Here is an interview I did with Brendan Benson during the summer. It appeared in The Clare People last month. It was conducted ahead of his then-forthcoming Irish tour.

Brendan Benson doesn’t sound like the happiest man in the world.

“For the most part, I have always had good reviews, been critically acclaimed,” he says over the phone from his home in Tennessee. There is a pause of five seconds, interspersed with ‘y’knows’, done almost subconsciously by the man most people will recognise as Jack White’s second-in-command in The Raconteurs.

“But selling records has always proven to be a different story,” he concludes. There is a nervous laugh after he says this, as if it is something he is admitting for the first time.

“Maybe it’s the press. The journalists are the ones who are more fanatical, and the ones in the loop. Whereas…” He does not finish the sentence.

Brendan Benson – ‘What I’m Looking For’

Brendan Benson, of course should not be so disregarding about his success. Having been a moderately successful solo artist for a number of years, with a small but dedicated band of followers, he never broke through into the major league of singer-songwriters; he never reached the next level of success.

Until, that is, he joined forces with guitar-maestro, and one-half of The White Stripes, Jack White. In Brendan’s attic they created what turned out to be The Raconteurs. Joined on live duties by former (and soon to be reunited) Greenhorne men, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, the group toured the world, made a second album, toured the world again, and then Jack went and started another band, The Dead Weather, with Alison Mosshart. Does Brendan feel like The Raconteurs overshadow his career?

“Oh yeah, for sure,” he says, without hesitation. “Without a doubt, it is more popular. But it is understandable, Jack in the band. You are tapping into a huge audience. The only thing I can hope for is that people will get turned onto me, and my solo stuff.”

Does he think that happened? “Not as much as I had hoped. I was hoping people made the connection. I feel weird advertising it, or announcing it. But that is to my detriment,” he says, almost inaudibly as the sentence trails off in a whisper.

So what of the latest album, My Old, Familiar Friend which he is currently touring around every nook and cranny in Ireland? Is Brendan pleased with how his fourth solo album turned out? “For the most part”, he is.

“It was a different experience, a different way of doing things,” he admits. “I worked with Gil Norton on that, and I have never worked with a producer of his calibre before. And yeah, I think it turned out alright.

“He had a way of working that was very methodical, and tedious I thought. And it was very slow. It is hard to explain.”

He goes on to say that Gil Norton was “very much in control, and I don’t think that is always such a great thing”.
Not quite the ringing endorsement one might expect from a musician promoting his latest album, and promoting a forthcoming tour.

Brendan certainly does not sound enamoured with his career to date. The interview featured lengthy pauses, and plenty of curt answers. But maybe we should applaud Brendan Benson for his frank assertions, and for bowing to that old musical cliché of letting the music do the talking.