vrijdag 31 mei 2013

Interview with Greg Bennick from Trial & Between Earth And Sky

Last month, the Brutality crew traveled to Budapest to witness a concert that went into Hungarian hardcore history as an ode to the legendary band Brigde To Solace.

Opener of the evening Greg Bennick broke the ice with his spoken words. Greg always knows to capture the crowd's attention and keeps them chained to their chairs within the first minutes.
The coherention of Greg's speech towards the theme of the evening, saying goodbye to Brigde To Solace, was brought perfectly, though also enough time was spent on themes such as life experiences and how to deal with issues in life seen from a more humoristic point.
But the red line in this speech was the passion, the bitterness and the hope that brought all those individuals together at Dürer Kert.

We kidnapped the talented guy and dragged him into a backstage office for an interview on his spoken words tour, the scene, his personal link with Bridge To Solace and passion. Lots of passion.

Caution: Seeing one of Greg Bennick's performances or even just reading this interview might leave a huge impact on you as a person and your entire life.

- Greg, you did Spoken Word for the Of Bitterness and Hope album of Bridge to Solace, and today, on the very last show for Bridge to Solace actually, you opened the evening.
I loved the fact that I got to opening the evening tonight because I remember recording the Of Bitterness and Hope tracks. I was with my friend Blair Kelly Bob, who recorded the Trial album, and we were in Vancouver, B.C, and Zoli had sent me his songs. Blair was living in a studio at the time at some guy's house and he had converted it into a studio, but he had really converted it.

Like the drum room was down in the basement, but he cut a hole in the floor of the upstairs part and he took out the floors so that the drums would fill more of the house. We would record upstairs. It was crazy. The house was all made to supporting it. I brought Blair these songs and I said, "I want to write some words for them," and I remember recording them with Blair and we had a lot of fun recording them.

 Then, of course, the record came out and I didn't think anything of it until years later. People started writing to me, saying that these words were really, really important to them.

And if I look back on all the spoken word tracks that I've done for bands, and there have been quite a few at this point, those tracks are the ones, strangely enough, that I find that I've listened to maybe the least over the years. And I don't listen to a lot of them, but the Of Bitterness and Hope tracks I don't return to very much and listen to them. But they're the ones that, over the years, people write to me and say, "Thank you for recording those. They meant a lot to me."

       So, yeah, I love being able to be here tonight and open the show, and theming what I said to Of Bitterness and Hope. And that's why earlier tonight I was a lunatic on the side trying to figure out what I wanted to say, because every time, before I speak, I get nervous. And I think it stems from actually caring about my audience, caring about the words, and not wanting to just stand up on stage with some frivolous bullshit, but rather say something that is meaningful and fits the theme of the night too.

- How did you come to the idea to start a Spoken Word Tour?

      I started thinking about doing Spoken Word Touring many years ago and it's because, for me, speaking comes very easily. People's greatest fear, at least in America, is speaking in front of audiences, but for me, speaking is something that comes naturally. And I always thought it'd be really fun to go out on the road and to share stories and share ideas, especially related to punk rock and hardcore, but also related to just being human.

       It was years ago that I thought I should try this. In 2001, I did seven or eight dates down the East Coast of the United States and I thought that they went terribly. Like I thought it was really bad, like kind of a disaster. And I, instead of trying again, gave up for about twelve years. Then, last year, I was at a coffee place in Seattle with a friend of mine, and he books bands for a living. That's what he does. Out of nowhere, I just asked him, "Would you book a Spoken Word Tour?" And he was so excited and he said, "Absolutely, anything other than bands, like anything for a change. I would love that." And he sent out an email to forty promoters around the United States and Canada and said, "Would you be interested in booking a Greg Bennick Spoken Word Show," and thirty-five out of the forty people wrote back and said, "Sure, I'll try it." And I said, "All right, let's book a tour. Let's go for it." So, that's how it all happened. That was the first tour last June. And as soon as I got home from that, we booked another, and then I went out again. And while on that tour, I wrote to my friends at Avocado here, in Europe, and I said, "Would you book me in Europe," and they said, "Yes." And then I did one more with this band Hallow Earth in the States, and now I'm in the middle of this European and Russian Tour, and then back the US to do Western US/Western Canada throughout the month of June.

- Where do you get your inspiration from?

My biggest inspiration in terms of speaking doesn't actually come from a specific person. My biggest inspiration in speaking comes from the sense of connection that I get with an audience. So, tonight, for example, in Budapest, when I came out on stage, the first thing I did is I made jokes about not being able to speak Hungarian, and then I made jokes about Hungarian words that I was familiar with. And all of a sudden, when the audience laughs, there's a connection that happens and there's a dynamic shift in the room, where it goes from being me as a stranger to me as a friend, and the audience as stranger to the audience as friends. That's my inspiration, because in that moment that's where the real connection can start to take place.

    But to get there is hard, because when you meet somebody on the street and your first interaction with them is just a look, you don't know if they're friendly or if they're not friendly. You don't know if they're hitting on you or not hitting on you, or whatever the dynamic is. But as soon as you establish a connection, then anything can happen. Friendship. Love. Loss. Whatever. But it takes that hurdle. Getting over that hurdle first. That inspires me in terms of speaking.

    In life, I mean I have constant, millions of inspirations. There's so many. The first one that comes to mind is the Italian sculptor Bernini. I don't know if you're familiar with his work. Lookup the statues in the Villa Borghese in Rome, and what Bernini did in stone - in this hard and unforgiving substance - transcends human ability. Meaning that he created, in stone, representations of life, and passion, and desire that are recognizable by all people. And he did that in stone with chisels and tools. It astounds me that another human being, like the same creature that I am, can do something like that. So that's what inspires me. People like that. Bernini. The great masters of art because those people are very cool.

- Is there a difference between talking for students in a university and like, for example, talking to the hardcore audience today in Budapest?

          I think that when you're speaking to students in a university, at least in the States, the dynamic is that they have paid for tuition. They have paid for the classes, and they are there just to listen because they paid for it. So it's almost like their emotional investment isn't there. Their financial investment is, and so they're just going to sit there and listen. And I could talk about Bernini, or I could talk about music, or I could talk about this sticker on the wall roller in whatever - I can talk about anything, and they're going to listen because they've paid and they assume that because I'm speaking I must be having something to say that's educational for them.

    But in hardcore it's different. In hardcore there's a slightly higher expectation and there's also a lower threshold of tolerance for bullshit. So, if I come out and I just talk, everyone in the audience is instantly going to know that I'm bullshitting them. But if I connect with them sincerely, everyone will immediately know that I'm connecting on meaning. That's where that dynamic shift happens and all of a sudden we're great shape.

    So, yeah, there's a very big difference. I speak to a lot different types of audiences, but speaking at these shows is really quite incredible. Last night, in Novi Sad, I mean the room was packed with people. It was crazy. It was the first ever Spoken Word performance in Novi Sad. There had never been another one. And the connection with the audience was immediate and very real, and I spoke for like two hours and we had this incredible time, which is really just wonderful. It's just amazing.
           I love that connection at shows like this. I want to tour for the rest of my life until I die, which is hopefully in a long time. Like I hope that's not tomorrow because I'm on tour now and if I die tomorrow, then I would've toured until I died, but that's not what I want. I want to live for a longer time and tour.

- Everbody has his or her story on where hardcore started for them personally.
   Where did hardcore start for you?

        The very beginning of hardcore for me can be broken down into a couple different experiences. One is when a friend of mine brought a cassette over to my house that had punk rock and hardcore bands on it when I was a teenager. And I listened to these bands and I was amazed with how honest and real the lyrics were.

        Hardcore also started when I started going to shows and I saw these bands playing this music live and it was just such a different experience than major concerts that I had seen before. But I think that hardcore really started for me in a completely different way, when I started getting in touch with what I wanted to say musically and playing the shows when Trial started, because that's when I realized that I had a vehicle - an outlet - for being incredibly sincere and potent with my words and my expression and that people could really connect with that and then get something out of it too. And all of a sudden, it wasn't just music anymore. It was something more. It was like we're building a community and building emotional connections, and building, for lack of a better word, an emotional safety net that people could fall into if they were feeling upset in similar ways or inspired in similar ways. And all of a sudden, this was so much more than just music for me and I became - in English I would just say - ravenously obsessed. Meaning that I could not stop with the idea of connecting with people more intimately and more intensely through this medium. I had to keep going.

    And that's why there was this progression in the Trial writing, where early on we were writing songs that were lyrically more simple and later on we were writing songs that were lyrically and emotionally and psychologically more in-depth. It's because the deeper you get into a connection with somebody, the deeper your communication becomes on a number of different levels. And it was an intimate relationship like that with the audience that led to me wanting to write in ways that reflected that relationship - the depth of that relationship. So, that's when it really started rolling.

- Do you remember your first show?

You know, I've been figuring out in my mind whether my first show was Hüsker Dü or if it was The Ramones, and I can't remember. I'll have to check and see, but it was one of the two. It was either Christmas opening for Hüsker Dü at the Agora Ballroom in West Hartford, Connecticut or it was The Ramones playing at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York. Both of those were in the spring of 1987 or so. Maybe 1988, but still it was a while ago. I was a teenager. You know, when you see these bands you've been listening to, you get so inspired and you just flip out. And now it's more than just songs as well. It's just the live performance of these bands is so inspiring because you don't have that visceral connection with mainstream rock musicians, even ones that are cool. Like Lou Reed can play, or Iggy Pop, and you're still not going to have that real visceral connection. Maybe Iggy Pop, but still. Worse examples would be the mainstream rockers of the world. You're not going to have visceral connection with them, but in punk rock and hardcore you really do and, all of a sudden, you start to really feel as though you're a part of the music. Just by being there that you actually matter.

- And what do you think the reason is for that special way of connecting?

I think because, in punk rock and hardcore, there is an understanding. There's a basic understanding amongst us all that this music saved our lives in some way or another. You know, it saved our lives. It helped us out. It got us through hard times. And it's not just for show. You know, it's not just frivolous. So, when you're at a show, I think there's this sense of you're experiencing something more real than mainstream rock bullshit. Like you're experiencing something that really matters. And the performers know it, the musicians know it, and we know it, watching, so we have this understand that the show matters, and that the band matters, and the songs matter. And in the midst of that, we want more of that.

    I think people crave that sense of reality in our lives. We don't want to bullshit in our lives. We don't want more illusions that make us feel empty inside. We want real connection and authenticity. So punk rock offers us that when it's in its best mode - best moments. It offers us the authenticity we crave in our day-to-day lives. So, I think that's why.

- Why did you choose to pick up the microphone and not the guitar, the drumsticks, or the bass?

       Have you heard me play the drums? I have no sense of rhythm. The sense of rhythm that I have is like I can walk. Like I functionally walk and my heart beats. These two things happen at a rhythm. When I try to play the drums, I'm a disaster. I started out playing drums many years ago and I was never any good. When I moved to Seattle, my friends wanted to start a hardcore band. My friend Derek wanted to play bass, my friend Tim wanted to play guitar, and they asked me what I wanted to do and I had a choice to make. I could either play the drums or sing, and I knew that if I played the drums it would be a train wreck, so I thought I'll sing.

       Somewhere in the world, and I hope they've been erased, there were cassette tapes of the first practices of what was then called Headline - the band that became Trial. And the first Headline practices were so bad, vocally, on my part. I sound like -- do you know Kermit the frog? If Kermit the frog was being strangled by an evil man that's what I sounded like. It was terrible, like Kermit the frog being strangled by an evil man. And I decided to work on vocalizing over the years, until I got to a point where I understood it. And realistically, it wasn't until the Tour in Europe a year and a half ago that I finally got it. Like now, when I'm singing a Trial Show, I get it. I know how to sing it finally, and it took me seventeen years to get it. I mean it doesn't take everyone seventeen years. It took me seventeen years.

    So, the point is, is that I wanted to try it. And then once I started trying it and failing and doing badly, I wanted to keep going until it made sense. So that's why I sing still.

          And also, there's a lot of power in the microphone. You know, I posted a picture on Instagram the other night of the microphone just on the stand in Zagreb, in Croatia. And I just commented. I said, "Closest ally, greatest tool, strongest weapon" - something like that -, because I can't really paint. I can't draw. I can't dance. You know, I'm not good at gymnastics. Like the things that people do in the world, I don't have those talents. But when I speak, it makes sense. There's like another brain working in here that when I'm talking to you all the words just file together. So it feels natural to me to speak and connect, so that's why I was drawn to the microphone.

- You also have your website WordsAsWeapons. What can we expect to appear on there?

On the WordsAsWeapons site, I'm going to be selling marijuana and beer in large quantities. People who want marijuana and beer can come to WordsAsWeapons and buy marijuana. No, I'm going to be. (laughs)

 On the WordsAsWeapons site, I post tour updates of course, but I also, on the site, will be posting interviews with people who I think are using their words effectively, because I want to give more content to the people who visit the site than just: "Oh, I was in Zagreb. I was in Budapest." It's like okay. I mean that's fun for people and they get inspired. Like: "Wow, I want to travel too," but there's more that I can offer.

    So I'm going to put up an interview with my friend Brian, who sings in Catharsis. And he's done an interview where he talks about using his words in a revolutionary context. And then I'm going to put up an interview with my friend Jen, who's a midwife, about how does she use her words in that moment when a woman is about to give birth and is in this combination of agony and ecstasy. So I would like to put on the site an interview with Jen and ask her, "How do you use your words in this moment to soothe a patient - a client - so that she can give birth," because that's revolutionary too. And then other interviews like that. So I'll be putting interviews on the site.

- Last but not least: What is your message to the scene of today?

I would say currently the message of this tour and of this moment is to use your words as weapons and live your life as art. And what I mean by that is not to use your words like people think of a weapon traditionally, like as a gun, but rather recognize that a weapon can reach people from afar and have impact on them. So, use our words in ways that have impact. And remember that we all have the ability to use our words in ways that impact and can reach people, but also to live our lives as art. Meaning to live our lives in ways that inspire people above and beyond the day-to-day lives that they lead. You know, a good piece of art should inspire us to see the world in a different way. Well, we can each live as art and inspire people to see their own lives in different ways if we're willing to take risks. So, amidst those themes is my message, and that, I guess, is the message. Use our words as weapons and live your lives as art, and we'll all be in, I think, better shape.

WordsAsWeapons: http://wordsasweapons.com/

Trial: https://www.facebook.com/xTRIALx?fref=ts

Between Earth And Sky: https://www.facebook.com/betweenearthandskyofficial