2018 marked the year the four members of lo-fi rockers LVL UP went their separate ways, though it was immediately apparent that they’d all remain partners to lean on while exploring their respective solo ventures. Nick Corbo played bass on his former bandmate Dave Benton’s debut solo record as Trace Mountains—and on his follow-up, the recently announced Lost in the Country, Benton enlists LVL UP’s Greg Rutkin to play drums.
While it is still technically a solo project, Trace Mountains poses a different idea of what “going solo” means—instead of isolating himself in a cabin (as the record’s title may imply), Benton once again asked a handful of friends (including former Double Double Whammy labelmate Sean Henry and Remember Sports’ Carmen Perry) to help him flesh out ideas he’d been working on, with the result being something significantly more complex than a simple Garage Band manifesto.
This seems to be wrapped up in what his latest single, “Rock & Roll,” is addressing, with broader themes of identity and purpose swirling around impressively calm instrumentation from a full backing band. We took a few minutes to press Benton a little more about the track’s significance and the role of rock music in his life in the Q&A below.
Lost in the Country is out April 10 on Lame-O Records—you can pre-order it here. Hear “Rock & Roll” below, and scroll to the bottom to find upcoming tour dates.
“Rock & Roll” deals with some pretty heavy existential concepts while remaining tonally very calm. Did you have to whittle the instrumentation down to something less aggressive, or did it just come out this way?
We tried out a bunch of things when recording the song, and yeah, originally we recorded a bunch of distorted, more “aggressive” electric guitars and such. They’re still in there, just a lot lower in the mix than they were at one point. Mike Ditrio and I thought it might be more interesting to try mixing in the Mellotrons and acoustic guitars more in the forefront, making more room for the lead vocal and harmonies, since it’s more of a lyrically focused track anyway. Also, keeping the track a little more mellow throughout allowed for the guitar solo at the end (played by Stew Cutler) to really pop, which is one of my favorite moments on the record.
How do you think this song would’ve sounded different if you’d stayed in the city when you wrote/recorded it?
I don’t think it would have turned out differently really. I still live (and work, for the most part) in an apartment and I still have a lot of the same limitations in the way of noise-making, work schedule, etc. I was still able to work with my collaborators pretty closely, especially Jim [Hill, from the band Slight Of], who came up from the city for a long weekend to record a bunch of guitars, keyboards and other things.
What kinds of changes did you make in your songwriting process to ensure that your lyrics would be more inwardly focused? Did you make similar changes to the music?
My process is largely the same—the biggest thing nowadays is that I need to intentionally make time for writing. I don’t think I have as much free time as I’ve had in the past. I sit down, and most of the time I write the basic chord structure and lyrics together. For the most part, the songs stay how they are originally composed, but sometimes if I’m not happy with the melody or lyrics I do a re-write, picking and choosing the parts that I like. I just try my best not to judge what I write until after I write it, try not to get hung up and kill a song before I’ve had time to see it through. Easier said than done. Still working on it.
The music and arrangements are usually just informed by the song itself, music that I’m currently listening to and whatever tools I have at my disposal. I’m not a huge gear head, but I like to add new instruments to my studio, get rid of old ones, etc. to keep it fresh.
Without rock and roll, what else would you do?
This is a problem for me, I need other interests. I’ve got a little bit of an obsession. My partner Susannah has gotten me into embroidery, which I really like. She has a clothing / craft company that she’s been working on, so maybe I would work on those skills and try to help her out.
Would you consider Lost in the Country to be your Man of the Woods?
Ha! I had to look that up. Sure! Yeah, I think so.
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