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Evolution: An Interview With Guitarist Jackson Benge Of (HED)PE

By Geoff Ketler, Cleveland Contributor
Saturday, August 30, 2014 @ 4:14 PM

"It was just one of those things; being in the right place at the right time. I was just some punk kid bouncing around from band to band."

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Ten years in after landing his dream gig, guitarist Jackson Benge of (HED)PE is hitting the road with his band mates in support of their latest effort, Evolution. Throughout the storied history of (HED)PE there have been several lineup changes as well as the ever-evolving direction of the band musically. Evolution lives up to it’s name as the band has once again headed in a different direction. Before a packed show at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH I had the chance to chat with Jackson about the new album, the writing process, and life on the road.

KNAC.COM: Well obviously I want to talk about the new album first, Evolution.

BENGE: Right.

KNAC.COM: It has been out what, about a month now?

BENGE: Yeah, July 22nd, so yeah we’re right at about a month ago and we’re really excited about it man. Really really excited to have a record out after so long.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to talk a little bit about the tone of the album because I think it feels much heavier than most of your recent stuff

BENGE: Right…right.

KNAC.COM: Why do you think that is? Were you just in the mood to take it that direction, what possessed you to do that?

BENGE: Well, you know, when I joined, I joined shortly before the beginning of the writing process for some of the material for Only In Amerika, which was the album that came right after Blackout and we were writing heavier stuff then but I think that production-wise, sonically it may not have translated as sounding as heavy as this one. With this one, we still did heavier stuff, but we did more of the kind of classic approach to the riffs. It was really influenced by the classic metal bands; BLACK SABBATH, some LED ZEPELIN stuff is in there too. But those were some the elements and some of the other elements were having the right mix and sonic quality.

KNAC.COM: Tell me a little bit about the writing process then. Do you start with a riff or is it lyrical in the beginning?

BENGE: It usually starts with music. When it is a piece of music that I have submitted it usually comes from a demo that I write at home. I usually set up an arrangement; first chorus, whatever I feel is right for me for the music at the time. I will probably submit maybe 10-15 tracks to (vocalist) Jared (Gomes) and the guys and they will go over the stuff; Jared will go over the material and he will work with the ones that he is feeling the most. Often times he will end up rearranging something or some of the parts. Like a verse might become a bridge or something.

KNAC.COM: So it is definitely a collaborative effort.

BENGE: Yeah, it just depends. He has to go through it and he has to have a vision vocally for it. So yeah, there are all sorts of treatments that are done afterwards. And then from there he may add his lyrics at that point or he may continue with just recording the music in an actual recording studio. So I will re-record all of my guitars that I had done on my demo, but we will definitely go into the studio, get the live drums, get the real bass, and the vocals are usually done at Jared’s house. So this album was pretty much the result of several demos that I had submitted and we kinda worked on it as we went.

KNAC.COM: It think the album’s first seven tracks are just heavy, groovy, and brutal and then you guys get into the reggae thing.

BENGE: Yeah, right, those were songs that Jared actually composed at home. He worked with a local guy there and they did some of those guitar tracks together, because we live so far apart. He lives in Idaho and I live in Michigan, so we’re all over the place. So he had his local guy jam some tracks and we eventually went into a studio in Louisville and recorded as many live tracks as we could. It was a unique way to just have all of the reggae material at the end of the album. One might not be inclined to do it that way. It kind of reflects on something that we are starting to do live. We have this section towards the end of the set called the “champagne room”. After we play the heavy stuff and pretty much kick the audience’s ass we go into this little reggae section and play kind of the chill stuff and just mellow people out and at the very end, kick their ass. It also kind of preludes something that (HED)PE may want to do in the future. We may do our own little side thing where we primarily focus on the reggae stuff, but for now we still want to keep the heavy stuff in there because that is our bread n’ butter.

KNAC.COM: So I have heard in past interviews that your comrades seem to think that your introduction into the band about 10 years ago took them in a heavier direction, do you agree with that? And also which do you prefer the reggae stuff or the heavy stuff?

BENGE: I love mixing in the reggae, but I do love the heavy stuff. And you know what, maybe the music did get a little heavier when I joined the band; I came from more of a traditional approach. I was a fan of the band and the writers in the band before me, they came from kind of a punk background, but I think the whole idea behind (HED)PE was to kind of put something different together and not go with the traditional approach. The theory behind the band then was basically taking DR. DRE beats and sort of adding KORN - style guitars to it. I just came from more of a traditional approach or whatever as apposed to an experimental one.

KNAC.COM: So tell me, what exactly were the circumstances surrounding your entrance into the band in the first place?

BENGE: Oh it was amazing. It’s a great story. What happened was one year I got a call from (bassist) Mark (“Mawk”) shortly after being introduced to the guys. I was in a band that was rehearsing in the same rehearsal studio they were using to do some of the pre-production for the album Blackout. So they still had their original guys with them, you know there were some people on their way out, but I can’t remember exactly what was going on. At one point, one of the guys that came to our rehearsal studios to jam with us; I guy named Kenny “The Finger”. Kenny used to be a keyboard player for (HED)PE way back in the day. At the time he was actually living with Mark. They were roommates. I was a fan of (HED)PE so at the rehearsal I would just kind of jam on some (HED)PE riffs. Well Kenny heard that and he told Mark that this guy knows how to play (HED)PE riffs and at the time they were looking for a second guitarist. Maybe a few weeks later I get a call from Mark and he asked me if I wanted to try out. I said well yeah, of course I would.

KNAC.COM: You are like ”Ripper” Owens or something.

BENGE: Right…haha…just like that. What happened was I said yes and then nothing happened. They ended up getting Sonny Mayo to be the second guitarist. That went on for about a year. They toured for a while and then a year later Mark calls me again and is like; ‘hey would you like to try-out again?’ I think he expected me to be like ‘fuck off’ or something, but I was like ‘of course.’ I was actually about to go on vacation with my girlfriend at the time. I told her that we may have to put this on hold. This whole thing just came up randomly. The very next morning I went to Jared’s house and Mark was there and I just plugged in and they asked me to play this riff, play that riff. They had told me beforehand which riffs to work on. One of them was “Killing Time”. I knew some other ones so I sort of busted out into different riffs from like the Blackout album, which I was a big fan of and they heard all of that. So they were like, ‘let’s go into the rehearsal studio.’ Thing is they also needed a drummer as well. So the very first time I entered the rehearsal studio with them, they were also auditioning drummers. I remember thinking that this was really good actually because maybe so much of the attention won’t just be on me. But at that point they didn’t have any guitar players. Sonny had already separated. At that point they didn’t know if they wanted to continue on with the (HED)PE name or with another name. Obviously they decided to stick with the name and that’s really how it worked out. From then on I was in the band and we only ever had one guitar player. It worked out pretty well for me man. It was just one of those things; being in the right place at the right time. I really didn’t have a résumé to speak of like Sonny. I was just some punk kid bouncing around from band to band.

KNAC.COM: So if this thing with (HED)PE didn’t work out, where would you be? What do you think you’d be doing?

BENGE: I don’t know. I was going to college, studying graphic arts and stuff. The music thing was just kind of a side thing for me. I never really looked at it as oh this is for sure going to work out. Only because I was realistic about it. If it happened, it happened, but otherwise I was going to have to have some sort of backup plan. I would probably be doing some sort of graphic design, web design stuff. I still do that kind of stuff on the road too though. I try to keep myself busy while I’m out here. You know throughout the day there is a lot of time spent waiting around. So if I am not nursing a hangover or something like that I will just jump on it and get like a hobby project or something going. We all have our own thing. Mark goes off on his bike. Jared goes to the gym and stuff. We all have our own thing that we like to do when we are not up on stage.

KNAC.COM: I think you have to just to keep sane.

BENGE: Yeah, well what it really is, is that we are all on this bus right now and we have the luxury of not having to drive ourselves. If we were out in a van and had to tow our own trailer and stuff we really wouldn’t have any energy. We are lucky enough to get the rest that we have and to have the time throughout the day to do these other things just to kind of keep us sane. I realize that not every band gets that. They are loading-in. They are doing all of their tech stuff. We have a couple stage hands and a merch guy, so we have the help that actually allows us to have that free time. We definitely appreciate the help that we have without a doubt.

KNAC.COM: So we know that you are gonna be hitting the road with DOPE once this tour ends in a few days but I also hear that you guys are heading to the Philippines.

BENGE: Yeah we are doing two shows in the Philippines towards the end of September.

KNAC.COM: Is this the first time you guys have headed over there?

BENGE: Yes. It’s gonna be a blast. I am going to have to make it a point to try to read up on the cultures as much as possible. I know very little about the Philippines, but I am really looking forward to it.

Pick up a copy of Evolution now in the KNAC.COM More Store right HERE.

Catch (HED)PE out on the road with DOPE at one of these stops:

  • 8/31 — Peoria, Ill. — Limelight Eventplex
  • 9/2 — Sioux Falls, S.D. — The District
  • 9/3 — Spring Lake Park, Minn. — Povlitzkis 65
  • 9/4 — Chippewa Falls, Wis. — Every Buddy’s Bar
  • 9/5 — Joliet, Ill. — Mojoes
  • 9/6 — Flint, Mich. — Machine Shop
  • 9/7 — Kent, Ohio — Outpost
  • 9/8 — Dayton, Ohio — Oddbody’s

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