Los Angeles artist Darin Bennett talks about his journey in the blues - rock - soul and poetic paths

"It all started in Africa. The sound worked it's way across various oceans and land masses and on into history. The time line is specific and it is also direct and linear."

Darin Bennett: A Poetic Journey in Music

Darin Bennett's dark, bluesy, soul searching music represents the new breed of the old school singer, songwriter and guitarist. He plays a combination of gritty delta blues with elements of classic rock and a bucket of raw soul. He tops it off with a powerful voice that rises from a mysterious whisper to a raging growl. His influences range from Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash, to Robert Johnson, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

Performing in Los Angeles clubs since before he was a teenager, Darin was continuously smuggled into blues clubs by older, seasoned musicians who often brought him on stage to play. He spent most of his teenage years and early twenties sitting in with and opening for a long list of esteemed blues and rock artists. After years of watching and learning from his heroes, he has discovered his own voice and style. Darin Bennett is a BMI songwriter & artist with songs that have been featured in productions for Imagine, Disney, the WB, ABC, and the Discovery Channel, among others.

Photo by Stacey Winget

His debut album as a solo artist, 20 Scarlet Monkeys was followed by the 2012 release of Midnight Storybook with the band Darin Bennett and the Requiem (produced for Mumbella Records by Darin Bennett and Redbone with Geoffrey Michael Brandin). The video for the first single, ‘Holdin’ Me’ (directed by Andrew Cochrane) was honored as an Official Selection of the 2012 LA Shorts Fest and the Sacramento Film & Music Festival.

'Holdin' Me' is currently the theme song of Warlocks Rising on the Discovery Channel. Darin has also written and performed a song that will be the closing song in the new feature film The Bad Guys. In 2012 and 2013, Darin held several month long residencies in Los Angeles to perform and host showcase performances by both established and up & coming premiere singer/songwriters of L.A.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos: Stacey Winget, Gerrod Miskovsky, Adam Corcutt, Patrick Holland, Andrew Coles

How do you describe Darin Bennett sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is really an extension of all of the music and written words that I have ingested since I was five years old, as well as my environment. I was born, raised and currently live in Los Angeles which has a rich history of multi-cultural music in addition to the more popular music that is known worldwide. I take it all in. Honestly, I consider myself a storyteller, first and foremost. So, whether with music, words, and/or performance, I just do my best to tell the stories I write or interpret from others.   

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?

Love, life, death, fear, hatred, disgust, amusement, illness, indigestion... They are all excellent fodder for any songwriter. I am always open and honest about the fact that I have Bi-Polar disorder.  I've come to view it as a blessing, rather than a curse. That said, the ebb and flow of my brain waves resembles the Pacific Ocean during a winter storm. This tempers my view on everything based on the moment. Sometimes I start a song about a fear of life and by the time I'm done writing it has been twisted into a story about a fear of death, or vice versa. All I do is go with the flow and just take notes like a court reporter documenting the events. Based on a lot of my songs, it's more like a crime scene photographer.

"I would love to spend a day in 1968 watching Jimi Hendrix do his laundry. You can learn everything about a person by the way they fold their clothes."

How has music changed your life? What has been the relationship between music and poetry in your life?

Music has shaped my life and kept me alive in every sense of the words. Poetry and literature have always been there as well. I started with blues, soul, jazz, r&b, and a whole lot of Tennessee Williams. My journey has taken me all over the place but I always seem to end up right where I started – with the blues. Not a moment goes by without the sounds of music in my mind.

Why did you think that the Soul and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

In a word – honesty.  That really says it all. People don't like to be jived with and in this day and age, most people can sense B.S. From a mile a way. Soul and Blues just cut right down to the real deal and tend to sync up with the human heartbeat quite nicely.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which makes you smile?

I met and opened for Hubert Sumlin many years ago. He was just watching me alone at my soundcheck at a club – just me, him, and the sound guy. He had a smile on his face and he talked to me while I was getting ready. Then he watched my entire set and gave me a hug backstage. I could only ask him if he had any advice for me. He leaned in really close and whispered in my ear, “It's a long road”. I have never heard any words as true as those since that moment. 

When I was a teenager, I spent several nights a week running around with a local legend named Chuck E. Weiss, a guitar player named J.J. Holiday, and a sax player named Joe Sublett.  Those guys all taught me a great deal about life and music.  I recommend that anyone reading this look those gentlemen up and listen to everything they've done.  You won't be sorry because you'll also be listening to Tom Waits, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Taj Mahal, the Rolling Stones and countless more.  I consider myself as the beneficiary of that extended pedigree and can only hope to reach the creative places that those artists have reached; my mentors included.

Personally, the moment I met my wife still stands as the most important. She has since become my love, life, and creative partner.  She's one of the finest creative lyricists I have ever known.

"Music has shaped my life and kept me alive in every sense of the words. Poetry and literature have always been there as well. I started with blues, soul, jazz, r&b, and a whole lot of Tennessee Williams."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams and recording time which you’d like to share with us?

On my first gig as a band leader, the entire audience walked out, as well as most of the kitchen staff. I use that as a constant reminder that what I do matters and that if I don't convey that to the audience, they will react similarly. Thankfully that nightmare has not reoccured since then.

Jamming with Hubert Sumlin was a thrill and a lesson in restraint.  Another time, I was hanging out and sitting in with the original House of Blues house band here in L.A. Bruce Springsteen came down to sit in for the night. He came up to the dressing room and everyone piled into the bathroom. He climbed into an empty bath tub and grabbed my guitar from me. Everyone worked out a set of blues and classic soul and r&b standards for over an hour. I later asked him why he sat in the tub and he said that the reverb was perfect for an unplugged electric guitar. I spent a lot of that night talking to Bruce and the late Danny Federici who was in the house band for fun but was also a founding member of the E Street Band. Danny was always pushing me to go downstairs and pick up on girls rather than hang out with a bunch of old musicians.  I just wanted to continue my duty stealing every note from these guys. 

At that time other artists came in to sit in with the band and I either watched from the stage or sat in with Bruce Springsteen, Greg Allman, Sam Moore, Prince, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, Billy Gibbons, and so many more that I can't remember right now.  I probably never will but the experiences have continued to mold me into the artist I am today.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss nothing because it's all still with me. My iPod is filled with 160gb of music from every age of recorded music. Charlie Patton and Son House are as alive to me as Radiohead or The Beatles. I think if we can keep an attitude like that, we are far less prone to fads or whatever is being force-fed to us by any given corporation. I can only hope other musicians and fans feel the same way. I just want to be heard like everyone else. The internet opens up those possibilities.  The big money of the old record companies is gone, as is the philosophy that pervaded the music community at that time. If everyone can realign their thinking into the new music paradigm than we just might find ourselves in a better financial state than we are in right now. The work is also far more honest and less prone to false compromise.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to classic rock and Folk music?

It all started in Africa. The sound worked it's way across various oceans and land masses and on into history. The time line is specific and it is also direct and linear. Start anywhere on the blue brick road and go in any direction. Wherever you stop you'll find the blues and whatever music has branched off from it. Think of this blues-based music history as a tree. The trunk is the main road and each branch and leaf create fruit that all comes from the same water source and oxygen supply. Some of that fruit may be sweet to some and sour to others but it's still the same fruit from the same fucking tree.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues people and what does the blues mean to you?

The best of them have taught me one thing that I hold true – sometimes one note is all you need. Therefore, make that note matter.

I'm extremely lucky that I have so many generations of musicians to learn from. That said, I have never had to deal with the blatant discrimination that tormented so many of my elders. The songs that came from those men matter and have made millions for others while keeping most of the creators impoverished. I always keep that in mind when I play this music and, especially, when I interpret the music of others. I don't sing certain songs in spite of their popularity and cultural influence because sometimes it would just be wrong to do so – like a slap in the face to the writer and an entire race that has had to deal with oppression on many fronts to this day. 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would love to see government funding for musicians. Not charity but grants. When culture dies so does a society so we must keep artists of all mediums working and somewhat well fed. 

I would also like to see a better framework for marketing music than we have right now. So many wonderful albums sit in files on-line because no one has discovered them. With less and less stores and more and more on-line mediums for music and music criticism, it's very difficult to have a central hub from which we all work. Sometimes the internet is far too vast to maintain a steady grasp on history as it happens.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from music circuits?

I spent the other night watching a video of Tom Waits on and old episode of VH1 Storytellers. The man was loose, lucid, funny, touching and inspiring all at once. He is a treasure to be cherished as much as any of the greats who came before him.

Let's take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would love to spend a day in 1968 watching Jimi Hendrix do his laundry. You can learn everything about a person by the way they fold their clothes.

What would you say to Johnny Cash and Leadbelly? What would you like to ask Tom Waits and Nick Cave?

I would tell Cash to put the pills down sooner than he did. I would tell Leadbelly that his name is fantastic. I would ask Tom Waits for the ketchup and Nick Cave for the Mustard.

Honestly, I have no questions for any of these men that their songs haven't already answered and, if those stories are false, then I will cherish the lies (and then steal them and make them my own).

Darin Bennett - official website

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