Ben Rogers - getting the story across
Ben Rogers has always been a storyteller. It’s something that runs in the family. As a child, the singer, songwriter and actor from North Vancouver used to delight in hearing his paternal grandfather tell of his exploits, including the time, as a young baseball player in small town Pennsylvania, he claimed to have hit the longest home run in history at the time.
“It’s still never been equalled,” says Rogers with the mischievous tone that creeps into his singing sometimes when he’s particularly enjoying a lyric. “He took a perfect pitch, hit the ball right in the middle of the bat and it sailed away over the infield, over the outfield, over the perimeter fence, right over the clump of poplar trees outside the baseball ground and into a coal car that was heading all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s probably still travelling.”
Around the same time his grandparents were filling his head with their stories, Rogers first heard the music that would become his trustiest companion – country music – and he marvelled at the storylines in the songs that singers, including an early favourite, Gene Autry, aka the Singing Cowboy, sang on the radio.
Rogers’ older brother, Matt, was already showing signs of being a virtuoso musician and when Ben took up the guitar at school, Matt, who is now known across North America and beyond as one half of blues and roots duo The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, encouraged him.
“Matt could always pick up anything and play it,” says Rogers. “I’m not built that way but I looked up to him and he nurtured me in my musical development. He still does. We work together and we play in each other’s bands. It’s a beautiful thing, family.”
The brothers both have parallel careers in film and television – Matt working as a composer and Ben as an actor – and this might be seen as an extension of the family trait of storytelling.
“Acting and singing have always really gone hand in hand for me,” says Ben, whose recent acting credits include Canadian crime series Motive and a supporting role in dark comedy The Driftless Area, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York. “I just always enjoyed performing and although acting onscreen and singing onstage are two entirely different entities the goal in both of them is to entertain.”
The songs on his about-to-be-released album, The Bloodred Yonder, which brother Matt produced, are typical of Rogers’ style. He likes to write about characters – sitting down to write a confessional song about something that’s happened to him would be foreign territory to him – and the more colourful they are, the better.
“Drug dealers, saints, politicians – they’ve all got stories to be told and I feel I’m the one to do it,” he says, adding that although the scenario in opening track, Wild Roses, where the narrator accuses his brother of running off with his wife didn’t come from personal experience, it’s bound to be true somewhere.
“I spend a lot of time on my songs,” he says. “They don’t tend to just pop out. I wish they did. I suppose they are quite tightly scripted because I like to get to get the characters right. It’s important that the songs and the people in them are believable. That’s something that acting and singing have in common. There are probably other things that I take from acting and put into a musical performance but certainly if you’re going to make a song ring true, you have to sing it in the spirit it requires.”
When he tours in Canada Rogers works with a band that includes musicians who have played with Canadian blues-rocker Rich Hope and former Be-Good Tanya Frazey Ford and who enhance the “dark charisma” that Canadian news and entertainment weekly The Georgia Straight recognised in Rogers’ live performances. For the trip that brings him to Scotland this weekend, however, he’ll be travelling solo.
“The two musical situations are probably as different as the acting onscreen-singing onstage comparison,” he says. “Playing solo, it’s obviously impossible to work up the same power and energy as you can with a band but you can play with a high level of intensity. I actually really enjoy playing solo because there’s more interaction with the audience. It’s more intimate. I talk to the audience when I’m with the band, too, but when I’m on my own the relationship with the audience becomes part of the performance. You’re only together for an hour or two but you create a rapport that’s like a conversation.”
From The Herald, October 14, 2015.