“In an age where the well-to-do seem distant and bygone, and it feels as though the honest lyricism of the 70s and 90s rock & roll only visits from the past, Ben Strawn emerges today in brilliant sonic and lyrical candor.”
by Nikolas Oliverio / Weave Session / Cleveland, TN
In an age where the well-to-do seem distant and bygone, and it feels as though the honest lyricism of the 70s and 90s rock & roll only visits from the past, Ben Strawn emerges today in brilliant sonic and lyrical candor. The singer-songwriter from the humble town of Cleveland, Tennessee inextricably weaves his modest Southeastern roots into his profound ability to communicate humanity’s finer moments in simple narrative songwriting. The result is a proverbial sigh of melodic relief.
Strawn’s first EP, At Sunset, fittingly explores themes of newness and adventure: the beginning of a marriage, youthfulness and its expiration, complacency and dreams. The lines, “Sunset Drive is quite alright with me baby, but we can’t stay here forever / The future’s been too bright for too long,” in the EP’s single, “It Don’t Rain,” actualize his sentiment toward the glad sincerity of his upbringing, while resolving to chase his dreams that will bring him far beyond the green pastures of Cleveland. His poignancy is the very thing that resonates so well with his listeners. We all have dreams and aspirations, but often feel the tension of being content with reveling in the comfort of seeing a familiar face at the market or the barbershop. Add in the stripped-back production of folk-rock instrumentation, and you soon begin to enter the world of Ben Strawn and, arguably, everyone else.
It was this musical genuineness that led Weave Sessions to extend our microphone and exposed-brick set to Ben. His ideals of simplicity, honesty, and acuteness throughout his music encapsulate the honest and raw Weave Session disposition. Both sonically and lyrically, we see a maturation in Strawn’s career—his newest, unreleased song, “Blackberry Wine,” being no exception. Where he once sang, “I know it seems like a lonely ride, but I promise you baby we can take the night by storm” (from “It Would Be Sweet,” At Sunset), he now voices, “…They’ll never know what it’s like, to dance real slow with their honey, spend all their hard-earned money, and sip blackberry wine…They’ll never know how it feels / The world, baby, it moves too fast, love has never had the time to last” (from “Blackberry Wine”). As his career continues, so too does his ability to slow down life and pen his musical literature from a higher introspective view. This is also evident in the entrancing finger-picking on a Gretsch hollow-body guitar, over a dreamy distortion pedal, that Strawn unveils in our latest episode.
To gain more insight into the mind of Ben Strawn, we sat down with the 24-year-old singer-songwriter with questions about his career thus far:
What made you get into writing and playing music?
I took piano lessons for about 11 years starting at the age of five and always really enjoyed writing poems as a young kid, too. I wasn't great at practicing for my piano lessons, though, because I didn't want to practice classical music all the time. I always tried to get my teacher to let me play, like, pop hits of the time, and when she would finally relent and let me play some, I'd learn them super quickly and play them with all sorts of emotion. I just loved how lyrical writing made me feel, and I want to craft songs that make people feel good too. So I guess when I got older and realized my voice wasn't terrible I wanted to start trying as hard as I could to write good songs too.
When did you write your first song, and do you remember what it was called?
I wrote my first song when I was a senior in high school for our high school talent show. Kaley and I were dating then and she used to sing all the time, so I wanted to show people that I could hang with her and sing a little bit too. She taught me how to play guitar and I wrote this dumb little song that didn't really have a name, but the chorus was, "You make me feel right at home,” over and over again. It was fun. I thought I was so cool.
Who were some artists and what were some albums that influenced you as a high school and college student?
I only really was allowed to listen to Christian music until I started branching out in my late middle school years. The first album that I listened to that really made me realize that music was an art form was Regina Spektor's Begin to Hope. There's this song called "Music Box" on that album where she starts making all these weird noises while she's washing the dishes and I listened to it over and over again. It was so weird, but I couldn't stop listening just because she was doing stuff I'd never heard before and doing it in such a unique way. When I got in high school, I started getting obsessed with John Mayer and his Continuum album. That album kinda helped me hone in on the folk/rock stuff I liked listening to consistently. I discovered Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors' Good Light, Noah Gundersen's Ledges, Damien Rice's O, and Ed Sheeran's +. Those were staples for me. Oh, and Drake. His Take Care album was, like, life-changing for me.
How did these artists shape who you are as a person or an artist?
They made me feel like making great music was attainable (except for Drake). I loved the mixture of sounds that all of these artists have brought over the years, and I also loved that they've gotten where they are today without taking any (or very few) shortcuts. Ed Sheeran was pretty much homeless for two years, Drew Holcomb didn't really "try" until he was in his late 20s, Damien Rice's first album was recorded on, like, a one-track recorder and wasn't even mixed, and Noah Gundersen produced and wrote all of Ledges in his late teens/early twenties. And it was like I could hear all of that stuff in their music and in their writing. I knew that if I worked really hard like them, and did it for the love of music and not for some pursuit of fame, then one day I'd be able to really make some consistently good music.
What are themes you have expressed in your music, and why have you included those?
I guess generally my music has been pretty positive and fairly lovey-dovey. To be honest, those feelings have been the only ones that I've been actually comfortable displaying in a musical/public setting. Of course I sing about love and travel and what-not because I'm in a great marriage and have done some cool stuff, but I also have demons just like everyone that are hard to own up to. Also, the world is a pretty negative place, so I like to write stuff that evokes an element of hope for people, even if that particular song is heavier in nature.
What do you want to communicate to your audience with your songwriting?
With what I've already written and what will hopefully come out next year, I guess I just want to communicate that having all kinds of emotions is okay. You can be in love and be sad at the same time. You can secretly love where you live and also want to get the hell out of that same place. You can want to curse the Bible Belt but still come running back to it. Life is full of all types of emotions and you don't have to just pick one and stick with it. I want to make sad-boy music for the sad boys and girls, and hopeful music for the same sad boys and girls, because deep down we all really want to have hope. I want to write something for everyone.
What’s “Blackberry Wine” about?
“Blackberry Wine” is kind of a defiant song. I wrote it right after I graduated and quit my second or third full time job in three months. I hated those jobs and couldn't stand how people were so obsessed with making tons of money and wanting to retire by 35. I guess they'd argue that they could work really hard for 15 years and live after, but I personally thought that was bogus. “Blackberry Wine” is about trying to enjoy the small things in life like seeing the sunrise, having a “treat yo’ self day”, or sipping some good wine with the person you love while in turn not getting so caught up in occupational obligations.
Who are your favorite artists now?
I listen to a lot of people, but lately my favorites have been Kacey Musgraves, Ryan Adams, Rayland Baxter, The Paper Kites, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Death Cab, The War on Drugs, Phoebe Bridgers, Maggie Rogers, Lord Huron... I could go on for a while probably.
What are other things that we don’t know about you that we wouldn’t know from your music?
I'm a massive Ben & Jerry's/Tennessee Titans fan. I've watched The Office about a hundred times and own seasons 1-5 of Spongebob Squarepants on DVD. Also, I've only seen one of The Lord of the Rings movies which people act like is very shocking. Also also, as much as I wanted to fight it, I'm a Hufflepuff. I was disappointed in that until I realized that Newt Scamander from the Fantastic Beasts movies was a Hufflepuff so now we're all good.
What can we expect from Ben Strawn in 2019?
Hopefully a lot. Right now, the plan is to record my first full-length album in February and go on a couple of tours after that. I'm excited. I think 2019 should be my most productive year yet.
📸: © Mitchell Hartley
Filmed and Edited by: Mitchell Hartley and Will Vest
Recorded and Mixed by: Brenden Koon and Timothy Carpenter
Mastered by: Jonathan Class
Ben Strawn currently resides in Cleveland, Tennessee. His next performance is January 16th, 2019, opening for Elenowen at Wanderlinger Brewing Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee.