May 27, 2024

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Interview with Benjamin Vo: I don’t always know what emotions people long for

Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if guitarist Benjamin Vo. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Benjamin Vo: – My family moved around a lot during my early childhood, everywhere from Georgia to California to New York. We finally settled in Pennsylvania when I was 10 and have been here since. My parents played tapes/CDs around the house and in the car all the time. Lots of Beatles, Elton John, Carpenters, and Lobo.

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Both my dad and uncle play classical guitar and my aunt is a wedding singer. My mom was in the church choir when she was younger and both my sisters played piano and other instruments. I thought to myself “Damn, I gotta do something too”. I received my first guitar when I was 5, but didn’t start to get serious about it until I turned 10. After that, I was obsessed. But before I played guitar, I always loved just listening to a CD and getting lost in the music thru headphones. I loved guitar early on and realized during my teens it was something I always wanted in my life, whether it be a hobby or a profession.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

BV: – I enjoyed all kinds of music and really just spent my time discovering and investigating early on. I loved Hendrix as a kid and was crazy about funk. All the music I was listening to owed a lot to blues – but strangely, I didn’t really get into pure blues until I was around 19-20. I can blame my friend Mike for that – he is a little older than me and exposed me to his whole music collection that was mostly pre-war blues like Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Charlie Patton. Something about the old dirty sound quality, the eeriness of the performances, and the “got-nothing-left-to-lose” tone in their voices just had me hooked. I eventually got to BB King and Peter Green and there was no going back. The first band I played in was definitely blues-based, but it had a lot of psychedelic and jam elements in it due to compromising with the other members.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

BV: – I usually don’t have any kind of agenda when I sit down to play. Sometimes having no plan helps spark a new song idea or some new phrases I can try to pull out during a performance. I do enjoy sitting down and trying to figure out a new song by ear though. There are times I’d play them “wrong” but that’s part of the fun.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

BV: – I’m sure I have in some ways that I don’t realize. Change is inevitable for most people in some form, right? I can say for sure that I’m always trying to play more tastefully and let the beauty of a song come thru. Using space more often to let a song breathe. Always trying to get better at that. One significant change: I never envisioned myself singing as a kid, but the blues pulled me to become a singer.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

BV: – I think soul is first and foremost the more important element in music. It’s the human element that makes it universal and makes the listener feel when they hear it. For example, when I hear indigenous tribal music from the Native Americans and Africans, you feel the rhythm and the chants without having to try. Much of the rural Asian music does the same thing. I’m not saying intellect is unimportant though. I think some form of innate intuition is important.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

BV: – I don’t always know what emotions people long for. And I can’t force an emotion if I’m not feeling it myself. But I always felt the blues was a good friend that comforts you when you’re down. I hope I give some of that feeling to people when I perform.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

BV: – That’s a tough one. I do notice some young people seeking out older music because they’re craving something that seems to be missing in popular music today. Maybe use the music in a popular TV show or movie?

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

BV: – I think the spirit is a very simple but profound core of every person. It gets clouded up and complicated by everyday life. As for the meaning of life – all I can say for sure is it’s short and precious and that it’s an open book. You can do things to try to make it more beautiful or you can make it more ugly.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

BV: – I would want musicians and artists to be treated better by the industry and by everyone who enjoys the fruits of their labor. Being paid fairly for performances and recorded music. Audiences being more receptive and less distracted. Music is often not valued like it used to be.

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JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

BV: – Lately have been on a kick with Lonnie Johnson and JB Lenoir. Both great singers. Lonnie, to me, is the top of the mountain for blues guitar. Outside of blues, I’ve also been enjoying a lot of Nick Drake and Townes Van Zandt’s self titled album. I discovered folk artist Michael Hurley earlier this year.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

BV: – I’ve always loved reading and watching stories that took place in the medieval times, so maybe then. I could watch the bards and minstrels play their lutes too. Or travel back to my childhood and try to avoid the mistakes I’ve made.

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Interview by Simon Sarg

Benjamin Vo Blues Band + Slim and The Perkolators | Soundbank

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