INTERVIEW: In Lightning’s Ben Short on Composing, Climbing Mt. Everest, & Hot Dogs!

In Lightning aren’t your average Louisville band. Not only do they feature an expanded lineup that includes cello and french horn, but they also treat songwriting in a totally different manner from your typical rock band. We at Never Nervous are always curious about the unusual, and since In Lightning have a big 3 hour show at the Amphitheater in Louisville’s Central park this Friday, we figured now was as good a time as any to figure out what makes this band tick. 

Bass player and composer for In Lightning, Ben Short, was kind enough to answer all our questions. Read on for some super interesting stories about composing and climbing mountains, and make sure to check out In Lightnight at Central Park Amphitheater August 31st featuring choreography from flow artists. 

Never Nervous: What is the origin story of In Lightning? Where do these songs come from?

Ben Short: I started writing songs in high school, but not influenced by any singer/songwriter. I was an orchestra kid who grew up playing and absorbing so much classical music. By high school my main instrument had become bass guitar, so that was my main songwriting tool. So even back then, the songs I wrote were a rock rhythm section along with the classical sound of strings. Vocals and lyrics never concerned me. I was used to the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach – all instrumental music.

By my mid-twenties with some experience in bands and the music scene, I wanted to start my own band to play the songs that I write. So the origin of In Lightning is that I actually recruited bandmates to fulfill this specific ensemble I had in mind: guitar, bass, drums, keys, violin, cello, French horn.  Seven instruments, seven members, the smallest way I could achieve a full “rock orchestra” sound.  

NN: Your music is unlike anything else in the city, who are your biggest influences? 

BS: Thank you so much for saying so! I’m proud of that! The main band that unlocked this path for me, feeling confident to write groovy instrumental music, was Ratatat, a New York producer/guitarist duo who’s music I just fell in love with. I think those guys are brilliant. I found other instrumental bands that I loved similarly: Explosions in the Sky, El Ten Eleven, Big Gigantic. If we can continue to find success, I hope that Louisville will embrace In Lightning as Austin, Texas is so proud of Explosions in the Sky.  

Oh, and as a bassist, Flea was my main bass teacher. So there’s a heavy, heavy dose of Red Hot Chili Peppers influence to the grooves too! Just no Anthony Kiedis, cuz you know, instrumental.   

NN: When you’re writing these songs are you trying to tell a story musically? Is there a song that is meant to represent something particularly funny or interesting?

BS: Oh yeah, absolutely. Nearly every song has a story board. Occasionally at shows, if we have time in the set, or if it’s the right setting for the audience to be intrigued, I’ll share the stories that the songs are representing.  

“Champions” is about hiking a mountain. In 2015, I went trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal with two of my best friends. We were hiking Mt. Everest up to the Everest Base Camp. And we were actually there, on Mt. Everest, when the devastating earthquake happened that rocked Nepal in April of 2015.  So Champions tells our story, the best I could. The first section of the song is founded with this driving bass line, putting one foot in front of the other, positive and determined. A piano line comes in that is continually ascending, higher and higher up the mountain we go. The middle section of the song, everything drops out to a piano backdrop, and a solo cello melody, intended to sound unsure, melancholy, overwhelmed, fatigued, can we do this? But that same section builds into a really bangin’ groove and guitar solo eventually as we layer piece by piece on top of the same piano and cello parts, finding our confidence and determination to stay positive even in adversity. We ARE gonna do this. Then the last section of the song, everything cuts out to an intense and playful slap bass line. The tempo picks up noticeably. We’re excited! We did it, we made it! And the rest of the song celebrates triumphantly.  

NN: What if T-Rex just wanted to dance? 

BS: Yeah, T-Rex is a fun one! We think of T-Rex as the biggest, baddest monster the planet has ever seen, yeah? But what if all of T-Rex’s needs were fulfilled? What if he was sufficiently fed, had good shelter, was in good health, had healthy dino relationships, all that. He’s good! Well, then maybe, what if T-Rex just wanted to dance? The song starts with this intense, angry sounding intro. A T-Rex stomping around. A heavily effected bass guitar represents the T-Rex roaring! Then, we jump into a dancey section! Cuz why not? T-Rex is feelin’ good, so let’s dance! The bridge of the song though gets melancholy. They all told T-Rex that he’s not supposed to dance. “You’re supposed to be a mean, menacing, ferocious T-Rex. You’re not supposed to look like you’re enjoying yourself!” they all said.  So T-Rex is sad. Society and expectations are telling him to suppress himself. So next, T-Rex gets mad again! Cuz who wouldn’t? And the song revisits the angry sounding intro, but only briefly. T-Rex can’t help himself, we jump back into the dancey section and jam it out. And finally, the outro of the song presents a new chord change, a similarly dancey feel, but now with a more uplifting tone. T-Rex has become comfortable to just be himself.  

NN: Tell me about the 3 hour show you have coming up? 

BS: Ah, we’re excited for this! Friday, August 31st from 8-11pm, we’re playing at the amphitheater in Central Park in Old Louisville. That’s a spot in town that I’ve always wanted to play. I love outdoor shows, so comfortable and lovely for fun live music. And a late summer evening accompanying the transition from daylight to dusk to night. It’s perfect. We’re the entertainment there on an off-night from Shakespeare in the Park. Lights, sound, we’ve even invited flow artists to come and perform with us, to have visual performances aid our instrumental performance. You’re likely to see some wild LED lights floating around to our music! 

NN: What’s it like preparing for a 3 hour set? 

BS: We’re gonna play three sets, so taking two short breaks. And it’s great, now that we have enough material to fulfill that much time! I’m proud of that, makes me feel prolific as a composer.  

Playing three sets allowed me to focus on a theme for each set. A lot of our songs are related, and actually intended to be movements of longer pieces. For example, Turn It Wild > In(L)terlude > Zipper > Champions > Lydia > Namasté Sonata is written to all flow as one 35 minute long mega song. So with our three sets, we’ll essentially be playing three mega songs.  

NN: Do you have anything special planned for your old Louisville show?

BS: We’re debuting 4 brand new songs at this show! So that’s always exciting. There are few things I’m ever as in love with, as my newest song, my newest art.  

And, since we do have some time and the setting feels right, I’m gonna take the time to introduce the songs, similar to how a conductor would if you went to see an orchestra. Take a little time to tell you something of the history of the song, or what to listen for, or what the story is, etc. If I can do a good job, hopefully that kind of stuff will enhance the experience for some in the audience. 

NN: What are you guys listening to right now? 

BS: I need new stuff to listen to! Recommend me things! I can’t help but keep going back to my favorite playlists populated with Ratatat, Chili Peppers, Muse, Explosions in the Sky, Daft Punk, El Ten Eleven, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, P-Funk, Rage Against the Machine!

NN: Do you have a favorite artist in Louisville?

BS: First let me say I’m a big fan of so many Louisville artists! Every weekend, if I’m not playing myself, I’m looking for a show to go to!  My favorite? I’m truly a big Wax Fang fan. So much so that their music directly influenced one of In Lightning’s most popular songs, “Memorial Day.” Wax Fang very often writes in meters of three: 3/4, 6/8, 12/8.  Memorial Day is in 12/8, and is particularly influenced by Wax Fang’s “The Doctor Will See You Now.”  

NN: Is a hot dog a taco? Is it a sandwich? Does the English language allow for this type of nonsense? 

BS: I would not say that a hot dog is a taco. I think a taco implies a tortilla, whether soft or hard shell, rather than just the shape. So I suppose you could put a frank in a tortilla and then have a hot dog taco. But a traditional hot dog with a bun I’d say is a relative to the sandwich.  

Language is weird. It’s imperfect. It’s all made up by other humans. And it’s imperfection is a real limiting factor between two individuals being able to express and understand each other truly.  Misunderstandings are a big cause of conflicts, small and global. Maybe one day we will have the technology to mind meld. But even if we mind meld, wouldn’t we still be influenced by the language with which we’ve come to know the world? Language effects our experience and perception of the world. I’ve heard how some cultures don’t have a word for blue, so therefore to them, the sky isn’t blue. It’s… some other color?  *Brain explodes*