Benvenue is a hard rocking quartet from the Bay area that began with lead singer Francis Blay and guitarist Sid Slater on the football field of the University of California Berkeley. The group recently released an eleven track album entitled Jean Elizabeth and plans to play a show in Los Angeles later this week, but aside from that the foursome is anything but typical fame-hungry musician fare. I caught up with lead singer Francis this evening on the phone, and he gave me an inside look at Benvenue‘s humble origins and goals.
Laurel Kathleen: You played football with your guitar player Sid in college. When did you start playing music together?
Francis Blay: You know, it was kind of crazy how it all happened. Sid and I played the same position, linebacker, at Cal. I’ve always been interested in rock music and I knew Sid played guitar. We kept saying we need to get together and jam, but we kept putting it off during the season. After the season was over, we had the opportunitiy. It sounds so cliché, but it just kind of clicked. The next thing we know, we’re in another guy’s garage jamming. Slowly but surely, over a few years it came together. Our bass player that we used to have was another football player at Cal. Everyone knew him as a bass player, and we’d all jam together. And we knew another soccer player that player drums, but we never did anything serious. We had no PA system, and our instruments were kind of… bad. But three years later, we all got together again and just started writing songs. The drummer we have now was one of Sid’s childhood friends, and then we found our new bass player Tommy.
LK: Now that you’ve got a record out, has that changed the band’s dynamic at all?
FB: I’ve come to realize that that’s actually the hardest part about having a serious band. Sid and I have been best friends for the last seven or eight years. Now when we get together, we’re mostly talking about band stuff. That’s definitely not the way I want our relationship to be, but I think what’s really important about our band is that we are still friends. Making music is a beautiful thing, but I still want to maintain these friendships. It’s a downfall for a lot of bands: they get so caught up in the music and logistics of making money and trying to book venues. But what started it all was great friendships, and I hope that doesn’t change.
FB: Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be where we’re at. It’s funny, the process went from just two guys playing acoustic guitar to releasing an album and having the opportunity to be represented and playing at The Viper Room. Now I’m just happy, and so appreciative; we’re just trying to get the music out there. I’m not really looking at the next step, I’m just living in the moment. Every time somethintg comes up, I’m just so happy that it’s happening.
LK: You’ve got a show at The Mint this Sunday.
FB: That’s right. Every time we come to Los Angeles, people seem really into rock music. We’ve played a couple of shows in L.A. and been welcomed with open arms. We’ve never played The Mint, but we’re just excited to be playing there. We never thought we’d play L.A., we’re super juiced. The band we’re opening for is called Kyng, they’re this really great band from L.A. We’re just going to go out and and rock as hard as we can.
LK: Do you have anything planned after that?
FB: I never thought our band would have a manger, but we’re trying to get a tour going. We’re talking to The Roxy about a show as well. We played On the Rox, and we were pumped to say we were even playing near The Roxy (laughs). Now we have an opportunity to play downstairs at the beginning of January, and also some shows in the Bay area (where we’re from). We’re getting in contact with a few other bands and talking to them about touring, it’s definitely in the works. But I want it to be a slow process; I want to stay humble. Our band is small, and we’re making music for ourselves. But I hope at some point that some people can take something away from it as well.
LK: Who have you been listening to lately?
FB: One band that I’ve been listening to a lot has been Minus the Bear. I don’t know if it’s their guitar rifs or what, but it’s very mellow and it puts my mind at ease. Also a lot of jazz. I remember being young and my parents playing jazz music, and being like ‘What is this stuff?’ It’s funny that that happens as you get older. I love Pearl Jam, it’s one of my favorite bands. Musically, I realy appreciate Carter Beaford, Dave Matthews’ drummer. I’ve been into the new Drake album for the past few months, now I’m into jazz. I go through waves, we all do.
LK: If you could suggest any artist and/or album as essential must-haves for young ears, who would you name?
FB: To any young person listening to music, listen to everything you can. If your parents are playing Maxwell or Pearl Jam or Aretha Franklin, give your ears the opportunity to listen. At some point in your life, it’s going to influence you. At some point, it’ll come back around. For instance, my mom played Rod Stewart and my dad is Cuban and listens to salsa. Now I find myself implementing those styles in my own music. Give your brain a chance, because they’ll all influence you in some way. I can’t say that Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell didn’t influence me. Kids nowadays need to give other music an opportunity. We all go through phases: grunge, emo, hip hop, whatever. It’s forever changing.
LK: Any guilty pleasures that someone listening to your music would not guess you enjoy?
FB: You know what song is so catchy? I was talking about it with my band… Katy Perry’s “You think I’m pretty” (sings lyrics). I don’t know what the name of that song is, but I actually bought the song on iTunes. I mean it’s definitely on the workout iPod, but it’s a catchy song! You have to give the woman props for making it, regardless of the genre. If the song is good? You’ll listen to it.