Music / Brendan Benson: With Friends Like These…


Musicians are notoriously inarticulate at the best of times and Brendan Benson is no exception to the rule, as Paul Fennessy discovered…

“Well… Yyy… It wasn’t… Em… Yes I did!” otwo has just asked Brendan Benson if he approached his new solo record differently, given the belated commercial success which the singer-songwriter has enjoyed with The Raconteurs.


He utilises the phrase “I don’t know” on at least eight occasions, when uttering it once is enough to unsettle even the most seasoned interviewers. Thankfully, Benson’s music is significantly more expressive than his conversational style.

The singer’s new album, My Old, Familiar Friend, has garnered uniformly positive reviews from critics which hardly constitutes new territory for Benson. The Sunday Times last year devised a top 20 list of albums which are beloved by critics, but meet with public indifference. Featuring in the list, alongside infamously abstract recordings such as Trout Mask Replica and Metal Machine Music, was Alternative to Love – Benson’s third solo LP, an infinitely listenable slice of pop-rock whose obscurity is difficult to fathom.

“It is very frustrating,” he admits. “I don’t know man. The record company puts those records in critics’ hands and we put them in the stores and hope people will buy them. I think it indicates that other people would like the record if they heard it. The problem is getting them to hear it.”

otwo dares to ask another Raconteurs-related question and enquires whether the substantial success he enjoyed with the band has generated increased interest in his solo work.
“It’s a new band and we’re trying to keep a low profile and we’re trying to work on the buzz. It’s hard to say right now. We’re trying to just get the band cooking.”

While Benson always answers these types of questions courteously, he gives the impression of being more comfortable discussing subjects other than himself, and takes our question about Bono very much in his stride. “I heard a funny story the other day about Bono,” he recalls. “He was clapping his hands during a live performance. He was clapping his hands kinda slowly and he says: ‘Everytime I clap my hands, somebody dies’. And somebody in the audience just shouts out: ‘Stop clapping your hands!’ I think that’s funny.”

He describes this story in the manner of your average music fan – a facet of his personality which is also continually evident in his records, with their tendency to obsessively mimic and reinvigorate the work of artists such as The Kinks and Paul McCartney.

Keeping this in mind, otwo cannot help but ask an obligatory music nerd question: Name your desert island disc. He pauses, before replying with perfect comic timing:  “If I had one record to listen to on a desert island, then I’d be fucking sick to death of it.”

Brendan Benson’s new album My Old, Familiar Friend is out now