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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ben Bedford Makes Midwestern History Sing: Listen

Posted By on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Page 2 of 2

Can you tell me the story behind "Fire in the Bones"? It's a story of blues musicians. Is it grounded in something specific?

It's about Charley Patton, one of the fathers of the Delta blues, and I used him as a jumping off point. It's a song about him and one of his bluesmen friends. It's the same thing, getting into the headspace of that time and place, to capture that person and their surroundings.

In the notes to your first record there's a quote about "not needing to be on the ship to understand the journey." That would seem to be true both for you as a writer and for the audience. How do the songs become personal rather than just historical?

You've probably heard it before, but there's a saying in writing classes that you should write what you know. People get hung up on that. They think all they can write about is their life and their experience. If I was doing that my songs would be pretty boring. I don't think they would have the gripping nature that I hope they have. Whether it's a historical event or whatever, I'm trying to find the human element to any story. Then I try to get into the mind of the person that experienced it. I try to draw out the human element of that experience.

For example, the title track to the album, is told from my grandfather's perspective. He lost his younger brother in the Second World War. I found a photograph of the two of them in a big trunk after my grandma died. I wanted to write about him from his perspective, knowing what I knew then. It's a historical event from World War II, his brother was in the D Day invasion of Normandy. But it's not about that. It's about a guy, my grandpa, losing his brother. It's about the experience and life they had together. That's what I try to do with every song that I write.

I've always thought that "write what you know" is the worst advice ever. I like the other version: That you write what you don't know about what you know.

You can almost know too much and kill the vibe of the song. Guy Clark always says that a great song is determined not by what you say but by the hole you leave in a song. You can put too much information in a composition and kill it for people. It's what we don't know that's interesting. It's more about getting into that uncomfortable territory in a song.

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