Listenlisten is without a doubt one of Houston’s best bands. Their dark, gothic albums paint a rich, layered world inhabited by as much decay and sadness as beauty and hope. Their last album Dog was a tour de force of atmosphere, songwriting, and musicianship – a work that spoke to the unique manner in which an album, even in an age of singles, can speak to listeners. It’s been over a year now since that release and the band has been somewhat quiet as they work on new material but recently singer Ben Godfrey has been performing small shows under the name B. E. Godfrey and even released two songs on-line. The tracks, “The Wild” and “What Used to Be”, walk similar paths as listenlisten but whereas listenlisten feels big and expansive, Godfrey’s solo work feels smaller, more intimate, and it has sweet fragility about it that distinguishes it – a short poem to listenlisten’s grand epic. We spoke with Ben over a cup of coffee at Black Hole recently about his solo work and listenlisten.
So, what’s been up with listenlisten?
Godfrey – Just not doing live shows.
Why? You guys are phenomenal live!
Godfrey – Shane [Patrick] is the other big force in listenlisten and he just wasn’t happy doing live shows. He just really enjoys writing and recording more so he wants to focus on that.
The last album, Dog, was amazing. It’s this gorgeous and haunting record that so masterfully executed, yet I never got the impression that it got the reception it deserved. Was that reception just my perception or…
Godfrey – That’s sort of how we felt but it was also that we had a lot of problems getting it pressed. We had a lot of different things lined up to happen for promotion but there were all these delays and it just wasn’t ready in time. The pressing plant kept saying, “Oh, it’ll be ready next week.” Then it was next week, and then it was the week after that, and so on. It took two months for something they said would be done in two weeks. That was frustrating because we booked a tour and didn’t have them with us so that made it pretty tough.
Why the solo stuff?
Godfrey – I write a lot of songs… at least I feel it’s a lot…and listenlisten aren’t always interested in the different things I’m doing. A band dynamic is different; everyone has to contribute and it’s their ideas too. I can’t just say, “I like this so we’re going to work on it.” But if it’s my own thing, I can do whatever I want. I have these songs I’m happy with but I don’t want to just throw them away; I want to do something with them. Also, I like playing live so it’s a way for me to keep doing that.
Who’s playing with you on the solo material?
Godfrey – I’ve been working with Mike Regino who plays violin, guitar, and piano. He used to be guitarist for Mechanical Boy. He moved to Austin so it’s a lot harder now but he still plays when he can.
Where are you recording?
Godfrey – listenlisten records are all Shane’s engineering – he has a home recording studio. For my solo stuff, Reggie O’Farrell of Western Civilization has a studio in Austin – they were fun and easy to work with, the guys I was playing with had moved out there, and it was nice to be secluded for a couple of days. I’m not sure where I’ll record next.
What differentiates your solo work?
Godfrey – It comes back to making more decisions because with a band it’s really whatever anyone wants to do as long as everyone else agrees that it sound good. This is more me just figuring it all out for myself.
But from a musical standpoint how is it different or is just an extension of listenlisen?
Godfrey – I don’t think it’s an extension of it. listenlisten is a group effort which can’t exist without the various members’ contributions. This is just me on my own writing and arranging songs without much outside input besides what others contribute on a song by song basis.
This is more personal so the way I wrote it is really important to me and I don’t feel as comfortable about other people making decisions about it which is what happens in a group dynamic. I love everything the guys in the band – specifically Shane – have done, but if it’s a topic like relationships, family, or something like that where I feel close to it, then I want it to happen in a certain way.
It’s easier to define it the other way around – there are songs in listenlisten that I would never think of as solo material. A lot of the songs on Hymns From Rhodesia are songs I’d never do as personal music – it’s more of a concept album and something you do as a group effort.
I’d describe your stage presence as stoic, detached, and almost creepy. You stare forward and look possessed…
Godfrey – Oh, I can tell you it’s not intentional. I’ve never been nervous playing live…I guess that’s just what happens to my body when I’m focused on a song and where it’s coming from. That’s the physical response – I don’t know why.
So what do you see for the solo stuff and listenlisten?
Godfrey – Right now my solo stuff is just a thing I have out there but I’m working on trying to have a couple of people involved to try and improve the songs I have. If I can get those together as much as I want, then it will probably be an official release – 7” or EP – and listenlisten is grinding away at some new material. I could see my material and the band’s all being released on-line or in just very small runs both.
B.E. Godfrey Performs September 28th @ St. Ballroom (Austin) with Emily Scott and September 29th @ La Carafe with Emily Scott , Adam Bricks, and Warbler Pl.