Benji Marx Bares all with a Sexual Love Poem to God
Written In Front of Plants, Holy, Dirty and Worthy of Love, Benji Marx releases a New Album and Live Music Video
By Beth Cloutier November 21, 2019
When an artist writes an album to house plants pretending they are his audience then pivots to subjects such as holy, dirty, worthy, accepted and loved human behavior how could you not be intrigued.
SEXUAL LOVE POEM TO GOD
LMC: As far as writing goes lyrically, what do you draw from? What are the things that set you on fire?
Benji: I think it came out of a couple of things. It came from a place of wanting to be more connected with another person. But there’s, I’m almost a little bashful to say it, but there’s an element of wanting to be connected with God. Not necessarily the Judeo/Christian God, but the Universe. Meeting the Great Spirit. It has to do with wanting to be kinda connected to the divine.
LMC: In your chorus here you have the line, “Let me be worthy, Holy and dirty, Spinning and turning, Laughing I come to you”.
Benji: We’re flawed creatures and there’s an element of knowing that you are worthy of love and being loved, because although you’re a flawed creature, you’re worthy of love. Those things exist together: the Holy and the dirty. You don’t purify yourself and make yourself worthy of love through purification. It’s as if you’re always kind of a contradictory being and you make mistakes and it’s part of what makes a person a human. It’s accepting an individual for their entirety and their being.
And I think it can kind of be interpreted as like a love song to a lover.
Like let the universe love me. I just felt like a Holy being, even though I’m dirty and sexual and less sensuous that doesn’t engage and that doesn’t negate anything. In writing it, it really felt like a sexual love poem to God.
Watch “Heart, Dear” live:
LMC: Who are in music heroes and how did they influence your music?
Benji: Whenever anybody asks me this question, the first person that always comes to mind is Bob Dylan because he was one of the musicians that I really first got deeply into as a teenager around the time I began to form my identity. I don’t think it was entirely a positive thing, but he kind of made me want to form my identity around being a depressed, angry songwriter. He’s definitely one of my heroes in terms of like the power of his songs, thinking it got deeply embedded in me.
LMC: And so is he the only major influence that you have or do you have others?
Benji: Oh, no, there are so many influences. I feel like everybody I listened to, it was like I learned something from their sound. Even going to a live concert today, I’ll listen to the sound of the band and think, Oh, that’s cool. I’m gonna, take that and run with that idea.
There are influences everywhere. But I think in terms of like really formative musicians that I gravitated towards in my teenage years, he’s one of them. I was really listening to a lot of musicians that were no longer alive or no longer performing. I feel like I missed out on like seeing them as a teenager, which is when a lot of people like to go see bands. I just liked all of this music that I felt like nobody was writing anymore.
LMC: What years are we talking when you were a teenager?
Benji: Like 13 to like 17-ish. And then in college I started to expand a bit more. And in high school, they’re very 2000. So this is around 2004 to 2003, late 2008 or so.
There was good music happening. I mean, I wish I was more interested in rap music. I am interested in rap and I listened to rap, but as a teenager, it wasn’t really like part of my identity formation. So I like missed out on rap that was happening in the 2000s.
Well, the Strokes were performing and if I got into Elliot Smith, I could have caught him tour before he passed away. Right.
I feel like I’m a singer/songwriter.
LMC: Great. And you’re playing live with a back-up band, right?
Benji: I’m still working on that. I’ve never been good at holding a band together and I’ve often performed solo because of that. The sound in my head and the sound that I wanna make is definitely with full band. I’m working on performing live more.
I just moved to the East coast and I’m trying to connect with people to perform more. I’m living in New Paltz, NY and going to SUNY New Paltz and so I’m connected with a lot of undergrads there. I’m building connections with the undergrads there that put on house shows and performing in the area. Let’s say that that’s a work in progress.
RETURN TRIPPING – NY TO CA
LMC: Okay. Um, so let’s talk about, your audience a little bit. I think of your music is kind of folky rock, pop rock mix. Who do you see listening to your music, who are the people you play for?
Benji: I think you can classify it and like folk pop rock, I think there’s also sort of like a synth element to it.
The live show that is on Local Music Channel now, was filmed in the Bay area. There were a lot of people in their twenties and thirties who live in Berkeley, Oakland or the San Francisco.
LMC: Well, talking about the Bay area, tell me about your trajectory from high school? How did you wind up in the Bay area and then why did you end up back in New York?
Benji: Well, uh, I went to high school in Manhattan and then after that I went to college in upstate New York, at Bard. After that I moved back to New York city to live with my parents for a year in 2012, 2013 and then they split up and I lived with my mom for another year. I felt like I needed to get out on my own and stand on my own two feet. I really trust myself.
I usually tell people humorously I was living with my mom and I was afraid I’d wake up one day and be 30 and living with her. It’s not what I wanted to do.
I decided to apply to a bunch of different jobs, anything that would take me, and I applied to be a summer camp counselor in Ithaca, New York at this wilderness survival camp. I applied to be a firefighter, a forest firefighter in Oregon which actually got into. I applied for this job to work at a summer music festival called music at Menlo park. I got that one and I decided to pursue it.
And that was in the summer of July 7th, 2014. I just stayed in the Bay after that. I ended up back on the East coast because after teaching music for a while, I felt like I wanted to deepen my abilities and become more professional. And so I started doing a lot of searching and came upon music therapy. New Paltz has a really good music therapy program and I was able to apply as an in state resident. So it’s the most affordable program and also one of the best in the country.
LOCAL MUSIC SCENES
LMC: So when you were in the Bay area, you were embedded in the local music scene here. Can you tell me a little bit about that? How you found the people in the Bay area and then in New York city?
Benji: The Bay area was up and down for me. Music has always been up and down.
I went to Balanced Breakfast. I met this guy named Brendan Draper and he became my anchor for awhile. He’s still in the Bay. He played drums with me for a while and then he became my manager for a while. Eventually, he broke off and started managing another band and we parted ways. But after that, I kept trying to develop my music.
LMC: How do you know Bicicletas Por La Paz?
Benji: Oh yeah. I knew Bicicletas Por La Paz from the [local music] community. I always wanted to do something with them and I saw that they’re doing a summer bicycle tour. They needed a bassist so I jumped on the opportunity and said I play bass. I stayed connected with them and I met Robin Applewood through BPLP and I recorded some songs with him. That was a really fun tour.
NEW YORK DIY MUSIC SCENE
LMC: We’ve talked quite a bit about how you break into the local music scene since you are establishing yourself back in New York, although you’re from New York. What’s your experience been like since re-entering the New York music scene?
Benji: I played a friend’s house show in July. I haven’t really played since then. It’s hard. I mean, part of, I think I was, I’ve never been good, particularly good at like making music community. I think part of it honestly is I like to go to bed early. I think a big part of the music community is having people see your face and knowing that you still exist. Um, and so I think I generally want things to move along faster than they might naturally move along. Like I always want to like push relationships or plans faster.
I just want to keep things moving. I’m integrating myself into like the New Paltz music scene.
There’s this whole DIY music scene that I’m learning about local artists from that do similar things as me and I’m trying to connect with them. I’m part of the booking team at New Paltz, so I’m meeting some cool bands that come up to play shows and I’m just trying to chat with them and let them know what I do and reach out to them and like try and set up a show after that. Yeah. I’m also getting involved in a radio program, so we’re gonna start a radio show and I’m helping with the live sound. We’re going to bring artists on and perform live.
LMC: You have follow through and that’s like half the battle. You’re starting to making happen. So why do you think is important to play locally in your community?
Benji: I think is important to play locally in your community. And I also think it’s important to play outside your community. There’s a fine line. One, there is music community as a non performative community of people who just play music together and create together and you always want people that you can invite over for dinner and you can sing songs with or you can come over and you can like play music with, jam or have a drum circle with. And that’s one important form of music community.
And then you have this other aspects, which is the music in performance, which is more like, this like quid pro quo of I’m putting out music and I’ll support you. If you support me and we support each other, there’s this mutual respect.
I used to look down upon people trying to get a dime out of somebody else or use other people. But if there’s a genuine wanting to support other people, if we just want to put on new musical shows, it can be really sweet. The only way you have community is by making music in communities.
LMC: So why would you say live music is important for anyone really? Why is it important for people to go out and hear live music?
Benji: Well, I mean, I’m studying music. Again. I think there are a couple of layers to that question. I think the way we interact with music is not entirely the most authentic way to interact with it. In my opinion, the way most people interact with music is they pay money for a ticket and then they go see somebody perform. The roots of music are much more community oriented. There were ritual songs or, or ritual. People in the community would sing a certain song at certain times of year or in prayer or at a funeral or at a celebration. That’s what draws me to music.
I think a lot of people go to a concert looking for that too, because we lack that in our culture. There’s no rain dance anymore. There’s no honor except in very specific communities. There’s no ritual at the change of season to bring in the harvest. We have to get that energy out somewhere. We find these ways that are acceptable in our culture. That’s partially why I want to study music therapy because the music gets to be the medium. It’s just the music is the tool to affect people in a positive way.
It’s always been hard to ask people to like pay money to come see me. It’s a lot easier to be paid by somebody else to work with people that are going to a hospital or a clinic. I still haven’t navigated my impediments around the monetary aspect of performing music. You know, that’s something I still struggle with.
LMC: The direction you took it was interesting. I meet a lot of musicians who are either starting out or in the beginning of breaking out who have a really difficult time asking people for money.
LMC: Is “Heart, Dear” part of an album or is it part of the EP or an LP?
Benji: Well, it’s, I think eventually going to be part of a full-length album. I’m trying to release some singles that I eventually want to put together on a full-length album. I’m releasing this song and I want to release another song in the winter. And then there are two other songs I wanna release in the spring and then work on four or five other tracks to put together for full length album and maybe press that into an LP.
The working title of my album is “Songs for house plants” and that came out of when I was living in the Bay. The way I started writing songs in the last year or two I was there was, I would often sit in front of my window and open the curtains and there were these houseplants on my shelf so I treated them as my audience. I would develop these songs in front of them.
I think there’s an element of not wanting to be too grandiose, wanting to write from a human perspective. That’s what I want to embody in the songs. I want them to still intimate. I want them to feel accessible, but not too abstract. I’ve never been a fan of songwriters that are very explicit in their lyrics. There always needs to be an element of not knowing what the lyrics mean per se, you know?
LMC: That works for certain types of artists and it doesn’t for others.
Benji: And then you find out years later they were writing about the cereal box that they had. You know? I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s about how you connect with it.
OLD SCHOOL TO DIGITAL AGE
LMC: How do you listen to music these days what are you using as a platform to listen to music in the digital atmosphere?
Benji: I like things that do the one thing they’re supposed to do. I like records because they’re not ads that pop up and there’s no Facebook temptation when you’re listening and there’s no this and that. I listen to records a lot. I’ll just put on the record and listen and cook and sing along.
A lot of my favorite artists are like long dead or like pretty old. So it’s a struggle for me to find new artists that I really like. But for new artists I tend to just stream the music.
I’ve been finding new artists on Instagram. Like I’ll find one artist that I like and I’ll listen to their music and I’ll follow them on Instagram. I’ll follow a record label and they’ll be on Instagram. It’s a lot of Instagram actually now that I think about it.
I do use Spotify or Spotify suggestions. I don’t like being suggested things that I really don’t like. Companies notice trends and suggest to me “You would probably like this”. And for me it’s just like, don’t tell me what I’ll like.
Is there any room in this world anymore for acurmudgeon, you know? (laughs)
LMC: It’s interesting, the whole word of mouth idea. It still exists. I think the word of mouth thing is still really important though. Is there anything you want to rely to people about your album?
Benji: I guess I just wanted people to know that I put a lot of care into recording and playing live. I hope people like that and appreciate that.
A lot of artists just want to be well received or at least I want to be well received. The – music that I’m making is really coming from like a sincere place.
A TOUCHING EXPERIENCE
LMC: What was the experience you’ve had the most touching experience you’ve had while you were playing live?
Benji: I was a music teacher at a Pre-K classroom and I sang “I’d like to Visit the Moon” to the four year olds. At the end I noticed one of them was crying and I said, “McKenna, why are you crying? Are you okay?” And her friend patted her on the back and said the song made her cry. That was honestly probably one of the highlights of my entire musical career thus far.
LMC: How touching. Have you had any experience or engagement with playing live shows?
Benji: Yeah, I’ve played a lot. I’ve done a couple of tours in the Pacific Northwest. I feel like those experiences for me are more internal personal experiences. I kind of thought about that a lot. Should I be making this an experience for the audience? If I make it about me, does it mean that I’m like being selfish and not giving enough to the audience? Performing live it’s the highest. I really get lost in what I’m doing and it feels transcendent. I don’t know whether or not the audience picks up on that.
When you go to any sort of prayer service, there’s always one person who’s leading it or a person or a couple of people who are supposed to elevate the congregation or the community and when I perform, I see that as my job.
Benji Marx plays live around the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. You can check him out at Benji Marx
Watch the live music video at http://localmusicchannel.com
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