Local musical talent James Bennett is just one of many amazing artists performing at this year’s Wingham Akoostik festival. FOCUS caught up with James about all things music, including his debut album and national tour …
It’s been nearly three years since we last spoke to you at FOCUS – we can only imagine it’s been an amazing journey to where you are now! Give us a little insight …
Yeah, it’s been a very quick three years too. Well, for the past year I’ve been based in Newcastle, but in doing what I do I’m never really anywhere for long. I guess most of my time is spent on the highway driving to and from my gigs, then surfing on the days in-between. In the midst of the highway life I’ve been working on an album and trying to get it done before the end of this year.
It will be my first album, so I’m just trying to get it to a level where I think I’ll still be stoked about it in years to come. Being in the studio is hard for me; I like to do my own thing at gigs and at my own kind of pace, so when it comes down to all the finer details, I tend to get a little frustrated – hence it’s taking a long time ha ha.
What is your biggest dream and goal?
My biggest dream at the moment would be getting into some bigger festivals and maybe heading overseas. My ultimate goal is to make people feel happy and enjoy the music that
I create and also to hopefully inspire others to play or write music like others did for me.
Have these changed over time?
No not too much, except the festival thing. I love to play at festivals, and I have played quite a few in the last few years, but these days I prefer to play to a small attentive crowd where the songs really get a proper listen.
I’ve done festivals where people are just too drunk and wild to really care for the music, which is fine, but at the end of the day it’s not the audience I want to attract.
In saying that, there are smaller boutique festivals that have that intimate vibe that attract the right kind of people, so I guess the goal is just to find the right ones to play at.
I still want to go overseas to play. I did a surf trip to New Zealand earlier this year and sussed out some bars and places to play at, so if I go anywhere overseas to play anytime soon, it would probably be there!
To the last part of the question [my goal] I know I’ve accomplished this to some degree; I’ve had many people tell me they’ve walked down the aisle to some of my music, and I’m always being told stories of my CDs being played on long car trips, so that’s pretty darn cool as well.
How has your music progressed over the past few years?
I’d say the biggest comparison to when I first started out would be my lyric writing.
The most important part of any songs to me are the lyrics. These days if the meaning of the song is understood at first listen, then it’s not good enough.
I really try to write so that anyone could put their own spin on what the song might be about – not to say my older stuff wasn’t done this way; the only difference is, I think a lot of people start out writing love songs (as I did). I try not to write love songs anymore – unless of course, you want to see it as one.
Tell us about the single Colourful Kites; what’s the tale behind it?
Colourful Kites is pretty much a story I’ve always wanted to write that will never become a story; it’s quite true to some degree and tells the tale of myself as a child and (putting it nicely) being afraid of my dad. It’s a sad song with a happy feel to it.
You’ve worked alongside some amazing artists – Ian Moss, Wendy Matthews, to name a couple. What was it like working alongside these iconic storytellers?
Sure, I love it – you learn a lot from being around people who’ve been doing it forever.
The most memorable support shows I played were for Wendy Matthews and her band just over a year ago.
I did about six shows with them and after about the third show, they invited me to hang with them back at their accommodation, where we’d play guitar ‘til an ungodly hour of the morning, hear all their stories of past tours and their opinions on certain things. I’ve got beautiful memories of hanging out with Wendy and her band, and we still keep in touch!
We are excited to have you playing at the Wingham Akoostik Festival; what can we expect from your onstage vibe?
Yes, it’s great news! I played at the Wingham Akoostik Festival in 2013 as well; it’s just a great festival with great organisers, and I’m really looking forward to playing at it again. As for “what to expect”, I used to feel very insignificant on a big festival stage with no band to make me stand out, and I got stuck into thinking I needed that – but the last couple of years I’ve worked hard on my solo on stage sound to the point where I don’t think I ever want a band (well, at this stage at least). I‘ll have a six string guitar, a twelve string guitar and my Weissenborn Lap Steel on stage, along with a stomp box and tambourine (feet percussion) that I’ve been doing for a while now and of course, harmonica and vocals.
I think I’ll play a few new songs and a couple of older ones. I like to think my vibe comes out as a mixture of Bob Dylan and John Butler.
You’re about to release your first album and embark on a national tour. You must be very excited – tell us about the production process and gearing up for your tour…
As I said before, it’s taken me a long time to get the album ready, so it’s due for the end of this year.
I’m not sure of a name yet; it’ll most probably be self titled. I’m recording it all out at a studio in Beechwood west of Wauchope; the same studio recorded my Colourful Kites single.
I’m trying my best to make it sound no different to how I would sound at a gig. It’s all sounding beautiful at this stage; I just need to add those finishing touches.
My plan is to do a national tour for 2016, which I’ve never done. I’ve already started booking the tour, and I’ll be starting off in QLD, then I’ll work my way down the coast and head over to Western Australia around February – March (maybe Tasmania).
Where can we buy your music and follow you?
All my music is on iTunes, and hard copies are available from my website: www.jamesbennettmusic.com
I always have hard copies to sell at my gigs too!
People can follow me on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/jamesbennettsound
Instagram jamesbennett_ and you can find my videos on YouTube as well.
Don’t miss James Bennett at the Wingham Akoostik Festival, 16 – 18 October.