August 6, 2016
Zach Benton has been keeping quite busy in the two years since I first got to talk to him about his music and thoughts about the music industry. For those who are not familiar with Zach, his music evokes a rhythm and blues feel with his high, distinct vocals and prominent guitar work. Since his 2013 release of Fall In, Zach continues to write, has released a few singles, and is working on two full-length recordings. He performs live throughout New England, expanding into New York City, and finds himself drawn to broadening his collaboration with others.
Zach’s next recording project, which he is working on in his home, is due out on Halloween. Titled Off the Benton Track, the CD features previously released singles and new originals, as well as a few covers. “These days, you hear the news and it is so sad. I want to release this soon and spread some sunshine,” he told me. His other project is a studio recording at Loud Sun Studio. The working title is Cold Open, which Zach explained: “A cold open is when in film or television, the program jumps right to the action instead of giving a credits sequence.” He plans to release it next summer. “Most of the songs were already recorded,” said Zach, “and then we changed the key to improve the vocals. My voice sounds better in the higher ranges.”
Zach is enjoying the contrast of the two recording projects. In the studio, his pieces are more polished and ready, as he is paying for the time. At home, there is a chance to experiment with the sound more. In either case, he prefers his music “dry”; without much reverberation. “It feels more personal to me than the sound you get like when someone is playing in a theater. Sometimes I do use echo, and I use an effect called delay. Delay is like the slapback echo that you hear off of brick buildings. The reason I use this is because, its easier to mix, and after playing outside so many times in Keene, that is what the audience actually hears me sound like.”
When Zach records, he plays all of the instruments and performs all of the vocals. Often he collaborates with Dave Allen, who adds strings to the recordings. “I send him a track and then he uses software (Sibelius) to compose around what he hears. As an outsider to the composing process, he brings elements in that I wouldn’t hear.” Here is an example of their collaboration:
Recently Zach has been thinking about getting into producing others’ music. “There are artists I really like that haven’t released a lot of music,” he said. He feels recorded music is a transition from what is played live, which has the visual and social components. In the studio, a song might need embellishments, such as more harmonies or instrumentation, and a good producer will be careful to avoid going overboard. There are also decisions about the sound itself – use of echo or reverberation, and how a song might end, and how the tracks should be sequenced in an album. Having an objective other helps with all of these decisions.
This spring, Zach was invited to open for Brittany Santacroce in Central Park. “I was skittish about going to the city at first, but now I have a routine to get down there and have played several gigs.” He played at Bowery Electric in East Village last month and has been invited to play at Sidewalk this fall. I asked him how he managed to get booked at venues in New York. “I just emailed places. I included my recorded music, which helps. In New England I email venues many times and get no response — I’m too local.” This summer he decided to audition for The Voice in New York as well. “That was fun,” Zach said. “I made the wait list and got some good feedback.”
Zach live performances are solo, and he has been exploring new ways to use instrumental accompaniment as he moves away from his acoustic guitar. “Lately I have been using a pedal that harmonizes with me depending on the chord I use. This helps me fill out the sound. Soon my performances will be on the guitar for the first part and then keyboards, which allows me to add more bass.” In addition to his upcoming show in New York, Zach will be playing at the the Cocheco Arts Festival in Dover on August 19, opening for the New Legacy Swing Band. “I am looking forward to that,” he said. “I get to do an hour set.” He also plays often at the Keene Farmers Market on Saturdays, a gig he really enjoys. “I get paid, the vendors give me food, and people give me compliments and put money in my case!” Zach will also be playing at the Winchester Jubilee on August 20 and the Monadnock Fall Festival in October.