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

By Published: November 27, 2006
AAJ: That makes it more fun to play, too. You've got to keep it interesting for yourselves—you do so many shows.

MB: Yeah, don't remind me!

AAJ: Joe, your drumming gets less so-called "jazzy from record to record. I think this new one has your best drum work yet, but so much of the action is in the toms, the kick—it can get pretty bludgeoning at times, in the best way. Do you think your playing has changed over the years?

JR: A little bit. Not really. I think I'm just focusing on different things. The other night, we had some technical difficulties with our gear, so our sampler was gone, and so we lost all the loops and all the melody shit on that thing—it was all gone. So we just went and did a free jazz show, and it was awesome, and it felt so good to play that way again. But I think the way we're writing music now says that just like there's a guitar part, or a keyboard part, or a bass line, there's a drum part that has to be there. So I'm doing the drumming to fit the track—when we record, the last thing we throw in is the drum part. We always concentrate on the other things first. Even when I'm writing a tune, the last thing I'm thinking about is the drum part—until the song is done. Then I do something to cater to the piece, to move it musically with some rhythm.

AAJ: Does that ever get hard—coming up with that drum part at the end?

JR: It's actually really fun. I'd rather do it this way. It's more of a challenge than just sitting down and playing a beat to start out. It can go either way, I guess, but for me, it's more fun having a song out there and then trying to find a way for the drums to be as musical as everything else and look at that part as being just another part of the song. As opposed to being the underlying thing that pushes it.

AAJ: Marco, I know that the boundaries between the two of you instrumentally are somewhat blurred by the fact that Joe plays some of your parts in your drum pads and you play bass lines with his feet. How does this work? What sort of parts of yours does he have in his pads?

MB: Well, what he normally has is some Wurlitzer parts or some melodic, distorted organ parts. When we're in the basement at my apartment practicing, I'll kind of say, "I wish I could keep this part going while I go ahead and do this part. So then we just put that first part in the pad, because it just loops the whole way. Then I don't have to do it and it frees my other hand up to do some little melody, or something like that. Joe mainly just has a Wurlitzer idea that I can't play because I don't have enough hands—just Wurlitzer parts that we need to keep going. But we do run into issues with monitors, not being able to hear, that stuff. So the other night in San Diego, when his drum pad broke, we were like, "Uhhhhhh. Oh, shit; what are we going to do? We could do "Play Pause Stop. That's one of the only ones that didn't have any pad on it. But that was actually a cool show, because we just said, "Well, I guess we're just going to have to play, and we just did a lot of improvising. We just changed up the set and did that improvising and we were just kind of back to where we started out. Just the old free-for-all, and that was actually really fun. But for the most part, that pad is like the third member of our band.

AAJ: [Still to MB] Tell me how you play the bass lines.

MB: I just use the organ.

AAJ: Just the standard Hammond pedals?

MB: No, I got them modified, actually. They're from Trek II. Trek II is this company out of New Jersey that makes a bunch of stuff for the Hammond, things you can modify your Hammond with. They have this thing called the String Bass, which consists of two knobs you can add on to your foot pedals. One knob is for sustain and the other is for attack. You can hit the note and go over it with your foot and it keeps ringing---with the foot pedals on a normal Hammond, you hit the note, let go and it's over. So essentially, it's the Hammond pedals, but I have sustain and attack added to them. It's just the two drawbars on the organ, and then I just play left-handed bass lines. But I plug it through two 15 speakers, and a whole other bass rig too. The Leslie is a great speaker cabinet, but it's not very bass-ey—or very loud, for that matter. So I have it split up. Basically, I have three rigs for three different "people in the band—the bassist, the keyboard player and the guitarist—or what you could call the lead keyboard. I needed that. And normally, when we play, we try to crank the bass up, because it really helps to fill out the duo nakedness.

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