10 Questions with ... Ben Rector
March 28, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Rector released his first self-titled EP featuring the song, "Conversation," while attending college at the University of Arkansas. The song went on to win the Grand Prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2006
In 2009, Rector was awarded the NAMA award for best male singer-songwriter in Northwest Arkansas.
Rector has now sold over 400,000 albums and four million single-song downloads and performs for sold-out crowds across the country. His sixth and most recent album Brand New debuted at #9 on the Billboard 200 chart.
1) Please tell us what it was that got you interested in music?
I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but didn't really connect with music until a little before high school. I spent hours picking out songs on a guitar my uncle had loaned me, and I remember being really drawn to music. A good song could make me feel a specific, powerful thing, and that felt really magnetic to me.
2) What was the inspiration for your new single "Brand New?"
When I started making the record, my goal was to make something that felt like a first record again. I had just finished three or so years of intense touring and quick record cycles. When it came time to make the record, I didn't have much gas left in the tank. I wanted really badly to make something that felt effortless, that just jumped out of the speakers and had the same infectious energy that I felt when I started making music. I had noticed on previous records that there was usually an inspired song or two that came right after the end of the recording process, so I left about a month open after recording before mixing and mastering. I started the song in Nashville with Abe Stoklasa and finished it in L.A. with David Hodges (both really great writers) and it really ended up feeling like a thesis statement for the record.
3) Please tell us how you went from releasing your first EP, The Conversation, while attending the University of Arkansas, to selling 400,000 albums and four million single-song downloads and playing approximately 200 shows a year?
Really slowly, honestly. I played about 200 shows in college, spending most of my weekends traveling to cities in an eight-hour radius around Fayetteville AR. By the time I graduated, things had grown enough that I needed to do it full-time, and I decided to move to Nashville. From there I continued to make and release records and tour (I was fortunate to snag a couple good opening slots as my touring business grew), and people continued to be kind enough to share my music with their friends. There really hasn't been one thing that totally changed the trajectory of my career. It has been a pretty gradual process.
4) What is your approach to songwriting? How do you capture the inspiration when it comes?
I feel like the longer I write songs, the more I realize I have to learn about the process. The thing that I keep seeing is that every song is a combination of discipline and inspiration. Some songs are tougher to put together and others feel like you just found them. Either way, I think it's important to hone your skills as a writer so that when the inspiration strikes, you've got the tools to fully realize the idea.
5) Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I love a lot of music from the '60s and '70s. I grew up listening to a couple oldies stations in Tulsa. Guys like Paul McCartney (and the rest of the Beatles), Billy Joel, Randy Newman, and James Taylor are all people I'd put in the "desert island records" category.
6) How are you using social networks to market your music and keep your fans involved?
I try to keep things fun and genuine on social media. People are bombarded with messaging and advertising all the time, and while I definitely do use my accounts to keep people updated on my tours and records, I try not to ask for things too much. I think it's easier to connect with a person than a brand.
7) What other songs on your new album are you excited to share with your fans?
I really enjoy playing "The Men That Drive Me Places." It's a sentiment that I think a lot of people can relate to and one that I'm really glad I get to shine a light on.
8) You recently received a great response when you appeared on "The Today Show." Please tell us what it was like performing "Brand New" for the first time on national television?
We had a really great time! I feel like a lot of the time TV stuff can feel rushed or stiff, but everyone on the show did a great job setting us up to win, and we all genuinely had a blast playing the song. I was honestly worried Hoda was going to fall down because she was dancing around so much.
9) Is there anything in particular that you'd like people to take away from listening to your music?
I hope they enjoy it, that it feels well-made and genuine, and that it brings them a little bit of joy even if it's just a little bit for a little while.
10) What do you do in your spare time? When you aren't performing or recording new material, what do you all like to do for fun?
I really like golf, jogging, and also any form of playing catch (frisbee, baseball, football). This is terribly boring but I also really like real estate.
Interview by Leah Adams