Some albums appropriately match a mood, or a time and place. Ben Kunder’s Better Human is one of those records.
The album conjures up a warm, clear afternoon, just before sunset. Songs float like feathery clouds across an effervescent blue sky. The album is being released Thursday, June 28 at the London Music Club. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. Show at 8.
Backed by some top-notch musicians, Kunder has released a wonderful collection of easy-going folk-rock, with radiant, soulful tunes that wouldn’t sound out of place as a Cameron Crowe movie soundtrack.
Kunder’s relatable, everyman lyrical style is pleasant throughout these songs. He’s often looking for answers, rarely finding them, yet hopeful for an amicable resolution. This approach works very well for appealing to a wide audience, which these well-crafted and immaculately-produced songs should attract.
Worthy of recognition
While Better Human is packed from start to finish with stellar songs, the perfection he’s striven for can be a difficult shield to penetrate. A little more personal specificity in his lyrics would be a welcome addition and let listeners perceive a more intimate connection with the artist.
That being said Jessi, propelled by its drum beat and wiry synth is a standout track. Be certain to add this tune to your summer party playlist ASAP.
If there’s any justice for artists in this world (which unfortunately, I don’t think there is), this album will receive nationwide recognition, radio plays and find its way on many Top Canadian Albums of 2018 lists.
QnA with Ben Kunder
The production reminds me of the last few Ryan Adams or Joel Plaskett records; its clean and soft. Was that the intentional direction you had going into the studio or, did that sound just happen naturally?
We didn’t really go into the studio with a set intention or direction in mind. We had the songs and they were pretty bare bones. We went one song at a time, me playing it for the band on my acoustic guitar in the control room and then bringing it into the live room and letting the song speak for itself with Aaron Goldstein, my producer, adjusting and adding dynamics as we went.
I think the songs lent themselves to the kind of sound you’re talking about though, the main focus is on the lyrics and melody and everything else should be enhancing and supporting that. And I’m happy if it reminded you of Ryan Adams and Joel Plaskett records, I love how all of their records sound!
Was Aaron a “hands on” producer with artistic input or did he sit back and let you dictate the sessions for the most part?
Aaron was a very involved producer. He guided the sessions and music directed the band as well.
I trust Aaron’s musical taste and knew my songs would be in good hands. That being said, I also knew that my opinions would be heard and that in the end I had the final say. It was a real collaboration though and worked out beautifully I think.
You assembled a great team of musicians for this record, what are some of your favourite moments of theirs on the record?
I always feel so lucky to have the opportunity to play and share space with such great musicians and friends.
The studio is my favourite place to be in the world so it’s hard to pick just one moment as a favourite. Loel Campbell is an incredible drummer and watching him play is like watching a masterclass. Having my friend Anthony Carone add synth parts to Better Human and Jessi, I never thought I’d be putting synth on any of my songs.
Really every day was amazing, watching my friends, new and old, bring life and spirit to my songs and work tirelessly to get the ‘right take’ is something I’ll never forget.
Fight For Time, possibly my favorite tune, was co-written with Maia Davies. The song reminds me of later Jackson Browne with the smooth harmonies and organ flooding the tune. How did Maia Davies enter into the equation? Were you having trouble finishing words or music and she helped wrap it up or, was she assisting this song from the outset?
Thank you, I love that it makes you feel the Jackson Browne vibes, he’s one of my all time inspirations.
This song was a true collaboration. I’ve known Maia for a long time, we used to open for each other when she lived in Toronto years ago. Aaron knew she’d been writing and producing a lot with Gavin Brown and asked if I thought it would be a good idea to connect and try to write a song together.
We ended up meeting a few weeks before heading in to the studio and wrote Fight For Time from scratch. We sat and just talked, Maia asking me questions about my day to day and we ended up writing down verbatim what was coming out of my mouth. I had a melody in mind and a guitar part I was playing around with that morning and we pieced it together in a couple of hours.
Was the process for Better Days with Sarah McDougall similar?
Completely different actually.
I had already written most of Better Days and created the structure and Sarah and I were just starting to tour and collaborate together. We actually wrote this song over email. I sent her lyrics in word documents and audio clips and she sent me back verses in a reply. We then figured out harmonies and finalized the structure of the song when we were on tour together.
Records can be great soundtracks for life. Some go great with coffees or hangovers and Sunday mornings, others for wine and romantic Saturday nights, some are Friday night binge drinks and parties… How would you describe the ideal time and/or beverage pair with Better Human?
This is a great question. I’d say you have a few options here. First, I’d say it’s a great record for a long drive leaving the city. Maybe you’re heading up north or out of town or you’re commuting home from work, it’s a good long drive getaway record.
Or you could listen at home with no one around and the lights low with a glass of bourbon. That sounds good to me.
There’s really not a bad way to listen to music though, in a huge group with the record quietly in the background or blasting in your headphones on a long walk down a city street or in the woods. Take the music with you everywhere.
The record ends with (what I assume) your baby reciting lyrics from your song Better Human. I’m a big fan of extras and surprises like that on albums. Are there any secret tracks or bonuses that you’ve loved that influenced including that?
That’s right. My 3-year old is my biggest fan and knows all the words to my songs already.
We play together and he’s already writing his own songs. I felt like I had no choice but to put him on the album and capture this time and memory. It was also really fun to think of having a secret track on the album, never something I thought of having before.
I can’t really think of any specific moment or album that influenced my decision but I love surprises.
Should people coming to see you in London expect a more intimate/solo show or will the band be accompanying you?
The London show will be a more intimate show than my full band experience. I’ll be accompanied by another singer who will be supporting me on stage. Carleigh Aikins who’s all over the album and is an incredible artist will be with me. I hope to see you all there!
Check it out:
Artist :Ben Kunder
Release: Better Human
Release Date: June 29, 2018
For Fans of: Kathleen Edwards, Ryan Adams, Jackson Browne
Check out: Better Human, Jessi, Fight For Time