34 Satellite – Hideaway and seek
It snowed last night, and the trees are heavy clumped with white. Marc Benning is describing the view from the telephone in his recording studio, home of his record company, Hideaway. Out his window he can see Pike’s Peak, and it’s a quarter-mile to his nearest neighbor in West Creek, Colorado, population 50.
Benning moved there six years ago, having had his fill of city life in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He treasures the solitude, but has a lot less of it these days. Since he ventured out a year or so ago to open a show for Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, he’s acquired a band, a booking agent, a publicist and a bride (Hazeldine’s Shawn Barton). He’s also put out a very fine indie rock record — 34 Satellite’s debut, Radar — and acquired a sizable following in New York City, Kansas City, and Athens, Georgia. The Rocky Mountain hermit has turned into a touring dynamo.
Benning found his first fans and band members in New York City. The Silos’ Walter Salas-Humara had picked up one of Benning’s demo tapes and signed on as drummer, bringing along Silos multi-instrumentalist Drew Glacken for early 34 Satellite shows. Glacken introduced Benning to bassist Mike Santoro (Whiskeytown, Amy Rigby); eventually Mark Boquist (Big Back Forty, Mark Lanegan), took over on drums. Sometime later, Raleigh, North Carolina, rocker Marc Smith (Snatches Of Pink, Patty Hurst Shifter) joined on guitar.
Radar is enriched by the experience and ideas of this talented team, with color added by Barton’s harmony vocals and the cello of Sibel Firat (Disciples Of Agriculture, Shannon Wright). Benning offers the Radar track “Molasses” as an example of the advantages: “I wrote it as a straight country ballad,” he says, “almost a lullaby, and we started playing it in the studio and really changed the drum beat around, and made it into a kind of fast, straight rock song. To me it sounds so much better. I would definitely not have thought of that on my own.”
Still there’s no question that 34 Satellite’s music is rooted in Benning’s voice — a kind of Neil Young lyricism cloaked in Steve Earle phrasing — and most especially his songs. The latter are melodic, rootsy pop loaded with lyric hooks as simple and elegant as sturdy Shaker cabinets.
Benning thinks that if his music has a message, it’s just to say whatever’s on your mind more often. Of “Fly Now”, for example, he says, “That’s just about gettin’ through life and giving people space to do what they need to do. That’s what I think my songs say — that it’s kind of hard for everyone. I think maybe it’s a risk to talk about that. Maybe that’s why I like writing songs, is that I can get to that place.”