Get What They Want
By Jay S. Jacobs
Seattle is known as a hotbed for music mostly because of the grunge bands of the early 90s. There is a whole world of musicians from the city who never wore flannel, though. Jimi Hendrix, Heart, the Posies, MxPx – lots of talented artists have flourished under the shadow of the Space Needle.
The latest group to appear from the scene is The Lashes – a fantastic pop/rock band who built a buzz on a self-released EP called The Simple and who are now releasing their debut CD Get It on Sony. Made up of lead singer Ben Clark, guitarist Scotty Rickard, bassist Nick Mooter, guitarist Eric Howk, drummer Mike Loggins and keyboardist Jacob Hoffman, this six-piece band has put together one of the best pop music platters of the young year of 2006.
We called lead singer Ben Clark and caught him at an awkward moment on the road.
Nice vague question to start, how did you originally get into music?
I was surrounded by it. (laughs) I’m kind of naked right now. I’m wearing shorts. I took a shower. We’re in a hotel in Hollywood and our keyboard player Jacob just brought me out a tweed jacket to put on over my big baggy baggy shorts.
Okay, you need a second to get dressed?
Hopefully none of the celebutants that visit the café to our hotel will think anything less of me. It’s okay I’m in disguise. (laughs again) Sorry, I talk a lot and all about everything.
That’s quite all right; it makes for interesting articles…
Well, I’ve always been around music. I grew up in a musical household. My dad was always playing guitar with me when I was a baby – playing songs and stuff. He really taught me all about songwriting and music, my whole life. I was actually thinking about that in the van the other day, because I get asked that question and I was thinking that the way that all of us got into music – it’s really weird that we all have parents that were kids in the 60s and really like got to see the rock and roll revolution firsthand. They were totally affected by it. We all come from parents who were open about rock and roll and taught us about their record collections. They never had a problem with us deciding that this was what we were going to follow as our dream. That’s a weird thing. Right now, is the first time that you can have parents that are cool that spawn kids that get into rock and roll.
Well, speaking of growing up in rock and roll revolutions, you guys are from Seattle. As a kid in the 90s, was it sort of inevitable you’d get into the music scene?
Well, I lived in Eastern Washington, about four and a half hours, five hours from Seattle to the east. I moved to Seattle once I graduated high school. None of us actually lived in Seattle during that time, but we all lived in places that were affected by it. All of us had grown up listening to old records and listening to oldies stations. We were always really into classic rock and roll. The first time we all decided to start giving new rock and roll a chance was when Seattle became big when we were teenagers. (laughs) But, we were all in surrounding areas of it, so we got to see all the runoffs of the mall grunge and all that stuff.
I have seen a few places where you are referred to as Ben Lashes, but in your All Music entry it has your last name as Clark and the rest of the band’s full names. Are you guys all Lashes in the same way as the Ramones were all Ramones?
Not really, because that would be a little too cheesy if we officially went by it. The Ramones started it. The Donnas already did it. The way that came about is in Seattle there’s so many bands and there’s only a few bars, so when you’re hanging out, there’s at least one other guy with your name who plays with a different band. If you gain any notoriety in the scene; if people actually know your name then they attach it to your band, like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, the Ben from the Lashes, not the other Ben from Visqueen.” That’s kind of the way it goes, there’s like four Shanes that we know in different bands and we call them all with their last name as their band name just to keep them all straight. Kim Warnick from the Fastbacks is the first one who befriended me in the Seattle music scene and she’s the one who started calling me Ben Lashes, because she had a drummer in her band named Ben. I think a lot has been made of it and a lot of people make a big deal of – they think there are dual personalities. What’s the difference between Ben Clark and Ben Lashes? Which is always fun. But I don’t really care what people decide to call me as long as they remember my name.
One thing I like about the band is that you are hard, but you aren’t afraid to have a tune. A few years ago, it was something of a sell-out for a rock band to have a melody. Why do you think the world is so ready for more melodic rock like your band, the Strokes, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Fall Out Boy?
Yeah. I think that all the kids who bought the first Weezer record and the second Weezer record and really freaked out about it when they were teenagers – all of them are in bands now. I think that Pinkerton has become like along the lines of the Velvet Underground myth that everybody who bought a Velvet Underground record the first time started a band. I don’t know if that’s even cool to say that, because Weezer is still a band and they’re still fairly relevant in the rock world. So, I don’t think it’s cool to give them the big props publicly yet. I don’t really give a fuck; because I think that will be true. But I think that melody is always cool. Any year that you look at the Billboard charts and pick out the top ten songs or albums or whatever it may be; there’s always going to be, no matter what the fad is and what the trend is and no matter how cool ska might be for a while, there are always pop songs underneath it all. No matter if we’re talking hip hop or country or teen pop or the fucking biggest metal band in the world, there is still elements of pop music in all of that. It all comes down to the fact that the songs that people connect with and the songs that people love always to end up being pop songs with great melodies.
It’s also cool how you touch on a lot of influences like the Clash, Cheap Trick, the Cars, but the band never sounds retro. Is that a delicate balancing act?
Sometimes we get comparisons to all of our favorite bands and it’s really cool. I think that all of us are really big critics of music and ourselves. We know when we’re paying homage to something and doing it so that kids will learn about it. And we know when people are doing it when it’s a complete rip-off. Any time we were writing songs, we just write the song how we want it. How we hear it in our heads. All of us don’t think about writing songs when we’re writing songs. It’s a really hard thing for me to try to put into words. When we write songs, we write songs from the heart. None of us are thinking about what Raspberries riff we can nod at or what Elvis Costello beat we can steal from. All of us have been such fans of records for such a long time. We’ve listened to so many damn songs on repeat and studied them and listened to why they are great songs. By the time that we got into the studio, or by the time we get into any practice space and start writing a song, our homework has already been done in the years of loving records. Some of that stuff just seeps through. That’s what the difference is between sounding retro and sounding like a band from today who loves some old shit.
Right, for example the song “Please Please Please” lyrically reminded me of the Smiths, especially in the chorus [in which they quote that band’s song “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”] and yet didn’t really sound like the band at all?
No, you’re totally right. I’m totally bummed, because the real title to that song was “This is Not a Smiths Song.” That’s how we’ve introduced it since the first time we played it. It was totally a joke. There are lots of inside jokes and little things that are in our songs that I write because – I don’t know, I like to be funny. We had played a Smiths cover night in Seattle. We kind of purposely got a little sloshy and screwed up the songs a little bit and had some fun with them. There were these really huge Smiths fans who got super, super angry at us. It was like, we were just there having fun and drinking and playing some songs and making jokes and these Smiths fans took everything so seriously and wanted to beat me up about it. (laughs) One of them actually had to be thrown out because he was pushing me and shoving me and stuff. So, when we were writing that song, I was like, well, I think I’m going to make a little nod at the Smiths and make a little joke, using a little piece from the Smiths to say something different on my own. But a lot of times people don’t read into that or they try and take it the other way. I don’t know how people would think I just accidentally ripped off the Smiths. Obviously, I’ve done my homework. I know what I’m ripping off. It’s for a reason. It’s for some kid that reads a review of my record to say, “I really like this record, I’m fourteen years old…” Then they read, “Oh the Smiths. Who the fuck are the Smiths? I’m fourteen years old; I don’t know who the Smiths are.” Then they go buy a Smiths record. That’s exactly why I got into the Smiths, because I read some review that referenced some band that I liked to the Smiths. So, that’s what it’s all about, fucking making little jokes in places where you can put in a secret message to tell some kid to go buy a cool record.
Musically the album is rather diverse, there is rockier stuff like “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody,” “Sometimes the Sun” is rather poppy,” Yesterday Feels Like A Year” is more midtempo – particularly on the verses, “Dear Hollywood” borders on being a ballad. Were you looking to experiment with styles on the album?
Not a whole lot. I think that on this album we were really making our statement about pop music. We didn’t want all our songs to sound like all the same music, to have the same structures and the same number of choruses and the same feel to it. We really wanted to put an album together that was our statement on pop and what our band is. Why our band loves pop and why our band loves fun.
All of the songs have writing credits for the whole band. How do you guys work the writing?
When the band first started, when it was me, I started writing the songs. I was really careful. I wanted to be really careful if somebody was writing songs with me because I don’t trust that they like all the same things. As the band came together, the only people who actually made it into the band were the people that everyone who was in it trusted to write songs. And who was just as good a songwriter as anybody else. When we finally had our lineup and it clicked, we all just started writing songs together and it wasn’t something that we planned out. We never really go into the studio and say this is our songwriting day. We just write songs when we feel them. It’s a weird thing about the six of us really have spent so much time together and know each other so well and care about each other so much that when we decide to write a song, everyone knows exactly what each other is going to do. It makes it a really cool collaborative thing without having to use hinky words like jam or groove. (laughs)
In the album, when the songs turn to love, a lot of the relationships are in trouble or dying like in “Sometimes the Sun,” “Safe to Say” and “Wanna Girl.” As a singer, do you find troubled relationships more interesting than happy ones?
(laughs) I know! I’m crazy! I’m sure I do. I know I do. I’m always attracted to the trouble.
You love the drama, huh?
I’d say that I don’t love the drama and I believe in my heart that I don’t. But for some reason, it’s always around at some point. (laughs)
I saw on your MySpace page that the band lists as influences a wide range of people – The Beatles, Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Northwest music, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Olsen twins, bands with big hair that wear tight pants, girls who wanna make out with us… Tell me the truth; shouldn’t the girls be first in line?
No, actually Kanye West should be put there ahead of the girls. Then that list might be alright. (laughs) The girls can’t come first because it doesn’t matter how many girls come along, every time they break your heart, you’re going to go back to the Beatles.
Nowadays musicians have so many more ways to reach out to their fans, the forum on the official site, your MySpace page. What is it like being able to communicate with the fans like that?
It’s pretty cool. The really neat thing is the fact that we don’t think that anybody knows who we are. (laughs) Unless we meet them personally and actually go up to them and say, “Listen to us. Listen to us.” We kind of had that hip hop selling tapes out of the trunk of your car mentality for a long time. So, with MySpace, it was the first time we were like – you kind of park your car and leave your trunk open and kids from New England are emailing you. It makes no sense, you know? You’re like how did you find out about us? That’s so cool. I think that’s the coolest part about it – that you can find out about people who are finding out about you from random ways across the country. It’s a cool thing when you’re like, well I know that if I go to the East Coast, no matter what, that girl Jennifer has totally got my back. (laughs) At least we’ve got one friend.
I saw a commercial for Get It on Jimmy Kimmel Live the other day…
Are you serious? No way!
So apparently Columbia is pushing the album. I had heard that the album was originally slated for last summer. Why the delay, and now that the album is being released, how weird is it to finally be out there?
Yeah, well, I think that with the delay – I think the label just had too hard a time deciding on a first single. They were just like, “There’s so many damn singles on this record! What do we put out first?” (laughs) It’s okay, we’ll knock them out… It’s totally weird. We’ve been humbled by this whole experience. Doing something that has been a dream of ours for our entire lives. Getting to have someone want to put out a record in the first place and all of that – it was really IT for us. It was what we’d been working for a long time. So of course, we were bummed and apprehensive when we didn’t know when our release date was. We’ve had friends that have waited three years. We’ve had friends that have waited five years then been dropped. So, this whole time we were just hanging out. We were working hard. We were going on tour. We were playing shows and trying to make sure everything happened. I think that in the end it ended up being okay. I mean our record could have come out a year ago, but we weren’t as good a band a year ago. We’ve learned a lot being on the road for a year straight and playing shows and going through hardships and not being the biggest priority on a major label. I never wanted to be the biggest priority on a major label right after I got signed. That’s how people get dropped from major labels. I want to be the hard-working kid who somehow made it in the back door and signed and fucking works his ass off to prove to people that real bands that write their own songs can still have a place in the pop rock world. When the record came out, I can’t even say how it felt. I’m damned sure we were the first people to buy it, because all six of us went to Tower Records in Seattle at midnight on Monday and bought copies. So, we were more excited than anybody to go into a store and see it. Every time that we see it somewhere or hear it on the radio it feels like the first time. We’re very, very happy and excited about it and feel very thankful about it. We don’t really care what happens now. (laughs) Bad reviews, good reviews, fuck it. We don’t give a fuck, man. We made a good record and it came out. We’re damned proud of it.
|#1 © 2006. Courtesy of Columbia Records. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2006. Courtesy of Columbia Records. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2006. Courtesy of Columbia Records. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2006. Courtesy of Columbia Records. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 24, 2006.