From the years 2000 to 2002 I ran an online zine, Actionattackhelicopter, along with my friends, Brian and Josh. I was fortunate to interview many musicians whose work I enjoyed. I’m posting some of those interviews here for anyone who may have missed them the first time. They have been edited for length, relevance, and to correct for my poor editing skills at the time of original publication. Keep in mind that these were done over ten years ago, thus individuals’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas may no longer be relevant, but they are still interesting as a snapshot of a particular time and place.
This interview with Michael Richardson of Benton Falls was originally published in October 2001. In 2011 I interviewed Gerb, who was also in Benton Falls (but out of the band when I did this interview), for the blog.
It is getting harder for me to seriously interview the bands whose music I enjoy the most. Many of the “interviews” just end up being conversations with people I’ve never met who live somewhere far away and whose music I respect. Take, for instance, this interview with Benton Falls frontman Michael Richardson. We talked for over an hour, yet the legitimate “interview” material hardly seems to accumulate to that much time. I don’t really mind, however. These are always the most fun for me and in many ways, that’s all that is important anyway.
Eli, Vance, and Michael
Can you give me some background on your history with music and how that ledto the formation of Benton Falls?
Sure. The drummer, Eli, and I played in our last band together called Static Leg. It was one of those things where you work real hard for ten months for one show and then you break up a month after. That’s what that was all about. We have grown as musicians together. I guess where we’re from—and I don’t think I’m any elitist or anything, but I’ll say that I definitely feel—the scene here is not great. I mean, we drive long distances to see bands we’re really into. It’s slim pickings. We started as a three piece. I had written some songs and called up Eli to see if he wanted to start another band and I had a line on a possible bassist, which was Vance. So we tried Vance out and he was really into us and a couple of the songs I threw out. His band had just begun to fizzle. He had played guitar in that band but it turned out he had played bass for twelve years.
What do you do for jobs?
I do odd jobs until the cows come home. I work everything else around the band. Everyone else has their solid jobs.
Does that get to you after a while or do you like doing the odd jobs?
It depends. There’s a point to where I’ve been wondering lately how much I need to sacrifice and to what degree. I think there’s a very good medium, but I just lose it occasionally—those boundaries I set for myself.
In important things like relationships. That’s what happened most recently.
People seem to get into their thing, whatever it is, too much. When you really want to pursue something it seems like sometimes people end up being jerks to those around them because it consumes them so much. I’m not saying that’s what happened with you, but I know of other situations where it has happened.
I think it might help occasionally. I think you have to have that asshole in the band.
Yeah, I guess, but you kind of hope it’s not you.
I hoped for so long and I’ve recently realized that being in a band is exactly like being married except it’s magnified by however many people are in the band. It’s a lot of work.
I’m amazed at how bands like Fugazi can last for so long. They must have the best relationships with one another. And then to think that a couple of them are married on top of that. Is it all right if I ask you some personal questions about the lyrics?
Yeah, that’s okay. I actually have people ask me quite a bit about the lyrics. I think a lot of people want to know if it’s about them. I know I don’t have to worry about that with you. I have this interesting story that goes with that, actually. I try my best in relationships. I don’t get around; I try to make each relationship last. But it’s funny because at one show about a year ago there were three ex-girlfriends there, but that was over a span of six years. They were just all there because they’re into music or were there to see another band or something. But that should give you an idea of what a small little town this is.
What size is Santa Rosa?
Two hundred and fifty thousand or so? I dunno. But it’s mostly commuters trying to get a job down in the valley doing computer stuff. There are a lot of houses that have sprung up that are only five feet apart and have a perfectly cut lawn and a washer and dryer.
The scene where I’m at in Northern Indiana—I don’t know how familiar you are with Indiana—
I’m not. That’s one of the main reasons I got into a band was to travel. That and I have a lot of depressing creativity within me.
There you go! The area I’m in seems to have about that many people, so it seems like our scenes would be somewhat similar. Okay, a question I had about one of the songs is for “No Hero.” Is it referring to people we look up to who use drugs or was there a specific situation that sparked that?
There was a pretty specific situation. When I was younger, I saw this band Failure and when you’re younger you think, “Oh my God, I’m gonna see these guys live and it’s gonna change my life.” And then you actually see them and they’re whacked out on drugs. That’s how that song kind of started. They were these heroes who turned out not to be as great as I thought they’d be.
How young were you?
I wasn’t real young. I think I was twenty-one or twenty-two, but I’m twenty-seven now. I’m definitely not naive to situations such as that, but I guess I just let it get to me. I was living the dream a little bit too much and thought that they were gonna be the greatest thing I’d ever seen. And they were great, but I was disappointed that someone didn’t value their time up on stage. They had the opportunity to be creative and push other people to be creative and they took the opportunity to do something else.
Vance, Eli, and Michael
The song “Always Behind A Smile”—have you had problems with high school reunions?
I don’t know yet. That would be next year. My girlfriend at the time of the song had just gotten back from her high school reunion. It was one of those things where it was almost as though nothing had changed. Everything was great and everyone was happy and she was popular then and she is still now. And it totally made me bummed out because in the back of my head I’ve got this thing where I feel like I’ve got something to prove because back then wasn’t very fun for me.
So, high school wasn’t much fun for you then?
Well, I had fun. I made some good friends, but overall I felt pretty awkward when I went.
If you had to classify yourself, would there be a group that you could automatically put yourself in?
Yeah, but it doesn’t sound that ridiculous. I wasn’t part of some Dungeons & Dragons club. I was part of a little skater crew. Which nowadays is very accepted, but back then it wasn’t. I have a couple of really good friends that I still talk to. Eli was one of them, but I don’t think either of us enjoyed high school very much.
If I could go back to the album, one of the things I was noticing that was really neat was the atmosphere that the guitars create. The song I’m specifically thinking of is “Coastal.” It really strikes a chord with me and at the beginning when the guitar starts and the way it builds—is that the kind of thing where you consciously arrange it or do you just let it happen?
No, that’s the kind of thing where we yell at each other for five weeks and then create. Actually we don’t yell at each other, but that song took a while. We definitely try and stay as separated as possible, but not awkward.
I feel really in tune with the environment and in a song like “Coastal,” I get an impression of late summer or early fall. When I hear songs I associate days or times with them. When I listen to that song, I get that feeling that fall is just around the corner or that you’re on the brink of the end. It’s kind of cool how the music creates that.
I think weather is very definitive. When it’s gray outside, I think that’s the best writing weather.
I agree. A friend and I were talking about that the other day and it was nice and sunny out, but we were both actually kind of depressed by it. On “Sad Like Winter Leaves,” is that song about you?
No. I seem to answer this question a lot. I’m sorry to break any premonitions, but it’s entirely fictional. It’s probably the most fictional song on our record. Most of the record, I haven’t experienced stuff like that, but I can get into it and imagine what it would be like. The song is basically about this guy who felt guilty about his wife drowning and stopped living his life. He started drinking and feeling sorry for himself. His partner in romance died early on and I guess I wrote it out of fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t pull my shit together.
Why, is that a problem?
Do I have expectations that I feel will never be met?
Yeah. Or is there something that prohibits you from experiencing those things?
I get in great relationships and I love my girlfriends to death, but I got my heart broken early on and it might be me being somewhat leery of that happening again. And then there’s the whole, “it’s never as good as your first love thing.”
Ooh. I’ve never heard that before. I hope that’s not true.
Well, when it’s your first love you can love more openly and you’re not hindered. You’re not thinking in the back of your head that this person’s gonna pull your deal straight out of your chest and throw it in the ocean.
Huh. “Your deal.” I’ve never heard the heart described as that.
[in feminine voice] Oh, I’m so emo!
I wish there was a way for the way your voice sounded to be heard by those who are going to read this interview, because that was just about the funniest thing ever.