by Julia Cirignano
I recently spoke with Ben Arnold to talk about his new album Lost Keys, his musical evolution, and his thoughts on local shows such at this year’s XPoNential fest. Arnold had very positive things to say about the festival. He feels that it is always presented well by the host WXPN. As a four time performer at XPoNential fest, about to be five, Arnold believes that the show is attended by “hardcore music fans”. He feels that it’s a great way to meet bands, and most importantly, it supports local bands.
“WXPN is one of the most supportive radio stations of local music. They support local music in a way that I think most non-commercial stations never do. The fact that they’re so inclusive of original local music at a festival that is mainly known for its national acts is a testament to their commitment to the local scene.”
Arnold is excited about his newest album Lost Keys, which was released this past February. This project is similar to his other music, but the recording experience was different. As a seasoned musician, he knew what to expect within the process of creating an entire album. He planned ahead by taking a look at what he had done in the past, and then deciding what he wanted to focus on with this album.
“I played in a local band. I’ve written some from a personal perspective. And I wanted to write something that was, had a little bit more of a universal appeal to it. I also wanted to honor some of my influences. This is the music that I kind of grew up on.”
During the recording of Lost Keys, Arnold explains how he concentrated on personal lyrics. “I knew that I wanted to sculpt all the lyrics a lot more. I wanted them to be a lot more detailed than they have been in the past.” He achieved this goal by doing a lot of the songwriting for this album by himself. Arnold explains that he almost had a completely finished song before even taking it to the studio. The process of making Lost Keys was slow, but he wanted it to be this way. He didn’t feel rushed to release music quickly, and gave himself the time needed to complete this project they way he wanted it done. Because of this, his goals were reached, and resulted in some of his best work.
Arnold’s released his first album independently in 1990. Five years later, he made his major label debut with Almost Speechless on Ruffhouse/Columiba (SONY). Throughout his career, Arnold has been compared to some of the greats such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. While he doesn’t think this album sounds like them, he does agree that the album was influenced by both of them.
“I think this album has some of Springsteen’s orchestrations in there. I think there’s elements of certain eras of Dylan’s storytelling in there. But I don’t think it reflects any of their recordings.” Arnold doesn’t copy these legendary musicians, but instead takes inspiration from their work and applies it to his.
While this comparison is a great compliment, he has once again been surprised by what his fans hear in his music. Most people will compare him to Springsteen and Dylan, yet he says that he would have instead expected comparisons to Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Aretha Franklin, or Billy Joel. Even after being in the business for many years, Arnold is still surprised by what people take away from his music. He explains how one sided he sees his records, and explains how it’s, “a very difficult thing to see from the outside perspective. And for me that’s like very interesting. And satisfying in some way. I’m glad to see it goes beyond what I perceived it.” Arnold is glad to see that he fans see complexities and differences in his music that even he doesn’t notice or plan.
Arnold has been part of the music industry for many years now, but he laughs while saying that he is “not part of the music industry.” He says that he has an analysis of the industry. “I tend to shop very locally. And what’s considered the mom and pop stores. I avoid chain stores as much as I possibly can. [….]And I kinda see myself as, in the same sort of framework, the same sort of position as a musician and in the business, I’m a mom and pop store.” Arnold does admit that being a chain restaurant within the music industry wouldn’t be a bad thing; he is happy with his place within the industry.
He also says that he is not interested in politics, yet he writes about them. Arnold explains this by saying that the politics of human relationships is the root of all politics. With this being true, he says, “House to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, country to country, you know, and I have a deep faith that wise minds will prevail.”
He is committed to his personal politics and he is only responsible for the world around himself. He believes by bettering himself, there will a ripple effect of positivity. “I’m hoping the ripple effects of my politics and my actions personally, basically, you know they’re going to have a positive effect on the world. It’s going to be minuscule, but I hope it’s going to be positive.”
Arnold has played many roles as touring artist, songwriter, producer, manager, educator, and band mate. He says that being a touring artist, is his, and most musicians, dream, but he cannot do only that within his immediate reality. He explains that there was are pros and cons to every position within the industry and enjoys all of the positions that he takes on.
“I envision my music career as a big pie. You know, you take a big piece of the pie out, well there’s always something missing.” All of the different positions he has played satisfy and challenge him in different ways. Arnold says that he likes the control aspect of being a manager, and also the thrill of being a touring musician.
Arnold’s goes through many life cycles while taking on different jobs. “I have operating cycles. You know, I’ll go on a writing cycle, and it tends to be very introspective and a more quiet time for me. Versus a performing cycle which is all about promotion, being outward, trying to be as entertaining as possible.” He also said that he loves working with other people and collaborating with other musicians. All of these cycles and different sides of himself are crucial to Arnold as a human being.
By nature, he calls himself a loner, yet he loves the, “community aspect of being in a band.” He enjoys working with other people, yet songwriting is very important to him on a personal level. “There’s nothing as satisfying as writing a good song by yourself. But to me it’s just as satisfying, in some ways, to come off a kick as show with my band mates.” Arnold says that he feels his music comes off flat, to himself, when he is performing a long gig alone. At times he does find performing solo to be refreshing, but he prefers to play with him band.
He also loves collaborating with his community and promoting musicians from Philadelphia. On June 11th, he is hosting an annual festival in his neighborhood. This event will take place at Gorgas Park in Roxborough. “We’ve been playing live original music there for the last 16 years or so. And we’ve been doing an occasional festival there every year for the past five years.” Arnold is passionate about these event, and others like it.
Don’t miss Ben Arnold’s performance this weekend, and if you’re heading to XPoNential fest on July 23rd, check out his set. Arnold has definitely not lost the keys to success. With over nine years of experience, he has learned to perfect his craft, and has proven so with Lost Keys.