December 24, 2014
By Jim Drake Hood River News
Austin resident and Gorge native Ben Ballinger is taking a slightly different marketing approach on “The State I’m In,” his sixth album to date. Ballinger signed with Good Horse Records, and it’s called “records” for good reason — that’s what they make.
“They’re using old tape machines and the whole recording process start to finish is analog. So if someone listens to the album on vinyl, which is how I’m primarily selling it, the music has not gone through a computer at any point, which is fairly rare these days. Every aspect of the mixing and mastering and pressing was analog,” Ballinger said in a phone interview last week.
Ballinger’s show at River City Saloon on Friday, Jan. 2, is the first stop on his promotional solo tour for the record, which takes him to Portland and points south, all the way to Tijuana.
“I won’t be bringing the band for this tour as I’m just trying to get my foot in the door and I hope to come back in the spring. The furthest south I go is Tijuana (laughs). It wasn’t my idea, but I hit up some people in San Diego and they book shows across the border. I’m sure it will be interesting,” Ballinger said.
For the last 13 years Ballinger has been pursuing a music career, mainly in New York and Portland. But four years ago a friend of his in New York had been living in Austin and he convinced him to move.
“I made a record with a band called ‘The Dalles,’ when I first moved to Austin. That band has since dissolved and I think we’re all doing better now, actually, but I’m really proud of that record because a lot of work went into it. My current band plays locally three or four times a month, and I finally feel that I am able to call music my full time work,” Ballinger said.
“The State I’m In” was recorded in three days, and Ballinger said his band was given the opportunity to record most of the tracks live, all at once, a method he’s most comfortable with.
“The session was similar in that I prefer to record live, instead of one track at a time, so it has that in common with my previous work. But this time we pressed record, did the song, and then pressed stop. There’s no splicing or chopping up or cutting or pasting. We did overdub a few harmony vocals, and add a trumpet part, but the foundations for all the songs were all done live,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger said he’s given advance copies to friends and family, and mentions that he cites the latter as why music is so personal.
“Oh, there’s a number of copies that have been floating around, for a month or two, and my parents are probably my harshest critics,” (laughs).
It turns out that Ballinger’s father, Mike, has played music in the Gorge for a long time.
“I grew up always singing folk songs in the parlor, and on any family camping trip, music was the main entertainment. He played music at the Catholic church in The Dalles for 30 years, he was one of the music leaders, so most of my childhood involved once a week watching him perform, play guitar and sing. I’m sure that was a huge influence on me.
You could call the new album the result of those influences, especially the title track. “‘The State I’m In,’ is kind of a double entendre for my relocation to Austin and also a mental state. The song is basically a love song which you could interpret as a tribute to a location, but I think it’s more commonly attributed to a person, the girl I wrote the song about,” Ballinger explained.
“The title track is illustrative of the rest of the songs, it’s pretty personal and represents whatever emotional state that might be. The songs run a pretty wide spectrum of gentler solo acoustic to fully produced rockers with horn sections. It fills in the whole spectrum pretty well,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger’s personal listening spectrum leans toward folk and soul when asked about main influences. “I would have to admit Bob Dylan is the first and foremost. I listen to Fiona Apple and Father John Misty, a current artist who I’ve been following. I’m really into the old soul stuff like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, that’s a huge thing for me. For me it’s singers and stories. I’m a big fan of Frank Sinatra and that whole style of music, and of course any good rock and roll,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger reflected on the music scene of his current hometown and how his music career has evolved. “I was a guinea pig of sorts with the new record label, we’re always learning more, and it was an awesome opportunity I was given. I’m pleased with the result.
“It’s so interesting here, it’s the music capital of the world, and there’s more places to play every day of the week than there is in other cities. But, I’m at a point now where I don’t want to over-saturate things. I’ve gotten my name out a bit, at least in Austin, and now I’m trying to only take shows where I can pay the band, (laughs).”
Ballinger also reflected on why his upcoming show and CD release party on Jan. 2 would be of interest to folks in his original hometown area.
“Mainly, I’m a local boy who has spent the 13 years pursuing this career, and I’m still doing it. Anybody who is curious on how far I’ve come can come see a good example of that.”
Ben Ballinger plays River City Saloon on Friday, Jan. 2. The Ben Bonham Trio is on the bill as well. Doors open at 9 p.m., Admission is $5. 21 and over only. A limited number of CDs will be available, for those without access to a turntable.