Rock On is so lucky to have a great variety of talented performing artists as mentors for our students. Ben Kohn is one such artist. You can catch him playing often throughout the Berkshires in jazz trios, duets, and as an individual artist. He is also a member of the Rev Tor Band and Chris Merenda and the Wheel.
‘Benny Fingers’ is a scorching keyboard player who started playing back in 1998. Per his Facebook, his genres are Jazz, Blues, Folk, Rock, and ‘Outer Space’, covering just about everything. A Berkshire native, Benny first started playing piano at age 6. As 2015 comes to a close, we are looking forward to Ben Kohn’s first CD which he funded as a Kickstarter project.
Ben took some time out of his busy schedule about a month ago for a chat and we talked about his songwriting and the recording process.
You have been playing for a while, what was it that inspired you to make a cd now?
It was a long time goal. I was also inspired by my Dad who was a successful songwriter, and alot of people have been asking me.
Did you have a set of songs ready to go or did you write new material just for this?
I have always written fragments, hundreds of parts of tunes and ideas, completing some pieces. For this project, we had two studio sessions. The first was with Bill Chapman and Andy Wrba (bass). It was challenging. We worked together on ideas and I had provided some recordings to them in advance so they had heard them before coming in.
The second session was with Dan Broad on bass and Andy Crawford on drums. I have played with both of them in the Rev Tor Band. For that, we had Darren O’Brien come with his mobile recording studio. These were some simpler tunes. They had a whole different sound and it gives the CD variety.
So are they instrumental or are there also lyrics?
There are lyrics and they come about in different ways, usually after the music. There was one song ‘I Just Want’ where the lyrics came first. They just came all in one sitting. It was alot of what I was dealing with and thinking at the time. The process of writing it actually allowed me to explore what was feeling as I was writing.
How do you record your ideas?
Usually recorded on Garage Band and more recently another program called Reaper.
What was your writing process? Did you work primarily on piano?
Some were started on guitar and we recorded some guitar but piano is my main instrument. My father, Ed Kohn wrote in a folk style and was a lyricist and guitarist. It is hard for me to compare myself to him. I have always looked up to him.
How has playing in bands affected your songwriting?
It has helped me to come up with cool riffs and rhythms. I have been playing a lot of different styles in many bands. I studied jazz since college and that opened up other styles, blues of course. I think musically it has helped to make it easy for me to play with many jazz groups, where it’s more musical than an actual message – progressions etc. But lyrics do draw in certain listeners. In the process of doing the CD I got into Bob Dylan and others where lyrics matter more. I started listening to more of the balance between the lyrics vs. the music.
Are there any songs on the CD that are just instrumental.
I have one instrumental so far and at this point still debating whether to add lyrics.
How has creating your first CD been a learning process for you?
I realized when trying to complete songs with lyrics how personal and real it is. you have to confront yourself. Also, my perfectionism makes it hard to finish a song, how do you know when it’s done? I have had to learn to allow a song to be done and get over the imperfections. They may not be perfect. It’s hard thinking that the you will be judged on your stuff, your personality and intelligence. I am just letting that go. I have been reading books by or about about songwriters. It will be good to fininsh and to clear and get started on the next one. As the process of making this CD has gone a year and 1/2, many of the songs don’t represent where I am now. I am already feeling that I am in a new place. Maybe the next one will be a faster process.
How was your experience with Kickstarter?
Using a funding site raised $3k. That goes pretty quickly with studio costs. I am looking forward to finishing the project and getting copies of the CD out to all the supporters. We are working on the final mixes and mastering and tweaking some parts. I don’t want to over master it though, just keep it clean and clear. I worked with Charlie Tokarz on several tracks. I am fortunate to have great players to work with, it feels really good hearing them do the stuff.
What are the next steps?
I will be going to Jack Waldheim’s studio to finish the project. He added some parts on guitar and I will add some guitar. Jack has a lot of experience in recording and mastering his own projects. He is fluent in the programs.
Is it all digital?
Yes, all digital recording. The programs are simulators of consoles. Everything is available to you, like for example, a 60’s Beatles sound if you wanted.
We are looking forward to the release of Ben’s innaugural CD. As of our conversation he had not decided on a title yet, but we will report back with the details in the coming weeks. When released, the CD will be available for sale online and at gigs, as well as in download form from iTunes.
Here is a sample of one of the songs featured on the CD, ‘It Ain’t Over’.
Besides his father, Ben Kohn gained inspiration from listening to Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Buddy Guy, Loudon Wainwright, Bob Dylan and The Band. For more information, you can visit his website : bennyfingers.com