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

By Published: November 27, 2006
AAJ: You two aren't exactly an overnight sensation, and I don't know if anyone should even want to, but you have come a long way from the Knitting Factory, with gigs like Lollapalooza.

AAJ: Yeah! We just played the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and the people out there knew our music better than they know it here.

AAJ: What is it about Japan and music? They seem to appreciate everyone's music there more than anywhere.

MB: I don't know, but they were so pumped on our music that I couldn't actually believe it. Joe actually smiled onstage.

AAJ: Are you surprised by the success you've had, or have you even had time to think about it?

MB: I'm surprised. I'm totally surprised. But at the same time, we worked at it. We hit the road hard and we've gone through our fair share of gigs where we weren't a sensation or anything like that. And we still are—we just played San Diego on a Monday night, and there weren't many people there. We didn't get treated very, very nicely. So we still get those gigs on the weekend somewhere in America where people are like, "Huh? Duo? Ben Veneeto? But it seems like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. And I would like things to be rolling even further—we haven't played [New York's] Irving Plaza yet as the Duo. We're still in the five- to six-hundred capacity range on our own. But it's still pretty awesome.

This summer, playing with Trey and Mike—that was huge. I got hit by that every day; I would think, "Oh my god, this is amazing. I'm playing with these guys. You know, I saw Phish at the PNC Bank Arts Center eleven years ago, and there I was playing the same place with half of that band. So that whole tour was cool. But the music that I'm doing right now, which is improvisational, instrumental, kind of indie rock music—that's not really the sort of thing where you get really big overnight, and you're like, "Wow, man, holy shit—I have an apartment in L.A. and another place in New York and I'm getting a log cabin in Maine.

But I love it. Joe and I are lucky. Every night we have a great time. We're constantly writing new music, and as far as music goes, I don't think I'll be, say, 68 and suddenly turn around and say, "Oh, I suddenly understand it all. But I'm still satisfied. To me, music is just naturally, by default, as an art, a thing that I'll always be searching for. I'll always be looking for the next musical thing to do. We did that big tour with the guys from Phish, and the album's selling well, and I just feel like, "Fine. I still want to go home and practice piano. There will always be something to do, and I'm going to always be happy and unsatisfied.

JR: We are grateful—especially since we never planned on any of this happening. We just take it, and never put any pressure on the future. Success is really a non-issue in terms of stressing on any future goals. We've just been playing music we like to play. And going in four years from playing in a tap bar for free to doing all the things we're doing is pretty amazing. But we're just grateful, happy and proud of what we've done. We hope it keeps going.

Benevento/Russo Duo

AAJ: Joe, what's the hardest part of drumming in this band?

JR: Oh, god, nothing. It's awesome. Seriously. It's so fun! Just having a place to do as much as I get to do in this band—playing melodic instruments while drumming is such a treat, and something I never had a chance to ever do. I've always been envious of people playing guitars or keyboards—just being able to give that voice to music. I always wanted to do that. Drums can be musical, you know, but actually playing a melody is so fun to do. It's a gig like I've never had. It's really gratifying to get to serve on a lot of levels. I guess that's not exactly just being a drummer—but I'll say that I love my role.

AAJ: What do you like about playing with Marco? What's his greatest strength?

JR: He's got a lot of strengths. First off, there's his sheer excitement. His excitement is the basis of him as a person and as a musician. That really comes through. He's very positive. He's got an almost child-like happiness; he's just so happy just to be playing music and a lot of times I forget that part. And then he's just an incredible musician and the way he can spread himself out over so many things is great—his independent thought, or non-thought, is pretty amazing. You don't get to see a lot of people play like he plays, and it's pretty extraordinary. He's covering the bass, and comping, and soloing, and all that shit. A really huge part of his playing is how he can just cover so much ground.

AAJ: Marco, what's Joe's greatest strength?

MB: His greatest strength is that he's just a natural. He's a natural drummer. I don't think he's taken more than a handful of lessons. He's a natural, amazing drummer. He's someone who doesn't look back; he keeps things going and he keeps things fresh. He surprises me every night. And he's got a great pop sensibility—he writes great chord progressions. He's like a frustrated guitarist. He's also a great arranger. He's definitely done a lot in terms of arranging these new songs. We're pretty perfect for each other, I would say—a good balance of bad and good.

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