Interview: Ben Whisler Blends Country’s Songwriting, Rock’s Live Energy on Debut EP
As a child, classic and Southern rock influences drew singer-songwriter Ben Whisler to learn the drums, but in high school, when he picked up the guitar, the decision was as much a personal one as it was a musical one.
"I'm really glad that I learned drums first, because you learn to work with a band," Whisler tells The Boot, reminiscing about playing in a band with his older brother, who played guitar. However, learning the guitar himself meant that Whisler wouldn't have to rely on said older brother to accompany him when he wanted to sing -- and so, "I took off with that, because I could go home and learn on the computer and hope and dream of how I could pick up more girls because I could play guitar and sing better than anyone else," Whisler explains with a laugh.
In late October, Whisler released his debut EP, Can't Complain, a five-song project that opens with a rock-y title track, closes with a beautiful piano ballad and shows off both the artist's country and rock influences.
"My dad was one of those guys that, he went to every legendary artist's show growing up through the '70s, so in the car with him, that's what we were always listening to," Whisler recalls, name-dropping Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd. "I always listened to country as well because, growing up in East Tennessee, that's the other thing that everyone listens to. It's kind of impossible to avoid."
George Strait in particular drew Whisler to country music -- "Just the way he sings and everything about those songs ... There's a reason he's George Strait, you know?" Whisler says -- as did the genre's songwriting style.
"The songwriting is very narrative and storytelling," he continues. "I never was big on abstract songwriting. Country songwriting, you listen, and what they're saying and what you're hearing are the same thing."
In his own music, Whisler aims to combine that straight-to-the-point songwriting mentality with his interests in bluegrass instrumentation -- on display on both "Float" and "I Could Get Used to This" on Can't Complain -- and modern, pop production. But, he adds, "I like to hope that, whenever we play songs live, we maintain that rock excitement that everybody goes to a live show for."
Whisler first moved to Nashville for college. He attended Belmont University, originally with audio engineering in mind, and while he enjoys that aspect of the music business, "I wasn't very good at it, and it wasn't creative enough for me," Whisler confesses. So, he switched his focus, studying publishing, management and various aspects of the music business instead.
"The whole time though, I definitely had that kind of vision of wanting to write songs, wanting to be part of the production process, in whatever manner that was, and wanting to play them live," Whisler says.
When he started turning ideas into demos, then demos into his EP, Whisler realized just how much teamwork goes into creating a project such as Can't Complain. He searched out those who were "making music for the right reasons" and found "a specific group of people who really stuck with me, and we came together and made a product that we could be proud of."
Whisler and producer Johnny Dibb first began discussing the EP in late June. The recording process started in early July and wrapped up in mid-October -- a bit later than anticipated, but Whisler says that the delay was worth it.
"I really wanted us to take our time and be happy with what we were doing," he notes, recalling, for example, how it took a few different sessions to get "Can't Complain" to sound how he envisioned. "... I think we were better off for it ... I'd rather have the right product a few months later than look back in regret."
One song that came together immediately, however, was "Damn This Rain," the aforementioned piano ballad that closes the Can't Complain EP. Whisler doesn't know how to play the piano, but he had "a vivid idea" of what he wanted the song to sound like. He took it to Michael Elliott, who plays guitar and piano with Whisler live, and "he nailed it ... He knocked it out, like, the first time."
Both versions of the creation process -- numerous rewrites and tweaks versus "one and done" -- have their pros and cons in Whisler's mind.
"At the time, [revisions are] very frustrating, and it seems like you're wasting time, wasting resources," he says, "... but at the same time, it's a little more rewarding when you do get it down and it does sound that way [you envisioned]."
Whisler's Can't Complain EP is available to stream below and is available for download via iTunes.
Listen to Ben Whisler, Can't Complain EP:
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