Photo Credit Elli Rader
By Rebecca Marx
Ben Cook-Feltz is a big part of the music scene in Minneapolis, a grinning face from the stage, but what do we really know about the oft hat-wearing, Cedar Falls, IA native? On the cusp of the release of Cook-Feltz’s record: She Doesn’t Believe Me, I wanted to learn more about the inner clockwork of the very visible musician. Jillian Rae and Doug Otto & The Getaways will join Ben Cook Feltz for the Record Release show at the 331 Club 10/23.
RIFT: Your upcoming release She Doesn’t Believe Me embraces many styles: from Americana (The Ballad Of Karl Benjamin) to funk/jazz (If You Want Me), how would you characterize your sound?
BCF: Eclectic! That might be a bit of a cop-out, but it’s true. I grew up listening to guys like the Beatles and Neil Young, and most of my favorite artists (Ween, Beck, Super Furry Animals) are all pretty diverse. So that’s what I like to write. My only real criteria is that a song has a good melody, and it’s fun to play. I call my stuff left-handed indie pop, and usually nobody questions it, so that works too!
RIFT: Are you Karl Benjamin (of The Ballad Of Karl Benjamin)? If yes, is the song autobiographical?
BCF: Yeah, Karl and Benjamin are my first and middle names reversed. It’s definitely autobiographical. I grew up along the Cedar River in Iowa. I’m also a childhood cancer survivor, so that’s the part about living through thirty winters but briefly being left with five. But mostly it’s about figuring out your place in the world – I know I spent a lot of time wondering how to balance being a musician with having a “real job,” wondering if it’s worth it, trying for a really long time to “stem the tide.” It’s only dawned on me recently that I have no choice in this – I’m stuck being a musician, I love it way too much, and it’s much better to just let the river guide you along. It might take you places you didn’t expect, but it’s unbelievably rewarding. So really it’s a philosophical song about existential crises, set to some seriously sh*t-kicking bluegrass jams!
RIFT: A lot has been said about your upbeat, lighthearted/tongue in cheek songs, is there a dark side to Ben Cook-Feltz?
BCF: Nope! Absolutely not, no dark sides here!! Honestly, everyone has a dark side to them. . . at least I assume so. We go through things, we have doubts and fears. And I write my fair share of that stuff – I definitely went through an Elliott Smith phase when I was in college. But mainly, I love making music so much, and my band is so much fun to play with, it’s hard not to write lighthearted tongue in cheek stuff! (Now, just be sure to save this article for when I take a drastic downturn 20 years from now.)
RIFT: You seem to have incredible musical stamina, how many acts are you performing with at the moment?
BCF: Officially, I’m in four bands right now, including my own thing. I play keys for Art Vandalay and Mother Banjo Band, and I play drums in Jon Rodine’s band. I also sit in with other folks around town (like for instance, Jaspar Lepak, WHO’S PLAYING A REALLY COOL SHOW AT THE ASTER ON NOVEMBER 18, INSERT OBNOXIOUS WINK HERE), and play piano at a local church. It’s a lot, but I’m always looking for more stuff to do, more awesome people to jam with.
RIFT: Congratulations on the recent celebration of your one year wedding anniversary to fellow musician Ellen Stanley (Mother Banjo), was she your go to for the first listen of She Doesn’t Believe Me?
BCF: Thank you! Of course Ellen was my first go to, throughout the process. Her enthusiasm and support is pretty amazing.
RIFT: Not to go all paparazzi regarding your personal life, but is it music talk all day, and all night at the Stanley/Cook-Feltz household?
BCF: Well that, and Russian czar trivia. That’s basically us in a nutshell – if we’re not arguing the merits of Ryan Adams’ 1989, we’re discussing which Alexander had the greatest long-standing impact. Honestly, music has always taken up, like, 85% of my daily conversation. Only now, I’m married to someone who also loves talking about music, so I seem less like the bald guy from High Fidelity.
RIFT: In a musical marriage, is it difficult to be objective, does creative criticism feel more personal?
BCF: It can, yeah. I mean, I’ve lost friendships to band stuff in the past, it’s a tricky personal business. But most of the time, it’s rewarding – Ellen knows me better than anyone else in the world, and she’s usually able to see through my BS and get to the heart of a song. Like “The Memory Of Your Name,” which I wrote after my best friend died last Summer. I was planning to write this big Defining Statement about death, how truly bizarre and intangible it is, and how I wanted to convey how much my friend meant to me and ensure others knew about it too, all these grand ideas. Ellen’s first reaction was, “Well that’s great. . . but why don’t you just write a song to your friend?” Which made so much more sense. And that’s what I ended up doing.
RIFT: Who are some of your favorite local artists?
BCF: To name a few! Crankshaft, Matt Latterell, Reina Del Cid, The Federales, Doc’s Kids, The Counterfactuals, Lunar Bedrooms. . . and of course, Jillian Rae and Doug Otto & The Getaways, who are both performing at the CD release!! And that’s not including the folks I get to play with on a regular basis. Honestly, there are so many great local acts out there right now, it’s kind of ridiculous.
RIFT: She Doesn’t Believe Me is chock full of local musical talent, was there any one collaboration that stands out as particularly rewarding?
BCF: This is the third album I’ve made with Peter Remiger, and it’s the first time where it truly felt like a producing collaboration. In the past, I felt like it was more Peter figuring out how to realize whatever vision I had, but this time around, he had a much greater creative hand in the proceedings. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to having someone else produce me (I’m stubborn that way). He wrote the string quartet orchestration for “This Will Only Last Two Years,” he added a lot of atmospheric guitar/synth textures throughout the album (I call them “doo dads” in the liner notes), and he wasn’t afraid to suggest I take the songs in different directions than I was thinking. Whether that meant we actually did that, or I held firm to my original ideas, the idea of someone investing so much creative interest in the project, when they really didn’t have to, meant a lot to me. So three albums in, this is the best record we’ve made together, and I find that continued collaboration incredibly rewarding.
RIFT: You seem really happy with She Doesn’t Believe Me, please put the experience of it into three words.
BCF: Wait, only three???