Interview with Benny Mayhem
From his days fronting Project Mayhem to performing on stages across the globe, Perth folk-punk troubadour Benny Mayhem has been set on a course that’s lead him to some incredible places. In the case of his latest single Song For Absent Friends that destination was the a hotel room in the Austrian Alps where the song, one that Mayhem has been working on for a while now, finally took shape.
Now, with a new band in tow, Benny is set to take the song to stages not only around the country but also overseas with an appearance at the Rebellion Punk Music Festival in Blackpool as well. I spoke to Benny recently about the song’s gestation, its state of the art video clip and more.
So you’re about to embark on an Australian tour. Are you planning anything special for the shows?
Well it’s my first national tour so that’s pretty special!! And I’m bringing my band with me as well so there’s that too. The band’s fairly new too; the first time I used them was in Perth last year and they’ve not played outside of WA yet and we’ve worked very hard to develop a line up that’s of a high quality and high energy and so we’re ready to take on Australia. And we’re driving across Australia from Perth as well so that’s gonna be fun too and we’ll be doing a bit of a social media diary along the way as well as some busking, so yeah there’s certainly lots of interesting aspects about this trip.
And as you just said it’s a relatively new band so going on a road trip like that will be a great bonding experience as well won’t it?
Absolutely. I just got a text message from my bass player before Paul, who’s a great guy, but he sent me a text saying “oh mate I’m sorry to tell you this but I’m in hospital and I’ve broken my wrist” so the first thing I did was get on the phone to my manager and start making phone calls only to find out a few minutes later that he was joking! So we’re off to a great start. So he’ll be hearing about that on the way over. So yeah it’ll be a bit of a bonding experience and it’s also just the great Australian journey as well, it’s like a rite of passage for young bands to make the journey over East.
You’ve just released your latest single Song For Absent Friends, can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind the song?
It’s weird, because I’ve done a lot of travelling in Europe over the last few years, that’s sort of where I’ve spent my time travelling and busking and I’ve built my career as a busker in Campden town in London and worked my way up to doing festival shows there and I’ll be going back again this year. And I was over in Austria and I’d managed to wing some free accommodation there so I was sitting in a hotel in the Alps. And most people go over there for sport, or skiing, but I just drank wine and wrote a song and that was the song I came up with. And it had existed in bits for many many years but I’d never found the right song for it. And all the bits just clicked together and I’d had some help with the bridge from a colleague of mine because I’d kind of pinched some chords from him so I wrote him in as a co writer. And because I’d been through the whole original music thing over the past decade with Project Mayhem and various other projects the song is kind of a shout out to all the people down the years who’d been a part of that like members of Project Mayhem, and they’re in the video clip as well, and ex girlfriends and mates as well. I was worried that it would come across as really arrogant when I first did it but people seem to have taken it in the spirit it was written in as well, so that’s nice.
The video clip for the single is a pretty impressive piece of work. Can you tell me a bit about the process of creating the clip?
Well there’s about 300 hours of work that went into it!! My Manager Steve Correia makes high end videos so we ended up working together through previous collaborations with Project Mayhem. And so our working relationship went on to working on the demos I had and from there onto the video as well. So how would you describe it? It’s kind of a Gonzo/sci-fi road trip where I go around discovering a bunch of guys including some of the Project Mayhem guys and a lot of other friends from Perth and they’re in these magical Tv’s and so I put them in the car I’m driving, which is a Corvette Stingray, and the whole thing was done mainly on green screen so there’s been a massive amount of hours that have gone into it. And it’s an incredible thing to see it finished. It took the best part of a year to make that video so I hope that people like it.
You’ve got two touring formats you’re using now, as a solo artist and with the band as well. Do you have a preference between the two?
Well I don’t really know yet because we’ve not done shows outside of WA yet. But the band is very rewarding; it’s certainly hard work though it really is. I’ve never been in a band before where people are coming in playing my songs and it’s taken me a good year to learn how to tell people what I want and all that, and how to manage people because I’ve never really had that before. In the past it’s just been a bunch of mates getting together and so I think that works well here. These guys want to come in and not come up with ideas as to what happens next, they just want to be able to come along with me and play music hard, and so it seems to be working well. I’m enjoying working in a team again because I went through several years of getting away from that and by the time I got to thirty I didn’t want to know about any of that. So I went to London and was hanging out by myself and just travelling and busking, and that’s all loner stuff. So it’s only really been in the last eighteen months that I’ve started working in a team again, so it’s good to kind of have a gang of people together again. But I imagine that my answer will be it’s great being in a band again.
Speaking as a guitarist and performer myself there’s always something intimate and confronting about doing solo shows, no other musicians to hide behind, you’re the sole focus for the entire show aren’t you?
Yeah, but I’ve been used to that for quite some time now, because I pop up on street corners and in shopping centres all the time. But I tell you having a band again has made me a better player by a million miles, because what I used to do was hide behind speed and just play really fast and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Especially when you have other musicians playing for you. There’s a lot of energy in what I do and I play a Gretsch acoustic and it’s really wicked for folk-punk but I’ve learned as I’ve been recording that if it’s too fast that’s not good. We’ve got mandolin solos and stuff going on and you lose a lot of that complexity. So it’s made me really aware of tempos and playing things the same way each time. And so until I had a band I’d just blindly pummel my way through it and just hope for the best.
Is it a challenge to carve a career for yourself whilst still being based in WA? We’re still pretty isolated over here compared to the rest of the country, is the temptation there to move over East to try and gain better exposure or are you happy still living here?
I was based in Mandurah for about two and a half years but I’ve since moved back to Perth because I kept coming and going so much. I did two years in the UK because you can do that as a young person and work as well, and I kept going back because they kept asking me and I had a booking agent over there as well. So I would come back here and just busk around Mandurah and do my gigs in Perth and then fly back. But I had to move to Perth because I was just constantly on the freeway. And yes it is challenging living in WA; there’s a great scene here and many people support each other here too, but in many ways I’ve done that and so we’re looking more at nationally globally now. And if you do the sums on flying five people on this trip, well we’re driving for a reason and that’s that it’s cheaper. And you try to explain that to someone in Europe – the sheer size of Australia – is crazy because it’s like going from London to Kiev or Moscow or somewhere like that. Those are the sort of distances that we’re dealing with here.
The punk ethos is always something you’ve embraced wholeheartedly in your songwriting. Were there any specific artists who inspired you when you were first starting out as a musician?
I don’t know, because I’ve been playing guitar as a kid there’s so many influences. I mean there’s Rickenbackers on the song because I love The Beatles and that sort of thing. But in terms of the whole folk punk thing it was really Flogging Molly who got me into all that and the Levellers from the UK who are amazing as well. But yeah I love all the classics as well like the Sex Pistols and all the underground stuff too. I’ve just been out on a five hour drive testing out a car and I was stuck behind a guy with a caravan playing Caravan Man by The Hard Ons! So I love all that stuff like The Meanies as well as a lot of great Perth acts too like The Homicides and Jed Whitey too they really inspired me to get up on stage as a kid. So yeah I like bands that write songs – I don’t care about the technical stuff too much – and I like music that is honest as well, I don’t care for pretence at all.
‘Song For Absent Friends’ is out now via all good digital retailers
Song For Absent Friends Australian Tour
Wed 26 Apr @ Crown & Anchor Hotel, Adelaide, SA
Thu 27 Apr @ The Loft Bar, Warrnambool, VIC (free entry) w/ The Ramshackle Army
Fri 28 Apr @ The Brunswick Hotel, Melbourne, VIC (free entry) w/ The Naysayers
Sat 29 Apr @ The Music Man, Bendigo, VIC (door sales) w/ The Ramshackle Army
Sun 30 Apr @ The Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar, Melbourne, VIC (door sales) w/ Jay Wars & The Howard Youth
Sat 13 May @ Fat Louie’s, Brisbane, QLD (door sales) w/ The Flangipanis
Fri 19 May @ The Monkey Bar, Mandurah, WA (free entry) w/ Simon Kelly (band)
Sat 3 Jun @ Clancy’s Fish Pub, Fremantle, WA (door sales) w/ Simon Kelly (band)
More shows TBA!