I first met Ben Hursh through a mutual friend some fifteen years ago. We hit it off from the beginning, similar personalities, and a common love for many things. At the time, Ben was the closest thing to a rebel I’d ever met. Today he’s putting that energy, and the same freeing mentality in the music studio.
He’s recording and performing with his father and friends, under their last name Hursh. As a music fan I’m engaged by the sound, and as a friend of many years, saying I was impressed would be an understatement.
TF: How was this latest record different from previous work the band has done?
Ben: This record was done in-house at our Studio, Sonic Bloom Recordings, here in Northern Michigan. We were able to piece it together when we felt most comfortable; we weren’t on anyone else’s schedule but ours. At the time that was invaluable, none of us are “full time” musicians and two members of the band are self-employed and work crazy hours, so on one hand it was great having the freedom to be able to come and go as we pleased, but on the other hand we were constantly trying to communicate different ideas over the phone or in short periods of time. I think both the comfort and the chaos translate in the album, good and bad.
TF: If you had to pick one word to describe the new album, what would that be?
Ben: Progression, this disc’s material was better than the last discs material and I think as long as we’re progressing as a band and as long as the material follows, we’ll continue to get better and have a blast on the way.
TF: How did you get into playing music?
Ben: My family has always played music together, my father would play guitar while my mother sang. There was always guitars sitting around the house and both parents are very passionate about music. I grew up on Public Radio; so infusions of folk, jazz and country were a regular sound in the house or my dad’s pickup trucks. I think I take after my mother though when it comes to musical taste, we tend to gravitate to the singers and songwriters melodies, where my father wants to hear tasty leads that aren’t in a blues pentatonic scale. As a family, art and music were two things that my parents really pushed the kids to be a part of and I think that helped us all become well rounded adults. There is a softness in the arts, an inner voice that allows you to express yourself outwardly and offers a release you don’t get anywhere else. I remember someone telling me a few years back that if you were to take say Albert Einstein’s brain and put it next to the average person you wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart, but if you were to take a musicians brain like say Mozart, there would be certain areas of growth, portions that link both the right and left side (the corpus callosum) and that is unique only to musicians. To me that’s an amazing thing, and proof of what a neccesseity the arts really are in schools and home life.
TF: What’s the process like for you as a writer? Do your lyrics come with specific times you set aside, or do you have a scratch pad full of ideas that you scribble down throughout the day?
Ben: I try not to force it, I’m not the guy with the paper pad hidden away that drops what they are doing when the shot of creativity comes to them, maybe I should be lol but I’m not. Lately I tend to sit down and let the guitar lead me. The process didn’t used to be like this when I was writing as a soloist. It wasn’t until I started playing with a group regularly that I began hearing portions of the songs develop for the other instruments, as well as my own. I try to get a vague idea of what I’d like the percussion to do and then let the guys build off of that idea. We feed off of each other during rehearsals and when someone adds something tasty we all tend to either lay back and allow that to be exposed and up front, or jump on the “bandwagon” and try to copy that rhythmically in order to syncopate certain instruments with snare hits, tom falls, the end of a solo etc.
TF: Its clear you come from a talented family, if you were the justice league, which character would you be? Why?
Ben: Well without sounding completely self-absorbed, I would say Superman. For a few reasons really, the first is I think I tend to make pretty sound decisions, I’m the glue that holds things together around here. The second is I know my father would never say he was Superman, he would suggest that he was more like Batman, a solid leader who relies only on his intelligence and ability to plan ahead, and who doesn’t need any “super powers”. Plus I’m the front man dude, if anyone gets the X-Ray vision it’s me.
TF: What inspirations do you garner from living in Michigan?
Ben: Northern Michigan is awesome. The small town I live in is known primarily for the wine it produces in the beautiful vineyards located around every back road turn. It is also a huge area for agriculture, my home is surrounded by apple and cherry orchards, there is a lot of room to breathe and stretch your arms up here. The winters are hard and long and I think that’s where most of my inspiration comes from, especially in terms of the last album. Here are some shameless plugs for the disc.
From the song These roads “It’s the snow babe, got me thinking, turns the soil here to ice. It’s got the whole Midwest drinking, whiskey stained love songs in the night. From the song Knew a Girl “I met a girl that I think you know, her eyes as deep as a Michigan snow, we floated down…….to the water’s edge as it was icing over ourselves…….with the bitterness I could barely breathe through my chest.”
TF: Do you enjoy singing more than playing the guitar, or do those two things feed off each other?
Ben: It depends on the piece. I think the more intimate the music and venue, the more I enjoy both playing and singing together. When we get a combination of a really big venue, and more experimental drawn out jams, then I think I would rather do one, over both. It’s hard to give up control for me. As the rhythm guitarist, I can dictate the tempo, depending on my mood, I can slow songs down or speed them up a touch…it drives the other guys crazy but that’s me, I’m not one of those musicians that are “technically” accomplished. I have my emotions to rely on. I think that’s why people say we sound better live than on the discs.
TF: Who do you listen to when you’re not working on your own material?
Ben: We have a lot of talented musicians come through the studio and I am lucky enough to be a part of the process, so I get to listen to the great local artists here in Michigan like Jimmy Says, Deadly Sins and Sparks Fly Up just to name a few. I am a big fan of Josh Rouse, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Son Volt and Drive By Truckers…. I think these are the artists currently in my car.
TF: Who’s your favorite songwriter of all time?
Ben: John Gorka, most people would struggle with this question but I have always admired him as a writer more than most. His lyrics take you to a place that only he has painted. “Stranger with your hair” and “Houses in the Fields” are two of the best songs ever written in my opinion and they are also songs that almost everyone can relate to.
TF: What’s next?
Ben: For sure the new disc Thrift Store League, we will be starting that very soon but first we need to finish the studio construction so we can get in, regain control of Northern Michigan and soon……the world. Mwuhahaha!!!
Hursh is Ben Hursh on vox/guitar, Rob Ackley with bass/vox, Larry Hammond on the drums/percussion,and Guy Hursh on guitar/vox.
Listening to Hursh I find myself driving down a dirt road somewhere in middle America. The workers are up in the morning tending their herds, coffee brewing, nothing but purity beaming from the back of an old pickup truck. Its a refreshing sound they play. Its clarity manages to fulfill both a creative soul, and a knack for musical professionalism. Make no mistake about it, these cats are players, and they’re solid enough not to overdo the magic, but allow the listener to hear it, embrace it, and ruminate on it. Ben Hursh’s lyrics talk of love, feeling, and the tonality in his voice reflects the keys of wisdom that are not afraid to tell how they got there. He’s familiar in the music, its something we can all enjoy, leaving out the pretense, b/c these burdens are universal. This band is like a four course meal, the beauty is that when you’re finished, you won’t forget it. But you will continue to come back and check the specials. I really dig their new record called Bootlicker. I’ve been listening to it all day.