Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Ever" by Lemonheads/Ben Deily

ARTIST: Ben Deily of Lemonheads
SONG: "Ever"
WRITER: Ben Deily
ALBUM: Lick on Taang! Records
YEAR: 1989

Before there was a "The" out in front of their name, Lemonheads had two great singers and songwriters. Their styles and voices came together for three full length albums and one EP, all released within a very short period of time. Ben Deily left the band after their record Lick was released in 1989 - but not before he gave us the saccharine sweet, delicious confection, "Ever." I've seen Ben play in other outfits, but missed him in Lemonheads, sadly. I was not as keen on missing him for this interview series. Imagine my delight when he agreed to indulge me. He turned out, not surprisingly, to be the nicest guy of all time.

BA: Hey Ben! Thanks for taking the time to cast your memory back for this interview.  I’m so happy to be talking with you.

BD: Hey, the pleasure is all mine. It’s extremely flattering to have a song I wrote called out for this kinda attention, after all.

BA: So, I think "Ever" is a terrific love song. I secretly wish it (or anything like it) had been written for me. Alas, I only came as close as having my high-school boyfriend put it on a mix tape. Talk to me about who this song was written for. Did she “get it”?

BD: I sure hope she did. Hah! Actually, these days she–the ostensible subject/object of the song–is an academic at [cough] an “eminent Ivy League institution," so you could say she’s pretty sharp. Thus, I imagine she got the message, such as it was. (Not that it prevented her from tearing out my heart and eating it like a fruit roll-up . . . but, ah! We were all so, so young. Plus, that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

BA: How is it that you were a wise, grounded person at the ripe age of . . . what,
twenty? Were you drawing on real life experiences for these lyrics?

BD: Kind of you to say. (Actually, make that–gulp–17 or so.) I dunno. A more plausible explanation–since I was neither wise nor grounded–would probably involve looking to the fundamentally conservative mores of your average sensitive/self-styled romantic teenage boy. You know how insufferable and clingy they can be. Wearing eyeliner, reading poetry, and flopping around. “Ah love, let us be true to one another!”

But yeah, the lyrics are indeed drawn from an (admittedly impressionistic) account of real events, people and places. Now that I cast my mind back, actually, the original words I wrote had some, er, slightly . . . lurid bits. (Rather than, “And there together in the curtain-drifting twilight . . .” the original line was, “And you were naked in the curtain-drifting twilight . . .” I must have deemed that a bit past the bounds of propriety.)

In terms of “real life experiences," though, it’s funny: I think almost everything I’ve ever written has been–for better or worse–drawn directly from life. (And it only gets worse. When Varsity Drag released Night Owls, our most recent album, I remember remarking that every single word on the record was literally true. Well, almost every one.) I should probably change that habit. Lawsuits, and all that.

BA: You reference the Beatles song, "When I’m Sixty-Four," in the line: 
“The record asks 'will you still need me when I’m sixty-four?'”
Were they a big influence at the time  Who else were you listening to?

BD: Well, like a lot of '70s kids, I was practically weaned listening to the Beatles . . . my dad would put their records on to lull my kid brother and me to sleep, as far back as I can remember. So definitely in the background for all of us, to be sure. The kind of influence that’s so far down in the bedrock of what you consider to be “a good song," it doesn’t even pop up as a conscious influence, y’know?

As far as stuff we were listening to, well, tons of Boston hardcore and punk bands . . . and of course Replacements and Hüsker Dü . . . Big Star . . . lots of UK ’77 punk . . . early L.A. punk like the Germs, and Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, Agent Orange . . . geez, I guess really the whole gamut, when I think about it. (But–cards on the table–if I had to pull out a key "Ever"-influence from that list, I think I pretty much hear Bob Mould.)

But back to the particular Beatles reference: that takes us back–ironically enough–to mix tapes. If memory serves me, the “girl in question” had made a mix tape that included several Beatles tunes, among which was "When I’m Sixty-Four." So the lyrical reference, while striving for some kinda resonance, was also based on an actual, observed moment between us. These things happen. Life is stranger than fishin’.

BA: It’s always been fuzzy for me, what the order of operations were, regarding this song’s life. Was it originally recorded for Hate Your Friends (1987), but not released until Lick (1989)?

BD: Yep. Recorded in the same sessions as a lot of Hate Your Friends, not released until a couple years later. As I recall, part of the reason may have involved some friction around whether such sentimental fare was appropriate for “a punk band like Lemonheads." (I got some of the same flack regarding the inclusion of our first-ever original acoustic song "Postcard," on Creator.) Seems funny now, doesn’t it? Hah.

BA: Am I correct in my understanding that at this stage of the band, you and Evan Dando were trading off on drums and guitar/vocals, depending on whose song was being played?

BD: Yeah. That’s how the whole thing started. Ev and I–just the two of us–swapping back and forth on drums and guitar. We played that way for the better part of a year, but figured we had to add a bass player to be a “real” band and play out (this being before Congress legalized two-person bands with the historic White Stripes Act of 1997). But we went right on with the switching, as a trio, ‘til we finally added a full-time drummer and both went up front. You can see the early configurations in video from our first-ever show:

BA: Is that Evan singing the low harmonies on the chorus, or are you singing with yourself?

BD: That’s Ev all right. What an awesome voice.

BA: How did you guys record this? Were you just in a room with mics, playing
the hell out of the song, or were there layers involved?

BD: Musta been at Tom Hamilton’s studio in Brookline, where we recorded the first EP and a lot of the first couple records. My memory is bad. What was that place called? The Sound Cellar? It was either 8 track or 16 track reel-to-reel. A real studio, though, to be sure . . . mics and headphones, overdubs, the whole nine yards. (Tom is and was an excellent engineer, and friend, to us. And he’s worked on a lot of seminal Boston rock and punk stuff over the years. Heckuva body of work.)

BA: I’ve seen around the interwebs that you’ve played "Ever" with your more recent project, Varsity Drag. How does it feel to play it in this chapter of your life? Is it still relevant for you?

BD: Well, apparently it was still relevant enough to audiences that we got a lot of people shouting it out. So it seemed like it’d be ungracious for us not to learn it. But I will admit, revisiting it gives me a new appreciation for earnest li’l Ben. It’d be easy to be embarrassed by one’s younger self, I guess, but from this distance . . . I feel for the kid. Plus, it means so much to me that something I wrote means something to fans. 
(For what it’s worth, while I know the original recording will always be preferred by those for whom it had significance, I think I kinda do it better now than I ever used to . . . at least in terms of my “performance,” or whatever. We give it a run for its money, anyhoo.)

BA: What’s your favorite song right this minute?

BD: Right this minute? Anything off of Rain On The City by Freedy Johnston. Freedy = god.  And also, anything from the (tragically) only album by the band Plexi, Cheer Up. It’s on Sub Pop. F*ckin’ epic stuff. Spent the other weekend playing bass along with it over and over again, until I gave myself a sore sacroiliac joint from jumping around on one foot. (Swear to god, I may have been–as many people accused me of being–middle-aged at heart when I was a teen, but now that I’m really here? I am not doing it very gracefully.)

BA: Thanks again, man! I’m still holding out for a song like this in my lifetime,
but you’ve set the bar pretty high. Cheers.

BD: Again, you are too, too kind to say so. And here’s hoping you get someone off their ass and behind a guitar to write that for ya. Hint: breaking their heart first will probably help tease out a higher level of quality. Just a word to the wise. (Fellas, admit it: you know I’m right about this.) 

1 comment:

  1. Great article and one of their very best songs. Thanks!