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Stacking The Deck with Blind Benny
Friday, March 08, 2019

Stacking The Deck is a feature exclusive to Adam’s World where I bring packs of 1991 Pro Set Superstars MusiCards to artists, and we discuss who they find in each pack.

When Blind Benny hit the stage at Russian Samovar on West 52nd Street earlier this year, it was a welcome return that was a long time coming.

“This January was our first show in a year and a half,” notes Blind Benny frontwoman Jade. “I think that the break that we took was much needed to clarify what was important, versus what wasn’t important. It’s really not important to worry about what categories to put our songs in. It’s not important to stress about how the song’s gonna be pushed, or who’s gonna receive it, or if it makes sense to people, or not. It just made more sense that we were creating.”

Blind Benny co-founder Jonathan Carmelli (photographed above with Jade holding cards in front of his face, which will be explained in the interview), adds, “When we stopped playing we were like, ‘Let’s just write songs and not worry about where we’re going.’ When we started writing we realized the songs sort of split in two different directions – the Blind Benny, darker, kind of quasi Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac kind of vibe, and then the other stuff is more peppy, dancey, more indie pop, indie dance kind of energy.”

With the music heading in two distinctly different directions they decided there would be two projects – Blind Benny, and a Jade solo project, which goes by the name JVDE.


For each project the plan is to release individual songs, and give them time to find their audience. It’s an audience they hope to see at Russian Samovar on a regular basis, as Blind Benny are looking to create a night there every 4 to 6 weeks built around performance, and camaraderie.

I caught up with Blind Benny at the Think Coffee on the corner of Bleecker and Bowery to open up some packs of MusiCards, and the artists we found sparked conversations about childhood house parties, Tone Loc’s vast movie career, and the Animaniacs. We talked about music, too. I swear!



Soundgarden

Jonathan: When I was a kid I used to watch random music videos, and “Black Hole Sun” was in a rotation. It was omnipresent, and in general I love Chris Cornell.

Soundgarden, and Rage Against The Machine, really the two of them … Chris Cornell formed a supergroup with them, Audioslave, so for me they’re sort of all connected. For me it’s this big nebulous thing.

If anything it influenced our dynamics as a band. We like to kinda come and punch you in the face a little bit, even though that’s not the kind of music we make. (It’s) more from a live standpoint. When we play live we like for you to feel like you’re on a roller coaster.

It doesn’t seem to connect, but in my mind some of that comes from there.

Inspiration doesn’t necessarily have to connect on a level that makes sense to anyone other than you.

Jonathan: Yeah. Exactly. It sounds insane.



Soul II Soul

Jade: I wasn’t really raised in music necessarily. I didn’t have cable until I was like 17, (so I) didn’t really watch music videos, but at any house party I ever went to “Back To Life” was like the ice-breaker. It was what you played to get people really hype.

Being that you weren’t raised in music, what was your path to becoming a singer?

Jade: I would write, and sing a lot, so my mom decided to put me in programs, but as far as pop culture music I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of that other than Hot 97, the salsa channel, and like WBLS and KISS FM. That was my exposure to music other than like some classical, or some world music.

So it wasn’t until the house parties that you were introduced to a lot of this.

Jade: Yeah. At house parties I was like, “What’s this song?”

What’s your best house party memory from your teenage years?

Jade: The best house party was the first. We were graduating from 8th grade, and it was also this girl Chelsea’s birthday.

Shout out to Chelsea.

Jade: Shout out to Chelsea.

I danced like a video girl in front of everyone’s parents. {laughs}

It was the happiest I’ve ever been, and it was like all my favorite songs, and I just remember just feelin’ it.

Jonathan: I did not attend house parties in 8th grade.

I wasn’t invited to house parties in 8th grade either. I wasn’t cool enough.

Jade: It was a graduation/birthday, and I was really living my best life.



Tone Loc

Jonathan: He was omnipresent in my childhood, somewhat for music, but mostly for non-musical reasons.

#1, he was in Surf Ninjas, which was a huge movie when I was a kid.

He was?

Jonathan: Yeah, he’s the cop in Surf Ninjas. The kids have a broken home, or something, and he’s like, “Hey kid, you gotta stick together. You can’t be runnin’ over here surfin!”

Tone Loc just fixing everything in children’s lives.

Jonathan: Yeah, and he was in Ace Ventura.

Jade: Which one? The first one?

Jonathan: He’s the cop in Ace Ventura.

Jade: Oh yes, he’s the cop!

Jonathan: He was the little baby on Bebe’s Kids.

You know way more about Tone Loc’s IMDb page than any human being other than Tone Loc.

Jonathan: That’s what I’m saying!

What I sort of grew up on, because we were poor, the one thing that I always had was movies, so I know a lot of movies, and I have an extensive knowledge of movies, in general.

So this dude, Tone Loc, was in so many movies that I watched as a child, I knew him first as, “Oh, he’s the funny dude from all these movies.” Then later I was like, “Oh! He’s the guy who did those records!”

Dude is a legend.

Jade: He is a legend.

Jonathan: He needs the “Legend” tag (on this card).



Janet Jackson

Jade: What I love most about her is that … she kind of pioneered stage performance.

She’s a phenomenal performer with a really sweet, sultry voice. Her videos are everything. Her performances are everything.

Kind of like Beyonce, her performances, and her craft – what you see is most of the art, for me.

So she’s more of a total package.

Jade: Yeah, but (Janet’s) a different type of voice. She doesn’t have like a Celine Dion voice. She chooses her records really wisely, and the fact that she can dance and sing is a huge deal for me. Seeing her as a kid was like – I really want to dance when I sing, or I just want to be able to do both. You learn really quickly that singing live, and performing live, that they’re two completely different skill sets. She’s mastered both.

I don’t recall seeing you dance on stage while singing, but then again a lot of the indie stages aren’t really fit for that.

Jade: We used to, for the It’s My Heart, Cookie record we used to have a lot more choreography.

Jonathan: When the music was different, the vibe was different. It was more straight pop, (but) it still wasn’t ever super poppy.

Jade: But there was choreography, and dancing involved, which took a lot of training.



U2

Jonathan: One of my favorite bands ever, period. They’re so omnipresent …

More omnipresent than Tone Loc?

Jonathan: Musically, yes.

First of all, just as a human person who’s alive, you can’t really escape them. They’re one of those bands that even if you didn’t know who they are, you would hear their music and go, “Oh! THAT’S who those guys are!” They’re so ubiquitous.

As a guitar player, what I’ve always loved about The Edge – and his production, and his guitar playing – is that everything is about the record. I don’t do a lot of the things that I can do on a guitar because it doesn’t really serve the product that we’re making, so I’ve always liked that about him. I like that he drives the songs with the guitar, and I like that simplicity of the band – that a guitar with bass and drums can create this sonic landscape that’s so vast that just that alone you sort of get lost in, and then Bono is just able to be on top.

Just from a dynamics, and writing perspective, I would say we’re kind of like that.



Jimmy Page

Since we’re talking about guitars we have to go to Jimmy Page next.

Jonathan: Jimmy Page is one of my everythings.

I personally like minimalism, and I like how Led Zeppelin created this wall with not that much stuff.

I’m very rhythmically driven. I always joke that everything I do musically, and even in my life, I’m desperately trying to compensate for the fact that I wanted to be a drummer since I was a kid and I never was able to. Everything is just to compensate for that, so even as a guitar player it’s compensating for drumming.

In our band, very often I’m like, “This is what I want the drums to be,” and our incredible rest of our band is like, “I got you. I know what you mean,” and they take my sort of larval idea and they make it into this thing where it’s like, “Yeah, that’s what I want!”

Jade: It’s really amazing to see translated.

Jonathan: I didn’t really start playing music until I was 16-17. I picked up guitar a little bit, then I went to college, and I hated college, so I stopped going. I would lock myself in my room for 8-10 hours a day, and just practice all day. I got this big book of guitar tab stuff, and I would just read it until I could play everything, so at one point I could play every Led Zeppelin song, every Jimmy Page solo, every everything. I had every DVD of their live performances that’s out there.

I literally could continue to rant indefinitely, so let me not do that.



KISS

I’m really interested to know why you chose KISS.

Jade: It’s really the worst reason.

Because you had that face makeup at one of your house parties?

Jade: {laughs} I am obsessed with black lipstick.

I’m really embarrassed to say this – I don’t really know anything about KISS. I picked them because one of my favorite movies is Role Models with Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, and (in the movie) they’re obsessed with KISS. There’s one scene where Seann William Scott is trying to explain to the little kid why KISS is so important.

That’s literally why I picked this card.

Would either of you do any sort of wild face paint for a show?

Jade: Probably not face paint. Jonathan doesn’t like to be shown in pictures ever. I don’t know if you remember, but he always had the mask on in the beginning. He would just rather be behind that. We’ve talked about doing future performances with some sort of mask, or stocking, some creepy thing over the eyes. We talk about it. We’re planning stuff.

Jonathan, you’d be like the phantom of The Bitter End.

Jonathan: Yes, exactly.

Truthfully, one of the things that I don’t like about the masks, and stuff, (is that) I don’t like gimmicks. For me, if I break down music, I break it into two categories – honest, and not honest. Those are my two genres. So when it comes to KISS, I feel like their music is very honest – obviously, that’s why it transcends – but to me, when I look at the thing, it’s such a gimmick.

I get why people like it, and I get the pageantry, especially at that time, when everything was cock rock with the hair out and stuff, but when I see pageantry like that now my first response is usually like … (c’mon) bro.

I think a couple bands can get away with it, like GWAR.

Jonathan: GWAR are so honest with their ridiculousness that it makes sense.



MC Skat Kat

MC Skat Kat was the rappin’ cartoon cat on Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” so I want to know – which cartoon character would you like to work with?

Jonathan: Wow, that’s a great question.

Jade: That is a phenomenal question.

Jonathan: 100%, #1 answer – Bugs Bunny.

Jade: Honestly, I really love the Animaniacs songs, and I would love to have an Animaniacs song.

I eventually want to maybe write simple things for kids, because I think about if we were to have kids one day … Animaniacs is my whole childhood.

Jonathan: Who’s “we” in your “we would have kids?”

Jade: It’s just my hypothetical.

Jonathan: OK. That was weird, because you looked at me, you were like “we,” and I was like, I’m not having children … with you.

Jade: {laughs}


For more Blind Benny, check out blindbenny.com, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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