An interview with Christian Celaya (singer) of the Benzos after finishing a fantastic matinee set at Rothko in NYC on Saturday September 17, 2005 as part of the CMJ25NYC05 performances. They were also performing the same night at Pianos with some other acts. I think it says a lot that this band is doing two full gigs in one day. (note: the first few minutes of the interview were lost due to technical difficulties. I have done my best to reiterate Christian’s thoughts in my own words for the missing information.) Also, check out my review of Benzos–Morning Stanzas.
Jon Sevastra – What are your thoughts on being compared to Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke?
Christian Celaya – It’s amazing that people are that complimentary but those comparisons can pigeonhole us and put us into a certain light and it can give people a false view of what we are about.
JS – With how little time the band has spent performing live, are you surprised at how fast you’ve become successful?
CC – We had just been sitting around sorta making music that we were diggin’ in our bedrooms. We started to take it out to clubs and get the response we’ve gotten has been an honor. We really didn’t expect it and we were even excited tonight at Rothko. When we first showed up it was empty and we were like ‘aww shit’. To see a full crowd when we went on was like ‘oh my god’. It never gets boring, it never gets to be a regular thing. We’re always excited to see people that are enjoying it and likeing the new music and I think it’s nice.
JS – Have you been seeing a lot of the same regulars come out?
CC – Some. The cool thing about New York is that there’s a potential to have the same people always come out and see you because it’s sort of a close knit scene. But we’ve actually enjoyed the fact that there’s a lot of new faces and always having people come up to us after the show saying the dig it.
JS – As far as you guys are concerned with writing your music, which came first, the music or the lyrics?
CC – Definitely the music. All of us write and all of us contribute to the music. I mean someone could just write an idea in their bedroom, bring it to the band, and we’ll sorta sit down and mess around with it. once we get music that we feel is strong enough, then we discuss it, whether it’s a feeling that the song gives us musically, we’ll then write lyrics to reflect that or if it’s just an idea we had before hand, but yeah, lyrics always come secondary.
JS – Have you found that with the type of music you play, with how densely layered it is and how accomplished you guys are, does it become difficult in the writing process?
CC – If you were to ask anybody whose a musician they’d say that you can always fall into a little hole of writer’s block so to speak. The good thing about this band is that with five people who write, if someone has writer’s block, there are always three other people who are writing. So there’s never a moment of stagnation where there’s nothing coming out of us. At the moment, all five of us have been just spurting with ideas. It’s always a nice thing to have that.
JS – You and a couple of the other guys have roots in the club and the rave scene. What made you guys decide to give up the turntables and pick up the guitars?
CC – Well, every one of were playing either the guitar, bass, or drums before hand. I think a lot of us in college just got into the late 90’s tail end of when the whole rave scene was happening. So some friend tells you to come out to this party and you pop a pill and you enjoys yourself and you become hooked on the whole thing. We all still DJ’d but I think there was a moment after giving up playing in bands for a while and getting stuck into that whole dance culture. We sorta felt well, why don’t we take some of the things we enjoy about DJing and getting people to dance and create one long piece of music and pick up the guitars again and sort of incorporate that. We’re not a rave or dance band like the Rapture or LCD Soundsystem but there are certain elements of DJing and the rave culture that we try to incorporate into rock. It seemed like a nature progression to pick up the guitars again and start playing in a band.
JS – You’ve mentioned before that things have just always come together and that you all knew you had the same sorts of ideas of where you wanted to go musically. Have you been on a mission with a goal or have you just been letting things happen as they come along?
CC – We don’t force anything. We definitely let it come to us. The mission is really just make being in the band our job. Not have to work day jobs. The most realistic dream would be to not have to go to work in the morning and just write music. It would be great to just see the world and sell CDs and play to a bunch of people who are really into it. It would be nice to sell out Madison Square Garden five nights in a row but we try to set our goals a little more realistic in the sense of the next level. Let’s just try to get more people to come see our shows and try and sell more records. Hopefully it will build up to the point of having a big following.
JS – Would you guys ever consider doing a cover song on the next album and if you did, what would it be?
CC – I don’t know so much about the record but we’ve definitely talked about a Portishead song and a couple of Pink Floyd tunes. Actually, we had an idea of copying Phish on new years and covering Pink Floyd’s Animals from start to finish. We’ve even discussed covering My Bloody Valentine. I don’t think on a record but definitely in live shows.
JS – In your own words, how do you sell Benzos to people?
CC – I would say it’s atmospheric music involving guitar and some sort of electronica. It’s tough. It changes depending on who asks me and what mood I’m in. I would just say fused guitars with electronic rhythms underneath that.
JS – What would be the most embarrassing or unusual thing I would find in your personal music collection?
CC – There was a point in college when I actually owned a single of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca. I actually appreciated the music at that point.
JS – What are you listening to right now and are there any bands you’d like to plug?
CC – Kasabian. I’m kind of late on that band wagon but they’re pretty good. I’ve been rediscovering Squarepusher and going back into their catalog. A lot of Mars Volta. I’m pretty hooked on those guys.
JS – I heard a few of the new songs today and they sound great. What are your plans for new releases?
CC – We’ve been doing a lot of demoing and we have about 30 songs that are on the table right now. We’ve been knocking them out one at a time. We’re concentrating on this tour right now for Morning Stanzas and maybe in a couple months going into the studio. We all have our own home studios so we’re always recording stuff. I don’t know, maybe in the winter we might have something new.
JS – The label that you’re on now, they’ve been working well with you and you’re going to stick with them for a while?
CC – Yeah, they’ve been great. A band like us wasn’t like something with the Strokes where someone just sees you and you get picked up. The label that we have really took a chance to give us our first shot and get us out there and put us on the road. We’re just trying to do our best to grow and progress and see where it goes.