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Raconteurs' Brendan Benson Mans Vintage Gear For "My Old, Familiar Friend"

July 23, 2009 11:50 AM ET

For his first solo album since 2005, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Brendan Benson unwittingly reached back to something decidedly more anglophilic than the Southern-fried rock he makes with the Raconteurs: Elvis Costello. "It's that Farfisa!" says Benson, who used the organ on the bouncy "A Whole Lot Better," a track off the upcoming My Old Familiar Friend. "It's a tough instrument to use — people instantly say, 'That sounds like Elvis Costello!' But I love the Attractions, so it's cool with me."

Benson was aiming for a retro sound on the album — he used all vintage instruments — which he recorded in Nashville, London and Los Angeles with producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters). "I'm not saying 'vintage' in a snobby way," he says. "I've been collecting 1960s guitars forever. I just love the way they sound." The throwback vibe is apparent on tunes like "Eyes on the Horizon," which borrows from the Zombies and the Beatles, and the string-laced, disco-fied "Garbage Day."

Benson started writing songs for the album during his 2005 solo tour, when he'd sing into a handheld recorder backstage after shows, or in his van commuting between venues. ("There's all this van noise in the background," he says.) Once back in Nashville, he cut demos and posted them on his MySpace page, where fans offered criticism. "At that point, I didn't have a label," says Benson, who parted with V2 after his last solo LP and has since been picked up by. ATO Records. "So I said, 'Fuck it, I'll put the songs up so people can check them out.'"

The harshest feedback came from Norton: "He's very strict — he dictates everything, down to how the kick-drum pattern should go," says Benson, who wasn't used to working with such a heavy-handed producer. "But I was glad. After making records by myself for so long, I wanted somebody to fucking take control."

As for the Raconteurs, he says the band is on hiatus. "Doing two back-to-back records wasn't our plan," he adds. "When we made Consolers of the Lonely [released in 2008, two years after the band's debut], we thought, 'We'll do this record, do our respective things, and maybe come back together at some point."

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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