For a landmark posting such as this, it calls for a landmark interview, so who better to have than a member of one of my all time favorite bands - INCUBUS! Upon joining the SoCal alt band in 2003 replacing original bassist Dirk Lance, New Jersey native Ben Kenney has made an impact in the evolution of the influential bands sound. Kenney who plays bass and percussion in Incubus, is, unbeknown to many, a solo artist that fuses rock, funk and jazz. Aside from work with Incubus and solo material, Ben can be found lending a hand to many acts like Justin Timberlake and Erykah Badu. As if that was not enough work for him, Ben also runs the small indie label Ghetto Crush Industries. As this multi-talented instrumentalist and entrepreneur begins to prep a new solo record, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with the Ben. Take a look at my interview with Ben Kenney as we touch on everything from his solo work, days playing in The Roots, Ghetto Crush and a SPECIAL EXCLUSIVE UPDATE ON THE NEXT INCUBUS RECORD! Take a look at my interview with Ben Kenney below..
It seems that every two years we get a new Ben Kenney solo record, is their a new one in the works?
There sure is. I've been working on a new CD+DVD release called "Burn The Tapes". It'll be out soon. It's a big deal for me because I've made a record that I'm 100% in love with along side of my first video project. I'm really anxious to see if people dig it.
What does your solo work let you express as an artist that playing in a band does not?
Mainly I get to play other instruments and express myself beyond just the bass guitar. I love to play guitar and drums and I get to scratch that itch when I make a solo record. I also write, sing and record the vocals+lyrics. Singing is an intimate way to communicate and I think other parts of my personality are exposed by it.
When touring as a solo act, you hit up Jazz clubs, especially in New York. Will we be getting more of these in the future?
I plan to tour for this record. We do play mostly smaller venues on my tours. I wouldn't really call most of the places jazz clubs though. I've always felt like they were local rock clubs and dive bars more than jazz clubs. We do get booked at the occasional restaurant and weird venues like that. Some of those shows seem like they'd be corny as hell but end up being pretty sweet. It really comes down to the crowd. So far my tours have had great crowds.
You play so many instruments from guitar to bass to drums and so on. What is your favorite to play? What is your favorite piece of musical gear that you own?
Drums are often my favorite. I've been playing drums consistently since 1985. It's the center of my world. But my favorite feeling is when everything comes together. Sort of like having a favorite color, which I don't really. I have favorite combinations though. My favorite piece of gear is my first guitar that my dad got me when I was 13. It's my favorite material possession in the world.
In the day and age when major labels are crashing and no one is buying music, you own your label – Ghetto Crush Industries. What is it like being a label owner in these odd and uncertain times?
It's a double edged sword. I lose money but I can do whatever I want creativity-wise. Selling music has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I don't even dream about making money any more. One day someone will write software that let's you pick a type of song or a type of performer and it will create the rest out of pre-determined algorithms that fare well among focus groups. You'll have whatever you're craving as quickly as your computer can render it. Then musicians like me will become novelties - like ventriloquists and poets have. There'll be 3 or 4 cats making a living and the rest of us will be making appearances at bar mitzvahs and retirement homes. But until that day I'll keep slinging CDs and mp3s.
You played in The Roots for a while, how did a Jersey boy like yourself get hooked up with Philly’s finest?
It's a long story but it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time and a couple of great people putting me there. The Roots take care of Philadelphia's music scene more than anything I've ever seen. They've built a foundation for a lot of artists to start from. I was playing music in Philly and I eventually got involved in some of the projects they were working on. The next thing I knew I was in the studio working on a project with ?uestlove and he took me under his wing. That was a big turning point for me. And those guys put me on the map. Someday I want to make a film about The Roots and the people they've helped. That would be epic.
With The Roots doing their stint on Jimmy Fallon, are we going to get a Ben Kenney return one night with the band?
?uestlove invited me to sit in once but it scares the shit out of me. I got to get my chops up first or Kirk will make me look like an asshole on guitar.
Did you ever think you'd get involved in such a large well-known well-established band like Incubus? How is it working with guys like them?
never planned on it. It wasn't expecting it either. I was just trying to dedicate myself to working and exploring opportunities. I'm grateful for it. Things like this don't happen to everyone and that means I have to constantly earn it to truly deserve it. I also have a responsibility to a past that I was not there for. I've walked into a long term relationship between a band and it's fans and I have to be respectful to the fact that this was working before me and could just as easily work without me. Hopefully I'll never see that day come. I love being in that band.
Was it weird making the transition from a group like The Roots to a group like Incubus?
Not really. Both bands are serious about what they do and both bands encouraged me to be me. It doesn't get any better than that. Technically speaking, The Roots are a Hip-Hop Band and Incubus is a Rock band so it might seem like two different worlds, but I was never put in a position in either band to do anything other than be myself. On paper they might seem unrelated but they both share a lot of listeners.
Was it odd being the new guy to a band that had already established themselves in the industry?
When I joined The Roots it became apparent to me that I had a lot to learn and not a lot of time to learn it. When I joined Incubus it was similar but not the same shock as joining The Roots. In both situations I learned things about myself I never knew. I didn't really get a lot of "new guy" treatment. Somehow I managed to keep up with what was happening too. I think some fans were tripping but whatever. I liked the first Aunt Viv better too.
Is there a new Incubus record in the works?
Not at the moment. Hopefully soon though. I think everyone's almost fully re-charged.
Aside from working with Incubus and solo material, you have done studio stuff for Justin Timberlake, Faith Evans, Erykah Badu and others. Is it odd from going from your own solo work, playing in Incubus then being a gun-for-hire in the studio?
It's not really odd. There are different challenges for sure. When you're playing for someone else your ego needs to take a back seat. When you're in a band you need to give and take. When you're solo you need to let your ego explode all over the place. I'm just psyched to get to be all three of those characters. This kinda shit doesn't happen to everyone.
BURNING QUESTION: Since you have lived on both coasts, be honest which is better – East or West? Settle the long running dispute once and for all!
I am an east coaster. But I can't disrespect the west. In February I'm trying to keep it in Cali. But NYC in September is the greatest. I can't call it. I absolutely love Barcelona. Does that count?
Incubus video for "Anna Molly" (Above) / Ben Kenney "Eulogy" Video (Below)
Ben playing guitar in the Roots - Video for "The Seed 2.0"
Special thanks to Ben and Joseph Bielski for the interview!