What got you interested in music as a career?
Ben Hope: When I was young my parents were very brave and they bought me a drum set when I was like six and, you know, you grow up singing in church and stuff and my brother was starting to get involved with playing guitar, my dad played the bass, and so we used to sit in the basement for hours on end - my brother, my dad and I - playing that song "Runaway Train"; we would just play it over and over and over again. It's always just been something I really love to do and my parents have been really supportive over the years and I just absolutely love it.
Are there any musicians who have inspired your sound?
Definitely, Garth Brooks was a big inspiration for me when I was a little boy and over the years I've gotten a lot of inspiration from some country music greats. There's actually a group of musicians called Class of '89 which is Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt and Clint Black and Alan Jackson; all of them released their first albums in 1989 and kind of changed the face of country music there in the late eighties and I've gotten a lot of inspiration from those guys over the years, definitely what I grew up listening to.
How would you describe your sound?
I would describe it as country rock with some honkey-tonk vibes. There's definitely some songs on our new album where we lead into a classic country genre and then there's a lot of country rock.
What would you say the theme of the album is?
The album is called 'Ragged and Rowdy'. I think it's kind of a self reflection but it's a celebration so it's a little typical of a country album in that it kind of goes through some lonely stuff, some blues stuff, goes through a little drinking too much, a little partying too hard, but it never gets bogged down in its own emotions. I think, really, it celebrates those feelings. If there's something I want a listener to get, it's that I want them to hear a song and recognize a feeling that they've felt before and, instead of it taking them back to a sad place, allowing them to kind of open their hearts and celebrate the way their heart works and kind of revel in our own feelings.
What do you think the most popular track from the album will be versus which one is your favorite?
We just released a single that's called "Colleen" which I know a lot of our fans have been really vocal about how much they link that track. I think "Colleen" is going to be a popular one. My personal favorite, that's a hard one. There's a song kind of tucked away in the middle of the album called "Lonely Fool" that has long been one of my favorite songs that I've ever written and that one does get bogged down in its own emotions, which is why I don't think it's going to be the most popular track on the album; it is a little kind of, I wanna say, morose, it's a little wallow-y.
What do you keep in mind while working on new tracks?
Working with our producer, Steve, who's a dear friend of mine from down in Florida, he and I talked a lot about what it meant to be 'ragged and rowdy'. What we wanted to get across is kind of the duality between doing wrong and feeling right and we wanted the album to feel pretty raw and pretty honkey-tonk feel and really, more than anything, we wanted it to be a thing that people would listen to and want to drink whiskey to and that's kind of what we kept in mind in the studio. Having my album played in the background of a bar is kind of like, we have achieved success if people get a little more drunk while listening to our tracks.
How does performing on stage as an actor compare to performing with your band with your own songs?
I think it's been really informative to have spent so many years as an actor, for the music particularly, because storytelling is a craft and I think you have to be able to work it out as it's a muscle and, certainly in the writing, it's been great to kind of have a good grasp on the form of narrative skills or even just simply kind of a strong grasp on the English language, you know, it's one of the only tools that we can communicate with so I think the theater world has been really informative, especially in the writing and as a performer I think it's been important too. I think we have a real dynamic presence as a band and most of our band members are actors and I think that dynamic presence comes from being really comfortable on stage and being really comfortable as ourselves, so I think it informs us a lot.
Is there any favorite song, lyric line, artist that's inspired you?
I think I'm constantly running across things that I think are inspirational. I can tell you about one that happened to me this week actually. Once is coming to a close, which is a show I'm in on Broadway, we've been there for three years and it's coming to a close and I was listening to this Ray Wylie cover song the other day and he's got this lyric and he says "on the day" - I'm going to butcher it, this is not a direct quote - "on the day that I keep my gratitude above my expectations, I have a pretty good day". I think that's really nice, I've been kind of living on that one for a couple weeks.
Any traditions you're excited for this week?
Absolutely, my wife and I are not going to get to go home for the holidays, but we will be together and she's actually been talking about having a couple people over, playing a little music, and maybe going out and caroling, maybe in an old folks home or hospital, so we were talking about doing that sometime. That'll be fun, spreading a little cheer.
What do you want people to be able to take away from your music?
It's so funny, I was just writing an e-mail yesterday, answering somebody's interview question, and it's amazing that I've never really thought about it that way, and maybe it's good that I never really thought it that way, you know what I mean? I don't write a song with the intention of doing something for another person, like talking about the album, it does feel like a series of confessions, just turning my heart inside out and letting people look at it if they want to, but I guess, if there's something I want people to take away from the album, it is forty-five minutes of opportunity to have a really good time, by yourself or with friends. It's great music to sit down a listen to on your headphones as you commute somewhere in your car but it's also great background music for having a party, so I think I just want people to listen to it and take the opportunity to have a really good time.
We've got a great show coming up at the Highline Ballroom on January 6th, which is going to be also the closing party for Once.
The next single will probably be released in early January. The new single is called "Harlem Rag"; it's a country song about my favorite neighborhood in New York City.