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Benevento/Russo Duo: Hero Rock, Mind-Reading and Constant Movement

By Published: November 27, 2006
AAJ: I get the impression that when you're putting your songs together, you really think about texture and contrast. There are a lot of colors to the keyboards, and a song like "Soba really plays different keyboard textures against each other, with its adamant Wurlitzer and long Hammond notes. I assume you put some thought into this sort of arranging.

MB: Yeah, definitely. That was an interesting process, and the whole mixing process was an amazing thing to watch. That's where all that would come out, in mixing. I know that how we blend the organ, the Wurli and the bass is crucial, and watching Tom Biller mix 23 tracks of just two guys was pretty intense—the laying, the texturing, making sure that a certain part would come out stronger. That's definitely a conscious effort I make with layering stuff and making sure that I'm using the right sound. We experiment with different tones, that sort of thing.

AAJ: You two write together and separately. "Soba is a Marco composition; "Echo Park is Joe's song, and there are tunes you write together. When you write together, how do you work as a team? Let's take "Best Reason to Buy the Sun, which is a classic Benevento/Russo track, in my opinion, and has some of Joe's finest drumming on record. How was this one written?

Joe RussoJR: That one was independent writing on each of our parts. Marco had that opening riff—I think we were somewhere in Canada, actually. Marco said, "Hey, check this riff out, and it was cool, and we played on it for a minute. Then I said, "I've got something I've been working on, too, which became the verse and chorus sections. Then Marco put the bridge in. So that was a very down-the-middle tune. That was the first time we had done that, I think—where we were just compiling ideas that we had worked on independently, which has become a trend in our writing. He and I will write apart from each other and then bring it in and piece it together. It's fun because it puts each of our voices into a song. That's been happening a lot.

Other times, we'll work out stuff together—but more often than not, we both come in with ideas and just try to throw them together. A lot of times, it really does work out really well, and develops this different thing, because maybe the direction that he was going in with his thing, or the way I thought I was going with mine, get switched around as we combine them. It takes a whole different turn and makes it interesting.

AAJ: How about "Something For Rockets, another group composition, with its great drifting space melody playing off that little arpeggiating phrase. How'd the two of you write that one?

MB: Oh, that's a good example. That's a perfect one, because that was pretty much 50/50, half-and-half Joe's thing and my thing. It's really kind of a guessing game. We were in Florida somewhere, and I told Joe, "Here—take these four notes. These notes will work with these chords. Make a melody. So we would just play that chord progression at the beginning of "Something For Rockets over and over, and he said, "I found a melody! So he put that melody that he found on the drum pad. Then that other middle section was the chord progression that I had started playing, and over that tour Joe would suggest certain things to put here or there. A lot of it is just messing with stuff, me saying, "Here, why don't you take that and see if it works? And if it doesn't work, it just doesn't.

Or another way that we go about is that Joe will have a couple of chords that he's been strumming on the guitar for the last couple of months, and he'll bring them over and go, "I've always wanted to do something with this chord progression. And I'll say, "I've always wanted to do something with this chord progression, and then we'll try to modulate one of those progressions so it sounds like it's in the right key and then tape them together and see what it sounds like. And sometimes it works! Most times, it works. But for the most part, Joe does a lot of writing on the guitar, and I do a lot of writing on piano, and then we just get together and try to figure out how to arrange it. And that's the tricky part, because it's easy to come up with a part, or a loop, but then it's hard to arrange it. And that's where the frustration comes in, because you want to make sure you don't take away from the goodness of the part you have. So that's what we were dealing with in January—more arranging than composing. It's the hard part. But it's also the fun part; you're not searching for notes, not searching for a vibe. You've already got that. You're searching for a final how-are-we-doing-to-make-this-work kind of thing.

AAJ: You need enough parts to make something a song, but not so many that it's overly busy.

MB: Exactly. And I think over the years we have definitely learned to keep it simple—to not go crazy with it. We're not really too harmonically complex with anything; I think we do more interesting stuff with rhythm than with harmony. I don't know—we have some interesting harmony, but for the most part, with no vocals and not much improvisation, you really do have to have a little something that makes the listener go, "Oh, whoa—what was that? An extra bar, an extra beat. An extra something. Like "Sunny's Song, which is a classic tune, but it's nine—there's an extra beat. So it's a way to compose, to find the one little thing that changes it around—that flips the dancer around.

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