I can't think of a better way to follow the 2020 U.S. Election news than with a blog post about "American," the optimistically upbeat new single from Brooklyn-based indie singer-songwriter and producer Ben Rice. The last we'd heard from Ben was his easygoing 2019 summer anthem, "I Think We Got It Right," the last in a series of three impressive single releases that kicked off with his 2018 solo debut, "The Getaway."
"American," the first single from his forthcoming debut album, Future Pretend, was written, produced, engineered and mixed by Ben himself at Degraw Sound, his Brooklyn recording studio where he has produced music for a variety of musical artists since 2012. Musically, "American" is crisp, vibrant and warm Americana with a poignant message of hope and promise that resonates with so many of us during these days of struggle and uncertainty. In the lyrics of "American," Ben instinctively and sensitively writes about feminism, mental health, and yearning for the American dream.
She says, "These days I’m ashamed to be American
Hope someday we get the good old days back again
I was raised on those promises
That we’d be alright
That we’d have a chance"
Prior to and outside his solo career, Ben has been anything but idle - constantly working to channel his creative outlet in a variety of directions. In recent years, Ben has produced for Norah Jones and Valerie June, laid down studio guitar work for Fletcher and the Jonas Brothers, played in indie rock bands signed to Warner Music Group, and shared the stage with artists like Arctic Monkeys and Brendan Benson.
Ben went into 2020 riding high, playing guitar on a Jonas Brothers chart-topping track, co-writing in LA with powerhouse songwriters, and delving into production on a number of exciting projects. But by the spring of 2020, when New York shut down for the pandemic, Ben was on the brink of a shutdown himself. "After grinding non-stop for as long as I could remember, I was forced to take a few weeks off, like an extended snow day. Having that time made me realize how burned out I really was and gave me a moment to reset," Ben recalls. "I had spent the past decade immersed in other people's music and had shut off a certain creative lobe in my brain, but with this pause, lyrics and melodies for my own songs started coming to me again. Then I realized, 'I have this studio that is sitting there vacant…'."
Within the unsettling, pandemic-induced backdrop of NYC, Ben resolved to start making the brave trek to his studio every day on foot, walking eight miles armed with a mask, hand sanitizer, and tissues. There, he allowed himself to create what came naturally, at his own pace, without any artistic limits or imposed boundaries. "I devised games to separate my artist brain from my producer brain, and I relied on other senses to guide me. I knew I was getting somewhere when a track conjured up smells, like rain on concrete or the damp wood in my childhood attic. I wanted the songs to be transporting," Ben reveals.
Outside of additional production by Gian Stone, and Charlie Culbert on drums, the bulk of "American" is all Ben in the truest definition of a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to his genuine, emotive vocals that serenade the listener, Ben was responsible for the remainder of track's musical elements, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, DX7, Juno, drum programming, and percussion.
I've always believed that some of the best and most genuine songwriting comes to life when it's not rushed and comes together organically. Perhaps one of the few silver linings of Ben's forced life pause in the midst of a pandemic is the surprise gift of his forthcoming solo album. Ben comments, "It had been eight years since I put out a full-length album, and this record woke something up in me. It made me present, and it taught me if you want to do something, you have to be all in."
Ben comments on the timeliness and inspiration behind "American" in light of the 2020 election results this weekend. "As a songwriter, you’re a storyteller. With 'American,' I wanted to tell a story about what some of my friends are experiencing in modern day America. We’re at a pivotal moment in our nation's history and seeing Biden and Harris win the election fills me with hope and optimism - it affirms that collectively as a nation we’re looking for the kinds of changes that are also important to me."
As many are still riding high on the renewed possibilities for hope and positive change, there's a tremendous amount of work and repair to be done. Ben remarks, "I feel like the message of this weekend has been essentially 'enjoy the celebration, but Monday we get back to work.' That's pretty much how I feel. The outcome of this election feels like a step in the right direction, but it doesn't instantly correct all our country's past and current problems. We still have a lot of work to do." Perhaps "American" can be that musical beacon of hope for the future, with its underlying message that encourages us all to push forward and reassure ourselves that we have a chance and to be optimistic that we'll be alright.
Finally, for a bit of visual accompaniment, we leave you with the official music video for "American", filmed and directed by Abner James.