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07 Apr 2015

Honest Music: Benjamin Booker's Combination of Blues and Punk Leads Him to the Coachella Stage

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Benjamin Booker has had a busy couple of years: His blues-meets-punk style has gained him a growing audience, as well as the attention of Jack White and major music publications. He’s made appearances at Lollapalooza and other big-name festivals—and he’ll be at Coachella on Saturday, April 11 and 18.

Booker was born in Virginia Beach, Va., into a military family—his father served in the Navy—and eventually settled in Tampa, Fla. Booker wasn’t available for a phone interview due to the fact he was touring in Europe, but he did answer questions via e-mail.

“We lived in Virginia Beach, which I believe holds the entire Atlantic fleet. It was better than it was for most,” Booker said. “We never moved until after my dad retired. My only memory is passing by huge ships every day in the car, and some (people) walking across a terrifyingly thin metal walkway to get on them.”

Booker said he discovered punk rock through a friend.

“When I was 14, my friend who I used to skateboard with handed me a burned copy of Minor Threat’s Complete Discography, which I listened to constantly in high school,” he said. “‘Seeing Red’ and ‘Filler’ were a couple favorites. I just liked the energy, I guess. I’ve always liked all things noisy and fast.”

He later discovered that punk and blues could co-exist. He also said gospel music was helpful in finding inspiration.

“I guess I realized you could combine blues and soul with punk from listening to bands like T. Rex, the Gun Club, the White Stripes, TVOTR and the Gories,” he said. “There have been several bands who have done it, but I wanted to do something a little different. I was listening to a lot of gospel singers at the time, and I wanted to add some of that, too—people like Viola James and Mahalia Jackson. I think the two genres are both very honest, because you have to mean it when you’re doing either.”

NPR reported that Booker once applied for an internship there; he was rejected and told to focus on his music. I asked him where he thinks he would have ended up had NPR accepted him.

“Maybe I would be doing the same thing. Alex Spoto, who plays bass for me, actually got that same internship the year I applied for it,” he said.

When Booker began to make a name for himself, Jack White came calling—and offered him an opening slot on tour.

“I was surprisingly not nervous,” Booker said. “It turns out that it’s easier to play for bigger crowds than smaller ones. I didn’t get nervous again until our small-club shows afterward.

“I had a good time on that tour. Everyone was very kind, and it was incredible touring with people who have perfected the living experience. Getting to see it every night was like going to the best class ever. We all took notes.”

As of now, Booker said he is focusing on live shows, and he added that he’s excited about coming to the desert—especially to see some of the other Coachella performers.

“I love California, so I’m always excited for a trip there,” he said, “As for Coachella, I’m excited to see Perfume Genius and a bunch of other people playing.”

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