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Interview: Will Benoit – Constants

26 Sep Interviews | Comments
Interview: Will Benoit – Constants

Years ago, I saw a killer effects laden space rock trio (at the time) called CONSTANTS at the local VFW. They were on tour in a converted vegetable oil school bus. I loved everything they had going on, so I’ve been following them ever since. They continued to tour the country with other like-minded bands, and put out a handful of awesome space-rock records. Digging in deeper, I found that their lead singer / guitar player was also engineering their later records in his SOLAR POWERED home studio, Radar Recordings. These days, he’s engineering and mixing records, while remixing with his solo project Living Phantoms. He was kind enough to check in and answer a few questions.

What bands do you currently have, and what bands have you been in previously?

Right now I’m trying to get more opportunities composing for TV / Film and Video Games, and also concentrating on recording / mixing / mastering for other bands so that has taken up a lot of my creative energy. I just finished up a session with Caspian for their new EP, and am currently mixing the new Junius EP. Up next is a band from Chicago called To Destroy a City. But I also have a new project called Living Phantoms that will be releasing an EP on the Mylene Sheath in November.

I had a few projects in high school and college, but I didn’t get serious until starting Constants back in 2003. Around the same time I also played bass for Junius. After that I released a couple records as The New Rochelle Rotary Club between tours with Constants and played guitar for Goddess of My Religion for one record. I was also a touring guitar player for Caspian the first time they went to Europe.

Is guitar your primary instrument? What instruments do you play? How long have you been playing guitar? Did you take any lessons growing up? (guitar or other)

When I was a kid I grew up playing drums, mostly. I took lessons for a few years and then started programming drums and using samplers on my own- very Nine Inch Nails inspired type stuff. I started playing guitar when I started to feel like I couldn’t do as much as I wanted musically and around the age of 16 I started playing a lot of guitar. I took lessons for a couple years before leaving for college and that has been my main instrument for about 15 years. I went to college for music production so I guess you could call that taking lessons as well? Nowadays I’m very much back into the sampling / electronic / keyboards side of music oddly enough.

What impact did that have on you as a musician?

Music is 90% of my life, so growing up and being around adults that slept and breathed music probably inspired me more than I even know. I can’t predict what would have happened if I had taken another path, but I think it’s fair to say it impacted me greatly and has made me who I am.

Do you have an understand of scales and music theory?
— How does that impact your songwriting?

I have to be honest, my theory isn’t great. I know key, scales, tempo and can write out drum music pretty easily, but I can’t sight read for a guitar. I can play in a room with other musicians and improv on drums, bass or guitar, but I think there’s always room for improvement no matter what you are doing. The more conscious I’ve become of it over the past couple years, the more it has influenced how I write, without a doubt, and I continue to try to improve that skill set. When I was younger I ignored a lot of theory because I’ve never like obeying rules – but in hindsight I hear things I’ve worked on and think I could have made some improvements if I was more aware of the ‘rules’. Intuition is a musician’s greatest asset, but knowing how music is supposed to work is probably a close second.

Do you still practice instruments, beyond when you’re writing for your band(s)?

Practice is an odd word to me, especially as I get older. Every day, even if I’m not in the studio, I’m writing music in my head. I try to play drums 2-3 times a week just to stay loose. And as I try to get better and better as a producer / mixer, everything I hear is an exercise – from how sound is bouncing around a room when I walk in to hearing the frequencies from a person’s speaking voice to the cars driving by, etc etc. I don’t sit down and work out of a book very often, but I still do, and I get a lot of production tips and tricks from places like Pensado’s Place and even youtube. So I guess it’s all practice really.

Do you still attempt to push forward by learning new instruments or applications?

Absolutely. I’m always trying to push myself to try new things and ideas. A good example – on the new record from Graveyard Lovers that I worked on, we busted out an accordian, looked up how to play it, and spent an afternoon working out accordian parts all over the record, which added such a cool and surprising vibe. i had no idea we would even try it.

Do you have have a method for songwriting? How does it usually happen?
– Prefer bringing a skeleton to practice, or build as a collaboration

I’ve always liked to have some kind of direction when writing – even in my most experimental times of song writing, I like to think I had a dynamic that I was trying to achieve. Nowadays, I’m trying to really become a better songwriter, so I usually work out an ‘A’ section, a ‘B’ section, put it down for a couple weeks and then go back and try to structure it into a song, trying to ‘produce’ it, rather than think of it as my own song, if that makes sense. After as many years of touring and writing in a band as I’ve done, It’s been really nice to just work on my own stuff without compromising or having to make decisions based on someone else’s tastes. Which while admittedly it’s very selfish, it’s also really fun!

What is your electric guitar rig these days (if you’re willing to divulge the secrets)?

Because I’m doing mostly studio stuff, I’ll either just use amplitube to mock up ideas in Pro Tools, or if I’m just playing to play I’ll use a 90’s tele that I rebuilt, out into a modded MXR distortion / Vox Time Machine / Strymon El Capistan / Vox AC15 – I’ll hook it up to a vintage Marshall cab if I feel like I need to get bigger / louder. I’ve had lots of pedals and crazy setups over the years and lately it’s been nice to just get a simple washy sound that makes me feel like I’m playing guitar on a Boards of Canada record or something.

Does gear impact your songwriting / performing?

100%! Different sounds, different amps, different instruments dictate what I think I can do with them. It’s really easy to be inspired to try new things when you have new toys to be excited about!

How’d you get into the world of home recording?

A good friend of mine that I was in a band with at the time got a 4 track when I was like 14. We played around with it together for a while, but he seemed to loose interest and I was just really stoked to record and mix stuff. I’d “mix” my “masters” onto VHS cassettes and eventually to CD-Rs, which was so cool at the time. I transitioned to an 8 track tape machine so I could record stereo stuff, and add outboard effects from the digitech multi processors our guitarist used. We didn’t really have home computers fast enough to record digitally, but once we did that was it, I was hooked and that was all I wanted to do until I joined a band.

Did you have any formal education in the world of audio engineering?

Sure did – I have a BA from Emerson College, and got to take some production classes at Berklee as well.

Any Advice for young musicians heading into the studio/wanting to record on their own?

Be prepared. Practice the material and don’t rely on studio magic to make you sound good. Ultimately the person you are working with will be happier and the less they have to slave over fixing your mediocre, unprepared performance, the more motivated they will be to mix your record and make it sound amazing.

for those wanting to work on stuff on their own kind of the opposite is true. Try everything. record bad takes and try to fix them. record drums with one mic and try to make it sound good. watch tutorials, but always try to put your own spin on it. It’s easy to make stuff sound good now, but it’s still hard to make it sound cool.

Do you prefer recording, or live performances?

At this point recording. I’ve always loved touring and I’ve had some of the best times of my life out on the road, but I’m so caught up in the technical side of music now that I really just want to focus on that. I co-run the studio with Daryl Rabidoux, who is awesome and we’ve been having a ton of fun working on records here.

How do you like to prepare for recording?

Depends on what it’s for. If it’s me alone, there is no preparation, it’s just a slew of ideas until something starts working. if it’s another band, I like to listen to their demos, and previous records if they have them. I like to talk about what they think is working and what isn’t working, I like to know their biggest influences and favorite songs. It helps to develop a short hand so I can say ‘more like that drum sound on that Nirvana record you like?’ Or “try it more like that song that you know inside and out”. it helps to make people feel comfortable and confident to get their best, but you are also there to remind them that there is always room to play it better.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

My tastes are super eclectic and depending on what day you ask you’ll get different answers. But I’ll try – Just listened to Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? and that is a fantastic record. I was just listening to a Maynard James Keenan interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and it reminded what a huge influence Tool has been on my life. I just did a Depeche Mode cover for the new Living Phantoms EP and realized how much I’ve taken from that band over the years. BT has been a huge influence, Justin K Broadrick, Aaron Turner from Isis, John Frusciante… Black Sabbath is probably my favorite band of all time, I really could go on and on and on.

You easily win the award for most environmentally conscious musician.
From the Solar Powered studio, to the vegetable oil bus.

How did you get started with that?
Any recommendations for the young musician who is trying to minimize their carbon footprint?

haha thanks! It’s hard to remember exactly when it started, but I’ve been a vegetarian for more than ten years. I’ve tried to be conscious about sustainability and being socially responsible most of my adult life. The bus was a great extension of that and it helped to save us a lot of money touring, and the solar panels are the same thing – why WOULDN’T I want to do something that is going to save me money in the long run and keep me from wastefully using fossil fuel to heat my house and studio??

My advice is to start simple. Don’t eat at McDonalds, and from there you can research where your food comes from if you want. Recycle your cans, and from there you can look into what you are actually drinking. Don’t litter, turn the lights off when you leave a room. Ride your bike or walk to the store that is right down the street. I think a lot of people just think they can’t do anything, so they don’t bother trying. I don’t think I’m doing anything that crazy, but it’s really cool that people recognize that I’m trying.


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