INTERVIEW: William Benton on music, politics, and Twin Peaks!

William Benton has been a staple of the Louisville indie and punk scene for decades now, contributing first to bands like The Seaside Panel and Bodyhammer, and later to projects like Tyrone, Lucky Pineapple, and Phantom Family Halo, which took him for a few years to New York City. There, he played with a variety of musicians from Shilpa Ray to Steve Shelley before returning. You might recognize his name as the curator for the still-unreleased Louisville edition of Burn to Shine, as the man behind the bar at your favorite watering hole, or as the dude spinning weirdo records at places that require such. Between all that, a recent burst of activism, and just trying to keep the lights on, Benton stays busy with music as Cat Casual, who just released a self-titled record on Gubbey Records. You can catch a song from his upcoming record below and see him perform live tomorrow as part of the Lucky Pineapple reunion set for the Nach Bar and again on March 24th for the Cat Casual and the Holy Midnight record release show. We caught up with Benton to ask about his new album, politics in his music, and the upcoming Twin Peaks revival!

Never Nervous: How are things going? Now that it’s been a few years, how has it been to re-acclimate with Louisville? Have you had any difficulty reintegrating with the music scene?

William Benton: Things are going well. I do best when I stay unreasonably busy and I’ve certainly been that way for a while now.

As for reintegrating into the music community- a lot of being involved in any “scene” requires socializing more than I do by nature. So it has probably taken me longer than a normal person to start registering again on the local radar. If anything can be said about me, it is that I am a persistent bastard. Just not much of a schmoozer.

NN: For that matter, why Louisville? I know that a lot of us are happy you’re here, myself included, but is there a better town to operate out of to find any greater success in music? Is that even part of the agenda?

“Louisville has always been consistent with my brand of weirdness.”

WB: There are other great cities with similar advantages but Louisville has always been consistent with my brand of weirdness. It’s an odd and sometimes dark place but I extract a lot of beauty from all of that. This place has always been an ideal setting for the music that I like to make. The city itself is a character.

As for being here to obtain some kind of success- I guess I never think about that. It likely goes back to the kind of music that I make and how limited it might be in terms of accessibility, commercial viability. I don’t write many hooks.

NN: Relative to that, what is success?

WB: If I felt that I had become a “success”, it would probably just mean being able to do music for a living and to have a level of security in it. Make records, tour, and pay the bills. That would be a very simple and gratifying life for me, though, I would really like to do more film and television scoring. Maybe that is my golden ticket?

NN: Tell us about your work as Cat Casual. I understand you have more than one line up that you play with. What is the difference between the two?

WB: I started with The Other Lovers in New York not long before I moved back here. When I returned to Louisville, The Holy Midnight came together and as the band “grew up” in terms of sound and style we became a pretty loud and powerful affair. It’s just what sounds best with those guys.

The Ordinary Bones were born out of both necessity and exploration as it is pretty hard to get four adults in any room with any consistency, let alone book practices, shows, recording, and such. Simply, I wanted to play more and if I was going to be doing the same songs with other folks, I felt that it should be a different enough sound to make it interesting for myself, if for anyone else. I met Josh Johnson and his upright bass was and is a driving force in how I began to hear and work songs with The Bones. It started with myself, Josh, my best friend Mai Nguyen on keys, and Cecelia Durbin on drums. The latter two had other obligations so they only did a show or two a piece. I had been looking for a reason to play with Rob Ross for a while and was thrilled to have him add his Moog weirdness as the man can squeeze some cool melodies and hooks out of my oddball songs. Rob plays with Mike Grady in Sump Pumps and suggested we have him on drums.

“I feel very lucky to have such fantastic people helping me out.”

Even just reflecting on that sequence of events, I feel very lucky to have such fantastic people helping me out.

Anyways. Holy Midnight is a loud, dark beast. Ordinary Bones was described by someone as “lounge psyche” which I rather liked to hear.

NN: How did the new record come to pass? Where did you record it? Who was there? Give us the logistical run down.

WB: I originally wanted our first record to be a fake live album, ripping off The Mummies and others, and do it at The Cathouse. Once I got over that idea, we were left with the idea of doing it at The Cathouse as we know and like how it sounds; are familiar with the space. And I think there’s something to be said about recording in a place that you are comfortable in, whether that be in your home or in your own creative space. I don’t think we deliberated long before it was decided to work with Sean Roberts as everyone liked him, his work, and he seemed to really want to do it. As a drummer, he really liked how drums sound in The Cathouse. He set up shop here and I really thought that we would work over a long period of time, leisurely, and dress the songs up in a sort of epic fashion- but we knocked it out pretty quickly. Right away we liked the sound that Sean was getting. So it didn’t take long at all and went pretty smoothly.
That can make you question your judgement on things- when things go too well and too smoothly- but we are all very happy with the final product.

NN: Is there any central theme to the record?

WB: A pretty foggy one. I wanted it to be the start of “something”- and that caused me to reflect on the past a lot. Things that got me here, now. And a lot of that was misery and mistakes and, frankly, some difficult battles with depression and mental illness. I don’t like to write songs that are about one very clear thing, so some songs and stories cross-pollinate and reference each other.

NN: Are there any subjects that you wish you would’ve or wouldn’t have explored? As a lyricist, is anything off limits?

WB: Nothing comes to mind. I think I have had some weird hang-ups in the past about what to write about and what to not write about- but part of the past couple of years of creating music has been a “casting off” of those kinds of self-imposed shackles. And I am much happier with the work.

A couple of songs reference a very difficult and sordid relationship I was in with a married woman after my own marriage dissolved. I have always steered-clear of anything that specific. And two songs are very political, another sphere I have always stayed away from as to not seem too typical of the musical genres of/in which I associate.

“I am, by nature, quite a contrarian and will innately ‘go the other way’ musically.”

I am, by nature, quite a contrarian and will innately “go the other way” musically. That will likely always be a part of what I do but now I do it with more purpose and confidence.

NN: Would you say that you are more or less comfortable with your voice? Given the amount of instrumental music you’ve been party to, whether that’s with me or on your own, it seems that you’ve slowly warmed to it. Is that accurate?

WB: That is accurate. I’ve always loved to sing but have never been fond of my own voice. I’m still not! I just had to accept that singing was and is a crucial part of what I want and need to do creatively. I would like to be a better singer.

John Lennon hated his own voice, too. But he was John Lennon.

NN: Likewise, how would you gauge your evolution on guitar? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as a player in 2017 and how do you work within that framework?

WB: I have absolutely become less proficient on the guitar as my priorities shifted over time toward songwriting and sound-scaping. A strength might be that I have crafted “a sound” and it hasn’t been intentional or contrived. A weakness is that I can imagine a lot better ideas, songs, and sounds than I can actually play. It sucks to have things fully-formed in your head and not be able to bring those songs into the physical world just because you’re not “good enough”…

NN: How do you balance work, life, and art?

WB: It’s tough. Every once in a while I make the mistake of stopping the ride and looking around- and the combined stress of multiple jobs, multiple bands, a radio show, and trying to get The Cathouse together as a nonprofit AND situated to buy the place- it can make me panic and crash for some dark spells. It’s just part of it all though. All I can do then is weather the storm, try and make some decent art out of it, and make sure that everything I do is either essential and/or gratifying.

NN: Do you consider any of the music that you create to be protest music or at least as a response to the environment? How can art fight the ugliness of the world?

WB: Yeah, as I mentioned, both “Wicked World” and “Mutadis Mutandis” are politically-inspired songs. Born out of these difficult times. I don’t know if I’m fighting the ugliness, but what I often get out of such songs as a listener…and the same goes for sad songs…is the simple message to other human beings that YOU’RE NOT ALONE. And that’s all I have some days. I assume the same goes for many others.

NN: What prompted the Lucky Pineapple reunion? How does it feel to revisit that material?

WB: Nachbar asked! That’s about it. No one hates each other and we all live here again. So why not?

It hasn’t really felt like a revisit, playing that stuff. We just did it so hard and for so long that most of it falls into place. I always enjoyed a pretty “free spirited” role in the band, able to change up what I do as my ADD requires. It’s a very “clinical” band as far as the arrangements and such, which was what I grew tired of. But it’s a lot of fun to play those songs with those people I love a lot.

NN: What should people expect at the reunion show? What about your release show? How do you find the time to rehearse for each?

WB: I expect it to be a lot of fun with old friends at the Lucky Pineapple reunion. Maybe new friends! It really is crackin’ machine when we get it going.

As for The Holy Midnight release, I am glad to have Jaxon Lee Swain and Twin Sister Radio on the bill as there are a lot of people I like and respect a great deal under one roof there. Monnik is a great place and the people who work there have been really fantastic to me. So I feel good about the whole thing. Our set? A dark storm of moodiness and weirdness. The occasional broken smile.

It is TOUGH finding time. As I mentioned earlier, that difficulty was- in part- what birthed The Ordinary Bones. There’s a lot of strategy. It somehow works. I don’t get enough sleep.

NN: How goes the Cathouse? Tell us about the best shows happening there and what you’d like to see going forward?

WB: It goes slow and steady. With everything on the plate and limited finances, it’s a slow crawl. But I really love the place. I’m still trying- with a lot of wonderful help- to get a business plan together to make it a proper non-profit. We shall see.

So many good shows. I honestly find it difficult to pick one. Impossible, even.

I will take the opportunity to advertise The Cathouse Improv Key Party that I have started doing here, a monthly benefit for Planned Parenthood. I get a group of local musicians, we draw their keys out of a bowl and put people together in duos and trios to improvise. The first one was fantastic and the second one is coming up this Sunday. I’m looking forward to it.

NN: On a scale of 1 to Fuck Yes, how stoked are you for the Twin Peaks revival? Any fan theories as to what we might expect? Have you already found a way to stream that business?

WB: I’m pretty giddy about it but I tend to give a FUCK YES to most things Lynch, especially Twin Peaks. Color me stoked. I haven’t even tried to figure out what will possibly be happening in that world 25 years later but I’m anxious to go back.

I only started asking this past weekend about how the hell I am going to see it, since I’m not really connected with the television services and such. I have a little time to figure it out but my good friend and A+ boss, Alex Cosby, offered a method. I WILL SEE IT.

NN: What non-musical things have you stoked lately? What have you read, watched, eaten, or drank worth mentioning?

WB: I read a lot and the past number of years have been dominated by Will Self books. Currently, I am neck-deep in my fairly regular Orson Welles obsession, revisiting his films, books about his life, and listening to radio broadcasts. Same with Rod Serling’s works.

I haven’t seen Get Out, but am excited to. Going to see it in the next couple of days I think.

“I survive on a lot of tacos and coffee.”

As far as food and drank and stuff: I’m getting older. I drink less than ever, and I survive on a lot of tacos and coffee.

Nothing screams “MIDDLE AGED SINGLE GUY” like that….

NN: Top cuts today? What’s getting you riled and why?

WB: I have been in love with Sleaford Mods for a while now and am really digging their new album that was released last week. They are a Seidenfaden’s favorite, as we end up rocking them or watching concerts nearly every Monday after I show a film. Very excited to see them in Chicago soon. I very much like the most recent Childish Gambino album and Leonard Cohen’s final album. I’m also really excited to see The Damned here in a number of weeks so Strawberries has been back in rotation around here. I think Stranger On the Town is one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

But mainly acting like a fool while blasting Sleaford Mods.

Photo Credit: Edward Neary