Benjamin Jayne expands his sound with “Broken”

Broken is the third album from Benjamin Jayne, the musical project of Brattleboro, Vermont-based psychiatrist Benjamin Wright. It presents an evolution in his dark, melancholic sound, with Wright striving for a wider vocal range and working more with electronic elements.  Thematically, Broken takes a reflective turn, exploring the complexities of identity and the passage of time.

While Benjamin Jayne is now primarily a solo venture, it still benefits from the occasional input of his sister, Amanda Jayne (who was a full collaborator for the first album but is now based in Barcelona.) Drew Skinner again engineered and co-produced, playing a pivotal role in shaping the album’s sonic dimensions. Over a Zoom interview, Wright discussed the new album.

Were there any major differences in making this album as opposed to the last, in terms of your process or inspiration?

Benjamin Wright: Process is always more or less the same for me. I just have this studio set up, so if inspiration kicks in, I’m ready to go. And beyond that, I just use cell phone recordings and I’ll usually create 200 to 300 snippets of small ideas. When one stands out, I’ll make sure I immediately put that into a Logic file, just so I know that it’s an important snippet. So that’s kind of the same approach to just getting things started.

The inspiration was different. I mean, the last one we were … I work in healthcare, I’m at the hospital now. I was at the hospital throughout the pandemic. I have practicing privileges in the ER. So I was definitely seeing a lot of that. And then hearing all the nonsense in the world, all the conflict about information, and then the political strife. That was clearly that record.

This one was, I guess, more or less driven by coming through that. Kids are getting older. I’ve just been recognizing that time is moving really fast, that it just moves faster and faster every year. And the pandemic especially was just like a whirlwind. So coming out of that, realizing where I’m at in my life. The record is about pausing and reflecting on where you’ve gotten to, where you are, if you’re standing with a lot of your truths or it’s misaligned, kind of addressing, unraveling what’s what. Kind of confrontation of oneself, regrouping, refocusing, and what you need out of life and where you’re going to go with it. That’s kind of the idea.

Given the process that you described, at what point do you realize that an album is coming together, at least with this one? At what point did you realize that you’ve got some songs that fit together and could be thought of as a whole?

Benjamin Wright: I guess you do kind of notice, at least I do. For example, right now I’m not writing at all, I haven’t written in probably a year. It’s been all dealing with production and mastering of the last one, like final production and mixing and all that. So it’s really been heavily focused on that. So there’ll be that period where it’s just you’re really absorbed and finishing a record. And then it takes me a little bit of time, it takes me a few months after all this is cooled down a little bit, that I’ll get the studio set up again. And so you do notice that once you start that process of committing to it as a job, a little bit, revisiting the studio and sitting in there, things start to pop into your head and get down on paper.

There is an inertia that you start to recognize, the speed at which your ideas are coming. And then maybe you’ll notice that you’re gravitating towards a certain set of instruments or style, or a mood. You can tell by the speed of ideas, the textures that you’re creating, the songs, that you might have some sort of a conceptual idea. Usually, if there’s three or four songs that you’re really feeling pretty good about and there’s a continuity with them, then that’s a pretty good jumping-off point.

This time around, was there anything in particular that you found exciting as things came together?

Benjamin Wright: I’m definitely trying to evolve my singing from the first record to today. So that was one thing I concentrated a lot on and had a lot of fun with trying to really stretch my range. This record’s got a lot more mids and highs than the other ones do. So that was definitely a change. I think maybe it’s more harmonization on there and moving towards more mixture of electronic sounds with electric stuff, acoustic is still underlying there, so moving towards, I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s kind of like an indietronic or a folktronica kind of sound. So that was the intention with this one.

Regarding the electronic aspect, what type of equipment were you using?

Benjamin Wright: I use so little equipment. I have a MacBook Pro laptop. I have a small little midi keyboard. And then just an interface. So the only natural instruments would be the electric acoustic guitar and the vocals. And then everything else is really just samples that I’m pulling out of Logic. And then of course Drew Skinner, my producer, co-producer, he does sound design for a living. So I also know in the back of my mind that the samples I’m working with are a bit limited, but the concepts and the instrumentation and the melodies are all there for him. And I’ll hand ’em over to him and he’s got a huge volume of samples. So if it’s a certain synthesizer or drum sound that I’m trying to get to, and I don’t have quite that sound, he replaces it with something that’s much higher quality.

Are there any particular songs on the album that the sound design gave a different life to or elevated in a different direction?

Benjamin Wright: Certainly, I think the most noticeable change in a song that he did was probably “The Symbol”. I asked him about that song because I thought that it should have some eighth notes percussion somewhere to move the song a bit more. It felt like it dragged to me, and he intentionally let it drag and went for … he’s like, “I hear a lot of Massive Attack kind of elements to this, and I want to keep it that way”. And he also actually changed some of the chord movements to some of the transitions.

So that one probably was the most he influenced as far as the sound design. He does interesting stuff. Maybe also “Shoot Through The Wire”, he removed the instrumentation in the chorus and then doubled up and manipulated my harmonies and made the instrumentation kind of a post-rock feel. So that one’s not a huge leap from where it was, but it’s just utilizing what’s in the song a little bit differently. That definitely textured it and made it, I thought, much better. So generally, I hand it off to him and I trust him implicitly to do whatever he wants to. We trust each other. We’ve known each other for 20, 25 years or something.

Did you work with your sister again on this album?

Benjamin Wright: She’s really not involved much, other than occasionally, we’ll pull her in to do a little backup singing, which she did on “Love”. I try to find one song of hers, or she’ll send songs to me, and I try to get at least one tune because I think it’s interesting to take her work and remake it.

That song is “A Familiar Face”, and her version is so much different than my version. But again, it’s still pretty limited as far as her involvement.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Benjamin Wright: You asked about influence. I’ll add that there’s the broad influence of this record, but then there are two outliers just figured I’d share with you. “The Symbol” actually ended up being about Batman. I think I’d just watched Matt Reeves’ The Batman, and I’m a huge Batman fan, so that’s that. And the “Shoot through the Wire” was written the week that Russia invaded Ukraine. So those two are kind of outliers.

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