LION) and performed at venues including New York’s Lincoln Center and London’s Royal Albert Hall. Scheuer is also the first musical guest to have performed on “The Charlie Rose Show.”
Learn more about Benjamin in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! How’s 2016 been treating you? What were some of the highlights of 2015 for you and your music?
While I’ve been on tour with THE LION, one of my favorite things to do is to go to local open-mics. It’s a great way to discover a city. I get to hear local artists and meet new folks. This week, in Pittsburgh, I went to an open-mic at a place called Hambones, heard some great songs, and played two brand new songs of my own.
Growing up, did you always want to work with music? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
My earliest musical memory is actually the inspiration for the first song on the album “Songs from THE LION.” When I was about three years old, my father –who played the guitar–built me a toy banjo out of a cookie-tin lid, with rubber bands for strings. I never put this banjo down; all I wanted to do was play like him. The song is called “Cookie-tin Banjo.”
Very soon, you’ll be releasing your collection “Songs From The Lion.” Can you talk about the songs on it and the recording process of it?
One of the best part of making this album is I got to work with people I’ve admired my whole life. I’ve always been a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails; I was in the front row in New York for their “Lights in the Sky” tour, watching drummer Josh Freese’s every move. When he came and played on the album “Songs from THE LION” it was an absolute dream come true.
Where do you get the inspiration for your music? Is that constantly changing?
I’m always interested in breaking new ground, trying something different. I believe that there’s a better way to make musical theatre soundtracks. Historically, the record would be made by taking the pit band, putting them in a studio, and recording the songs live. Except, they’re playing music that’s crafted to work in a theatre alongside sets, props, costumes, dialog, dance; and you have none of that on an album. But you DO have the opportunity, with modern recording technology, to do all kinds of things sonically that you could never do in a theatre. So instead of treating a soundtrack as a souvenir to sell to people in the theatre, I’d rather make an real album, with a real record producer, with singles, with music videos, that goes beyond what a musical theatre soundtrack has been traditionally.
What are some stand-out tracks on the album? What songs are you particularly excited for people to hear?
The best-sounding track on the album might be “Golden Castle Town.” When I was 28, I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. I underwent six months of chemotherapy and was successfully cured; after this hellish ordeal, I stayed in a little house on the Italian coast. I swam in the ocean every day; I ate tomatoes off the vine. Geoff Kraly, who produced the album, wanted to capture in sound the way the tomatoes tasted; the way the light looked on the water. I think he did an amazing job.
It sounds like these are all very personal songs. How do you think putting this collection helped you?
One thing that’s really important to me is turning bad things into good things. I’m proud of the song “Cure” because by writing it, I took cancer—which seemingly has no positive value in it—and turned it into art. “Cure” has a music video that’s coming out soon; it’s black-and-white stop-motion photography, inspirited by the work of New York photographer Riya Lerner, who photographed me once a week when I was getting chemotherapy. Riya and I made a book of these images; 50% of proceeds to go to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. Check it out at www.BetweenTwoSpaces.com
Let’s talk about your song “Weather The Storm.” How creatively involved were you with the video for this track?
Peter Baynton, a fantastic animator and director, made the video for “Weather The Storm.” This was our third video collaboration; the first was “The Lion” and the second was “Cookie-tin Banjo.” Peter is an extraordinary visual story-teller. He and I spent a great deal of time writing the story of Dickie, an old fellow whose wife, Dot, recently died. Dickie runs out of toothpaste, but Dot always bought the toothpaste; so Dickie goes on a quest for toothpaste. Peter used water-colors and hand-painted the characters and the backgrounds.
I’m curious to know how being a playwright helps you be a better musician and ultimately, a songwriter?
Three-act structure is your friend when you’re a playwright. Here’s how it works:
Act I: The protagonist wants something.
Act II: (s)he tries to get it and fails.
Act III: she tries again, and gets-it/dies/realizes-she-wanted-something-else-all-along.
I try to put three-act structure into two-minute songs. It’s hard, but it has great results.
Who are some of your favorite artists? What artists have continued to inspire you and your music?
This week, I’ve been listening to New York band paris_monster, singer/songwriter Jean Rohe, and the Swedish metal outfit Meshuggah. My favorite lyricist is Marshall Mathers; the best lyrical storyteller of our generation. I’m a big fan of Nas, Outcast, Big Pun, Tupac. Eddie Van Halen is my favorite guitar-player; I practiced eight hours a day when I was twelve years old, so I could play like Eddie. I learned, eventually, that the only person one can ever really play like is themselves.
What’s been a favorite touring memory of yours?
Mary Chapin Carpenter came to see THE LION in New York, and came backstage to say hello. We stayed in touch, became friends, and she invited me to open for her on her UK tour; the first gig was in London at the Royal Albert Hall. Mary Chapin wrote the liner notes to the album “Songs from THE LION.”
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
THE LION is a one-man show, but I promise you, I didn’t do it all by myself; I had a huge amount of help from a number of dedicated, talented people. Sean Daniels, who directed THE LION, deserves much credit. Record producer Geoff Kraly, video director Peter Baytnon, Photographer Riya Lerner, I couldn’t have done any of this without these folks. And, it was these projects and these people, (and too many people to even list here) that actually allowed me to heal from my illness. I am forever grateful.