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INTERVIEW WITH BEN KAPLAN

I was travelling the backroads of PA up near Williamsport way when I had my first encouter with Ben Kaplan. At the time we were both scooting around the singer/songwriter circuit promoting our CDs. Ben was also working as a reporter on the side for The Williamsport Sun-Gazette and he graced me with an interview to promote one of my up and coming shows at the time. Over time I became acquainted with Ben Kaplan not only as a Songwriter and Reporter, but also Ben Kaplan, Web Designer, Film Maker and Artist.

As a songwriter, Kaplan's CD, "Deeper Down" is definitely recommended listening. He effectively fuses the alt-country vibe with rock and a Jewish Klezmer feel that will ultimately have your head spinning in an orgy of musical tapestries! If you were to breed the voices of Jacob Dylan and Lucinda Williams you would most likely produce a voice comparable to that of Ben's. His lyrics shine through and paint vivid portraits of his take on the world.

Kaplan graduated from New York University with a degree in Film Production. He worked for five years doing free-lancing as a location recordist for industrial and indie films. He also did some script writing, editing, sound design and post production. Alot of this work was done to feed his "Deeper Down" recording project. After doing the songwriter circuit and reporter buzz for awhile, Ben's restlessness caught up with him and he again shifted gears. This time his focus brought him into the world of web design. He later moved to St. Louis where he continues his web pursuits, in addition to teaching. He is currently doing free-lance work for big advertisement companies, as well as for other artists.

Ben's multi-talented nature has certainly brought him good success. His web piece, Mcnett Country (MCNETTBROTHERS.COM), is an award winning piece that was featured in Communication Arts Interactive Annual (for those who don't know, this is big shit in the Web World!). He was a finalist at The Flash Film Festival and also received an award from the Institute of Graphic Artists. This past year Ben was highly considered for a job at HBO because of his great web creations. In addition to all of these goodies he is currently working on his second CD, doing free-lance web-work, teaching college and just being an all around cool guy.
You can find out more about Ben Kaplan at WWW.BEN-KAPLAN.COM. You can also contact him at his ACT 3 Company (www.act3i.com); email: ben@act3i.com for CD orders, design work and any questions you may have.

Ben graciously took some time and answered some questions for us via email. Here's what he had to say:

1. Your career has been really interesting. You've been a successful filmaker, songwriter/performer, reporter, web-designer, etc. Can you talk to the readers about what has been your motivation to be so eclectic, and successfully pursue such a wide variety of mediums?

Part of it, I must admit, is a combination of getting bored rather easily and enjoying constant challenges. I say that with a semi-serious tone in my voice, but there is more than a grain of truth to it. Some people have wanderlust with regards to seeing the country or traveling the world, I have it in my career. I have much respect for the renaissance men of the 14th -16th centuries. They had this ability to see the connections between and similarities of any given media and the fearlessness (or ego depending on how you read it) to jump in and experiment. They were specialists who generalized. I personally don't believe that any artist is bound by his medium. I think that is a social constraint, a way to label people to gain understanding. Sure, one may be a better writer than they are painter, but I believe that if you have the sensibility, technique is your only obstacle.

Lecture over.

2. I know that you are currently working on some recordings of brand new material. Can you tell us what your plans are after you finish the recording? Do you plan to release this and tour, as you did with "Deeper"?

That's a good question. I am working on what I hope is a rock record, more of a studio album than the first one. With Deeper Down, I was very concerned with creating a document of the "what we could pull off live" variety. This next one will be much more layered and textured. At least that's how it sounds in my head right now. I have also been paying around with the idea of doing a folktronica/hip-hop record as well. Something the youngsters can dance to and you know, get their swerve on (do they still say that?) . . .

I have had a love/hate relationship with my music career over the past five years or so. I have also been struggling with terrible performance anxiety. I have been working with a therapist to get that under control, and it has been very helpful. So, to answer your question, I am not sure what my plans are.

3. When you released "Deeper Down" you toured for awhile, solo, and with your band. After some time you shifted gears and began focusing on other creative avenues. Could you talk to us about your perceptions of the touring and what made you decide to finally take some time off from it?

I was getting tired of the grind. The traveling, the business aspects, the financial issues. What started out as something I loved to do, my outlet and escape from the world became the thing I wanted to escape from. I lost the fun somewhere in the career aspect of music, so I needed to pull back a bit and figure that out.

To be honest, I didn't really have any real need to be a professional musician. Sure, it's a fantasy, but I hadn't really thought it out as a career option. I figured that since I had put such time and effort into creating this recording, not to mention money and the time of the other musicians, that I had to respect it and support it. I loved traveling, but hated the disconnection I felt from the audience, place to place. And, I found it quite lonely to be playing and traveling solo.

4. Let's talk about your creative process (if it's not too revealing). Do you find that the process behind the way you write a song is the same as the way you design a website or make a film? If not could you talk with us about the different processes that do work for you?

It all starts with a story to tell. That is the unifying factor in all three of those activities. The name of my design studio is act3::designing the story. Pretty telling I think.

5. Could you describe for us your perception of the St. Louis music scene?

Since my focus out here has been primarily design oriented, my connection to the music scene here in St. Louis is pretty limited. I play out occasionally and there are some very nice venues and good crowds to be had. It's kind of ground zero for alt.country, given the roots. Its the home of Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, Jay Farrar, so that whole midwest, folk rock thing is in full effect. But, its a very diverse and surprising scene when you look at it. Lots of blues, rap, jazz, punk, folk, pop, klezmer, bluegrass. I must admit though, there isn't one band or act that really gets me particularly excited. Part of that is a function of my tastes changing and part of it is that I don't have a good gauge as to who is doing what.

6. Currently you are designing websites, teaching and working on new music. Where would you like to see things be for you in the next couple of years?

I would like to start integrating those things into a more unified entity. I think that is happening already, but I am trying to embrace this whole interdisciplinary thing and not see these activities as separate but maybe different branches of the same tree.

I would also like to start making movies again and I am eyeing both the steel guitar and the world of editorial illustration as my next conquests.

THE TEN

1. What was your favorite childhood toy?

Depending on what time in childhood. A toy gun and my grandfather's WWII paraphernalia, fisher price action figures and a commodore 64 computer.

2. Who are some of your favorite artists currently out on the scene?

I am crazy about this singer/songwriter/guitar bad-ass out of Nashville named Will Kimbrough. His first solo CD is unbelievable. Great writing, great, memorable melodies and kick ass playing. I am constantly playing the new live CD from former Soul Coughing lead singer Mike Doughty. He is, without question, one of the best urban songwriters of our generation. And the dude can hold an audience. I think the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players are the fucking funniest thing I have heard or seen in a very long time. A husband (keyboards, guitar, vocals), wife (slide projector) and 9-year old daughter (drums and vocals) who buy slides at estate and yard sales and then write these brilliant little pop songs inspired by the carrousels.Totally indie rock but without the pretense. I have been listening to David Dye's World Café lately and have heard two guys I think are happening. Jason Mraz has a great single out called "The Remedy" which actually reminds me a little of you, Damion. And this Irish singer named Damien Rice. He writes these beautiful haunting melodies.

3. Would you ever consider growing a mullet?

Consider? Dude, I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, it was required.

4. What artist/entertainer, dead or alive, would you most like to sit down and have a conversation with?

If you consider Studs Terkel an entertainer, then without question, him. If not, probably Coltrane or Mingus.

5. Would you ever consider dating a "Hooters" girl?

This is easily the most difficult question to answer.

6. What are your top 5 album pics of all time?

1. Kinda Blue - Miles Davis
2. Love Supreme - John Coltrane
3. Life's Rich Pagent - REM
4. Rank - Smiths
5. Car wheels on a gravel road - Lucinda Williams

7. What was the name of the first girl you ever kissed?

Cheryl Sladkin. We were both 12 and at summer camp. She was a dancer. I think she is still dancing for some company on the east coast.

8. What artist would you most like to collaborate with?

Mitchell Froom. I buy the records he produces just to deconstruct them. He gets great sounds and performances.

9. Spelling Question: Spell the word "Assiduous".

assiduous

10. What are your top 5 movie pics of all time?

1. Godfather 1
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Natural
4. Annie Hall
5. High Fidelity