I first met Benge (Benj) when I arrived in NYC after spending a dusty week at SXSW. Benge was a mystic creature of partying knowledge and our South-by crew always tracked him down because this charismatic but softly spoken man knew all of the coolest places to party at in NYC.
G – So you’re a talent scout?
B – It’s like an acquisitions scout: an onground person that’s finding new talent and then establishing and maintaining relationships.
The familiarity of bumping into people at Mercury Lounge and at Pianos and at Music Hall and at The Bowery Ballroom a couple of times every week begins to help for when you reach out and say “I’m interested in working with you as an artist”.
Plus, anybody can read what the band was like on Pitchfork or Brooklyn Vegan, it’s different when you’ve gone and seen it live, then you can make up your own mind as to what is stuff that’s just being hyped to buggery and what stuff is genuinely good – which is all subjective as well (chuckles).
G – You first came out here to manage Violent Soho; are you still looking after them?
B – I used to part-own a company called Speak n Spell however me being over here didn’t make sense to stay working with either of them (Violent Soho / Speak n Spell) but it’s all amicable.
At the moment I’m looking after a bunch of different bits and pieces, but the thing that’s most active is a band called Young Magic who’re signed to Carpark Records out here and have a record dropping in February 2012. They’re currently on tour with Youth Lagoon and have sold out all of the shows, which is really exciting.
G – When did you move here?
B – I moved to live here in 2009, but I’d been coming back and forth for almost 10 years. My very first time here was in 2002 when I was managing Two Lane Black Top for Pip Brown – a garage rock n roll band she was involved with before Ladyhawke. We did CBGB’s, went to LA, had meetings with a bunch of people – it was cool, scary to think it was 10 years ago now!
G – Have you done much in London? Can you compare the two scenes?
B – I have done a fair amount in the UK; I’ve had bands signed to labels there and I’ve spent time there, I’ve just never lived there. To be completely honest, I was always more interested on a personal level about coming to America. Obviously there are an enormous amount of similarities between America, Australia and New Zealand and I think that when you live here there are some enormous differences. Which, I’m sure there are in the UK too.
G – Rather than talking about the small differences – the shittyness of having to tip, and that internet banking sucks (laughs) – because we could get lost in that for a while, what is the most stark difference in the music industry here?
B – There’s no Triple J; there’s no national radio station here that is syndicated throughout the country, so each market is it’s own territory and you can’t break them simultaneously.
And, there’s 300 million people here; you’ve got 51 states and you can drive 49 of them, a large proportion of those states have a city the size of Sydney or Melbourne so it makes touring really important.
G – Can you give me an example of some bands that have a lot of hype around them in Australia but aren’t really that big here?
B – What Australian’s and New Zealanders don’t necessarily see from over there is that bands they see as doing really well, a lot of those bands are selling 15k records over here and in the major cities they’re doing 300-500 cap rooms as headliners for $10-$15 tickets. So you go back to Australia which has a population one fifteenth roughly and apply those same things; so if you’re doing 30 tickets at your local bar and you’ve done around 900 records, then you’re doing fucking great.
Kurt Vile is a good example, he’s now got a Webster Hall gig on sale which is 1400, but the biggest headline show he’s done to date in NYC was Bowery Ballroom which is around 600 and yet he’s already sold at least that many if not more than that for his first ever show in Melbourne at the Corner Hotel.
G – Can you compare music fans in Australia and the US?
B – America doesn’t have an American music radio quota, it’s not like they’re fighting to get a minimum of 10% of American artists on air (chuckles), they just don’t look outside that much but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule. Where in Australia, there’s that sub conscious train of thought that “If it’s got all the way down here it must be massive in America”.
Time and time again you hear it from American bands that say “Fuck me man, we went down to Australia and there were 400 people there that all knew the words to our songs; we can’t sell that many tickets in our own town”(Laughs).
G – What’re your views on Australian and New Zealand acts trying to get into the US?
B – It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s really expensive and difficult but purely due to the population you’re more likely to be able to make a living of it here … eventually.
I recommend doing a lot of trips. I did 8 years coming 2-3 times per year before I moved here.
That said, America doesn’t give a fuck about Australia so you can’ve sold 150k records in Australia and be a number 1 artist, it means nothing here, you’re on the same level as someone who’s sold 4 records.
G – Finally, New York City to you is …?
B – The thing about New York is if you get sick of anywhere or you feel like it’s beginning to get over-familiar you cross the street and you’re in a whole new neighbourhood.