Vairagya (2018)

Jon James Is Dead

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When a quixotic rock-n-roll guitar player lays his tender fingers on some woozy loops and seasick beats, this accidental brainchild gets conjured. Two parts sheer exuberance, one part pure evil.

J.J. Benson is a Minneapolis guitar player and singer-songwriter whose material has been compared to everything from Ryan Adams to Todd Rundgren, Bob Dylan to Francis Dunnery. He's heavily influenced by Brit Invasion, Glam and Power Pop. Benson has also played sideman (guitar/bass) to dozens of luminaries in the Twin Cities area.

Vairagya is his first venture into 100% electronic music. "I started out playing with loops just to see where it would take me," said Benson. "I found those loops were like planting little seeds. Ideas would spring from them; I'd return the next day and work a little more -- suddenly I'd have these fully-fleshed songs. Soon thereafter, an entire album's worth. It was really joyful to see how things developed from almost nothing into something relatively complex, just by virtue of continuing to 'show up' and see where the process took me."

Benson cites having very little experience with, or exposure to, electronic music. “It’s not something I’ve ever really paid much attention to, so it’s tough to offer reference points for these songs. Loops are repetitive by nature, and though I understand the trance-like appeal, it’s something I tend to get bored with rather quickly. I found myself manipulating a lot of things to create progressions, changes, melodies and arrangements more akin to pop-rock songwriting, but in the instrumental-only vein.”

“Personally, I hear traces of certain influences from my childhood – anything from Depeche Mode to Peter Gabriel to Yello. The last track (Wild Turkey) almost reminds me of something by The Band.” All the songs are heavily layered and stray from any semblance of minimalism. “I read somewhere once how (songwriter) Dan Wilson once said the ear can’t pick up on more than 2 or 3 melodic figures in a song and that anything else would confuse a listener. I thought to myself, well what about symphonies? There’s all sorts of stuff going on there; point, counterpoint galore. The appeal of that, I think, is it allows one to get a bit ‘lost’ in an oceanic feeling of sorts. That’s the feeling a lot of these songs evoke for me. Not having much background with this medium really allowed me to embrace a ‘beginner’s mind’ mentality and construct whatever I wanted from the ground up; allow the muse to take me wherever it took me. It was tremendously fun and liberating to just throw whatever at the wall and see what stuck.”

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