Nashville-based indie punks Benchmarks released their new album “Our Undivided Attention” last week via SofaBurn Records. It’s the band’s first full-length and it is one helluva smooth and catchy ride. We caught up with vocalist Todd Farrell Jr (who you might also know from playing the guitar in Two Cow Garage) to talk about the album.
PRT: Can you sum up the band’s history in the form of a tweet?
Todd: Benchmarks is basically the equivalent of a tweet you didn’t mean to send, but ended up with a lot of retweets so it’s cool.
PRT: For the people out there who haven’t heard you yet… if Benchmarks was the lovechild of two other bands, which bands would have had sex and which position were you conceived in?
Todd: I’d like to believe we’re the lovechild of Iron Maiden and The Clash in some exotic and dangerous situation… but in reality we’re probably more like the overlooked middle child of a very romantic (but conservative) night between the Weakerthans and Gin Blossoms (the other, more revered children being The Menzingers and Beach Slang).
PRT: You obviously poured your hearts in “Our Undivided Attention” while writing it, but afterwards you spent seven months recording it yourself. Why the decision to do it yourself?
Todd: It was basically a decision of necessity. Everyone in the band is somewhat of an audio engineer, so that definitely helps. It’s easier (and cheaper) for us to do it ourselves, and even though it took a long time, I think the end result is a lot better than trying to rush through it with someone else. I’d love to never have to do that again, so maybe for the next record someone else would be interested in helping us out. However, financially, that just isn’t in the cards at the moment.
PRT: I’m no expert but I always wonder if producing your own album doesn’t make things more difficult because you are already so close to the material? When do you know a song is done? What are (indulge me!) Benchmarks’ benchmarks?
Todd: Sometimes a song is done when I'm tired of working on it. There's always something else I'd like to add; a counter melody, another guitar part, another vocal, an EQ tweak. Sometimes a song is done when I hit that moment where everything just fits perfectly, and I don't want to risk ruining it anymore. Honestly, given the time, I'd probably work on a song forever, but it would gradually get worse and worse. Finding the top of the parabola is hard part.
PRT: Were there moments when you regretted not getting a producer involved?
Todd: Jack (co-guitarist) and I basically co-produced the record, so we had a small amount of the luxury of delegation, but it was still within the band. I would really love to have someone else on board to organize all the crazy ideas we have, give us a little more direction, and help us know when to say “no” and let a song be.
PRT: I read you have ADD… did that make recording the album an especially grueling experience for you?
Todd: Honestly, 2016 might have been one of the most exhausting years of my life. Between making this record, I also made a record for my other band (Two Cow Garage), which we put out and toured on all year, while the benchmarks record had to be made in the gaps I wasn’t on the road. I also got married, and my wife and I bought a house in that time. Of all those processes, the Benchmarks record still took the longest. That’s basically where the name of the record comes from… trying to do everything in the world, but feeling like you’re not able to give any of them your best effort. I love this record, but I never want to do that again!
PRT: You listed your five main musical influences somewhere as Iron Maiden, Counting Crows, Lucero, Pete Yorn and REM. I totally get the last four… but are you saving all the dual riffs for the next album?
Todd: We’ve already started writing a bit with the new one, and at this moment, I will say yes. I’m feeling pretty inspired to play more guitar on the next one. Not to say there isn’t a ton on Our Undivided Attention, I just mean “more” as in not being afraid to bust out some riffs, and get a little shreddy at times. I’m a lead guitarist at heart, and feel like I want to flex those muscles again.
PRT: What’s up next for you guys once the album is out?
Todd: We have two tours booked already, one in April and one in June. We’ll probably be on the road for a while before we hit the studio again, but I’m already itching to make the next record.
PRT: Last question… being avid gamers, which game would you want to have contributed a song to and why?
Todd: For me, I’d love to contribute something to the next Red Dead Redemption. I was fascinated how they did the soundtrack in that game, using stems that were triggered by in-game events. So cool. Goose would say Gears of War, but that would probably be more fitting for whatever death metal side project we think we want to start that given week.