Great Dane 2006 Interview

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Spotlight Interview, originally published in
March, 2006 by Ocean View Press
Ben from Great Dane
by Rob Watts

From Hartford Connecticut, it’s Great Dane. We discovered the band a few months ago and after hearing their debut CD, I knew I had to share them with you. Ben from Great Dane was kind enough to talk with us about his band so give it a read, and check out their CD “One Leaf Tree”.

Rob- First off, how are you today?

Ben- Real well, thanks for asking. I had a great weekend~ got together on Saturday with some of the band and a bunch of friends over at my house and had an awesome time before all the snow showed up.

Rob- Can you introduce yourself to the reader and tell us what role you play in Great Dane?

Ben- My name is Ben, and I play guitar.

Rob- When did you form Great Dane?

Ben- Great Dane was started in 2002.

Rob- How did you and Dre meet?

Ben- Dre and I had some mutual acquaintances, and would occasionally bump into each other at parties. Each of us didn’t even really know the other one was a musician. Then, a few years later, we ended up playing in bands that had adjoining rehearsal spaces. I’d slip in and listen to his band practice, and he’d do the same with mine. At some point in 2002, a light came on in both of our heads and we started writing our own music. I had put together a very modest recording studio in the basement of my house around that time and that’s where we did all of our recording.

Rob- What led to the two of you forming a band?

Ben- What’s funny is we’ve only recently considered what we have going on a “band”. I always referred to Great Dane as a project. What’s the difference? I don’t know (laughs), but I think there’s less of an opportunity for drama when you’re calling something a project vs. a band. I’m not going to speak for Dre on this one, but I had dealt with some “drama” in a prior band experience and definitely wanted to avoid (or at least minimize) any in the future. For me, calling Great Dane initially a project allowed the two of us to only focus on the music. I think it worked. Once Dre made the move to vocals and we started to really finalize the songs late last year, we realized there may be an audience for them and we really wanted to start playing live. We started auditioning musicians, found some amazing ones, and here we are.

Rob- At what age did you first pick up an instrument and which instrument was it?

Ben- I took piano lessons back when I was in the single digits, but I had absolutely no attention span back then for the piano. I didn’t get serious about music until I was 12 or 13. My mom had always had this little student Spanish guitar (with nylon strings instead of steel) that she had picked up as a kid when she backpacked around Europe. I thought it sounded cool with me just hitting the open strings, but it really just hung around the house collecting dust. Then I saw the video for “One” by Metallica, which changed everything for me. I started guitar lessons and used that old Spanish guitar to learn on. By the way, I still have that guitar. It’s in the spare bedroom in my house!

Rob- On the CD, you played, Bass, Banjo and Guitars. Was this a difficult task or did it come easy for you?

Ben- Man, none of this stuff comes easy to me! Technically though, it’s all pretty simple stuff. I had the most fun with the bass. I think I really did some interesting, pretty non-standard things there. I’ve played bass in a couple of different bands in the past, including fretless bass. Now that was a difficult instrument to play! Guitar-wise, it was all about experimenting with different layers and sounds. Using the banjo was just an extension of that; hearing a particular sound in my head and trying to get it down on tape.

Rob- How long did it take to record One-Leaf Tree?

Ben- Oh boy. We started writing music in 2002, originally thinking it would be an instrumental project. We worked at material very slowly and very intentionally. At one point in 2003/2004 we thought we had actually finished the CD. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that everything was lacking without some good vocals. We drew straws, and Dre’s was the shortest. He’s got a great voice.

Rob- The sound of the album is very post-Grunge. Was this a conscious effort, or did the sound of the album take on a sound of it’s own during the recording?

Ben- Nothing was pre-determined. Dre and I come from different places musically, but there is a healthy amount of overlap. Probably most of that overlap is in bands that could be branded post-Grunge.

Rob- When I first heard the CD, I heard traces of bands such as very early Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins and The Foo Fighters first album. Who are some of your musical influences?

Ben- I grew up listening to a bunch of different things, but really enjoyed anything heavy, or with some sort of edge. Totally still do. That said, probably my all-time favorite song is “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King. That string section is just haunting. I also really dig bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. It’s funny you mention Lemonheads; I was listening to them again after a long break shortly after Dre started doing vocals. Of course, I’m a big fan of the Pumpkins. “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” are total icon records. I’m also a big fan of the Afghan Whigs and their sound. Dre draws a lot of inspiration drum-wise from Jimmy Chamberlain (drummer from Smashing Pumpkins), and vocally from Bob Mould, as well as Greg Dulli from the Afghan Whigs.

Rob- So you have recently added 3 new members to the band. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Ben- We did some pretty intense auditioning, and ended up with three great musicians. Dave is playing the drums, Jim is on bass and Ben H. is playing second guitar. They’re all very cool folks and can play their asses off. Dave picked up all the drumming off the CD so quickly, it was almost scary. He even was doing Dre’s drum fills and stuff on probably the first practice. It was pretty wild. Jim also picks up things really quickly and really works well locking in with Dave. Some of the bass lines that are on the CD are a little non-traditional, but Jim was able to wrap his brain around them and make them his own. Ben H. is a really solid player; not concerned about anything except playing good songs in a good band. He compliments the rest of the band perfectly and has done a mighty fine job picking up the key parts of the songs and twisting them to fit a live band format. He’s also a good songwriter, which makes things easier for me and Dre! We’re already working on some new material and it’s sounding pretty sweet, indeed. Still sounds like Great Dane, but maybe even a little more intense. It’ll be very cool.

Rob- Will you be out playing live anytime soon with the new members?

Ben- We’re getting to the point now where we’re just working out “kinks” in our live sound, so you can expect us to be playing out very soon. Things will be pretty different from night to night, and you can even expect to hear a few songs that aren’t on the CD.

Rob- What’s going on these days musically in Hartford? Is Hartford a good place for a band to play life and capture a decent fan base?

Ben- The Connecticut scene is overall pretty good, I think. It’s like anywhere else; it is what you make it. There’s definitely some amazing talent around here. You just have to go out and look for it. Hartford specifically is pretty heavily into cover bands. I actually played in a cover band around here for a few years (I’m not afraid to admit), and the clubs would just pay and pay. I made more money playing out three nights a week then I did at my day job at the time! If you want to be a cover band, then come to Hartford. If you’re like us and want to do your own thing, you may find it a little constrained.

Rob- So when I’m in Hartford again, where is the best club to see a good live show?

Ben- First off; when you’re in Hartford again, you better be calling us up so we can get together and have a few beers! There’s some good live local talent at Sully’s in Hartford. The Webster Theater and Webster Underground are pretty popular stops for national acts, as well as a staple pair of venues for local area bands. There’s this very cool Irish pub on Sisson Ave. in Hartford called The Half Door, and they frequently have local and national live music, mostly with an Irish feel.

Rob- Are you currently working on new material with Dave, Jim and Ben H.?

Ben- We’re currently actively working on four new songs. We’ve also got a ton of material that is floating out on the back burner somewhere, but will likely make its way onto the next CD. At this rate, we could probably do a double album (but we won’t)!

Rob- Have you or Dre played in other bands prior to Great Dane?

Ben- Yes, Dre and I have played in quite a few bands over the years. I’ve heard some of the stuff Dre’s done in the past and it’s very cool. Totally ahead of it’s time. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve played in lots of different types of bands, was able to experience some very cool things and met some extremely interesting and cool people.

Rob- Did you enjoy our interview?

Ben- Totally.

Rob- Any final words to the reader before we wrap up?

Ben- I’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Rob and Tabitha at Ocean View Press for showing us some love and attention, and allowing me to ramble on. It’s greatly appreciated. I’d also like to say ‘thanks’ to all the people who have listened to our music and got back in touch to let us know you dug it (or didn’t dig it, because that’s cool too). Hopefully you and your readers will check us out when we play in your area. Until then, please check us and our music out at our own website, http://www.greatdaneband.com/, or at our MySpace profile at http://www.myspace.com/greatdanemusic. If you like what you hear and want to scoop up a CD, we have them available directly or via CDBaby.com (www.cdbaby.com/cd/greatdaneband).

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