Sunday, June 4, 2023

Betty Benedeadly Conjures Southwest Soundtrack

Desert Records Releases "Twang-edelic" New Album


Betty Benedeadly is the co-founder and guitarist of Sheverb, a womxn-led, collectively run, psychedelic rock & roll band based in Austin, Texas. Her first full-length "solo" album is about to be released (Feb. 17) on Albuquerque's own Desert Records. Recorded with the equal assistance of fellow Sheverb member Braden Guess, At the Institute of Mentalphysics showcases Benedeadly's unique brand of instrumental music, which has been described as "twang-edelic, foot-stomping ritualistic rhythms and guitar-driven motifs." According to Desert Records owner Brad Frye, Benedeadly's music "captures the essence of the deserts of the American Southwest." Like some lost soundtrack to a spaghetti Western directed by David Lynch, the atmospheric album combines elements of surf, folk, psychedelic rock, blues, country and ambient desert music. "This music really is the perfect blend of styles," says Frye. "And all without any vocals!"

On the eve of her new album's release, we spoke to Benedeadly, who spent the winter in Santa Fe awaiting the birth of her sister's first baby.

The Paper.: You're a bit of a vagabond these days.

Benedeadly: I suppose. We still have a very active band in Austin—Sheverb—that I co-founded with our drummer Xina in 2016. I still have an address back in Austin. Kinda have just gotten into the flow: We go back for two months, leave for two months, go back for two months and try to keep all the balls in the air.

You recorded this new album with Braden Guess, who is also a member of Sheverb.

Yeah. Truth be told he's kind of been a key player since the beginning. When the pandemic hit and the band had to come to a halt—as did most of life for most of us—I took the back seats out of my tour van and built a little bed and very humbly built it out. Just started heading out toward the desert and ended up in Taos. Was gonna swing through, but ended up staying for four months. Ended up writing a bunch of songs, reconnecting with some sound engineer friends up there for the very first Benedeadly EP.

It was really interesting during that time. I kept having these remote conversations with friends around the world, and there was definitely a thread echoed in the friend group. People were writing very introspective songs. A lot of my friends kept using the exact words "prayer songs." And a lot of us decided that the big band, rock and roll projects weren't making sense and that these new songs that were written in pandemic really were meant for a different outlet.

So myself, along with a lot of people I know, started their solo project as an outlet to release some of that more intimate pandemic creative output. And when I decided I wanna record it and start releasing on a name other than Sheverb, I immediately called Braden to come up and help fill out the instrumentation. He's a really talented multi-instrumentalist. He can play everything—annoyingly perfectly. So he came up for that first From the Mesa EP that Desert Records put out. He actually played a pretty big role in that. Even though it was my songs, he did a lot of the arranging and filled in on other instruments. And then the second thing kind of happened all over again with the second EP that Desert Records put out, [The Adventures of] Mabel & Carter. I had written this batch of songs. That time I was raising chickens out of my van out in Joshua Tree. But when it came time to record them, I called Braden, and he played a big role in the studio production side too. And so this third time around, we decided that it really was feeling inauthentic to be calling it a "solo project" anymore. What made this one different, though—At the Institute of Mentalphysics—we really wrote the songs together. Whereas in the past I had been writing the songs and calling him in as studio production director. This time was much more, from the beginning, we sketched out a lot of influences and creative direction we wanted the project to go and co-wrote everything.

You've already released a couple of EPs with Albuquerque's Desert Records.

Brad is amazing. Desert Records is great. I mean I've been more or less bound to the live music capital of Austin, Texas for 14 years now. And I can't say I know of any contemporaries or colleagues in the Austin music scene operating at the level that I am at that have the kind of support in a small independent label that Brad gives. It's pretty extraordinary. It's really cool what he's doing. So, huge fans here.

Listening to the album it feels like you absorbed quite a bit from being out in Joshua Tree. What did the location add to the album?

Oh, thank you. That's always the greatest compliment, when people hear some some of the land resonating through this instrumental music. Well, I'll say that was a major goal from the outset. We didn't just want to go do a destination recording. It wasn't about going somewhere cool to just have fun and record. We wanted to make is as much of a dialogue with the atmosphere and environment and land itself. So that's why we chose not to do any of the writing until we got out there. It was a pretty intense month of doing all the writing and all the recording. We even managed to squeeze in some music videos and a bunch of really fun live shows. But we kind of have developed this template because Sheverb did a similar thing when we went out to Bombay Beach and recorded the album Once Upon a Time at Bombay Beach. We all left our lives in Austin, Texas and went and lived in Bombay Beach, California for a month together and wrote and recorded a full-length album.

Some of the ways in which we tried to really soak up the land is every day we would pause to go picnic on the railroad tracks or go climb on top of a structure to watch a sunset or wake up with the sun and go for a hike. You know, really take time out of every day to be quiet in nature, I think, is a really big part of it. And then there's just some more literal things we've taken to doing. Like when we go on a hike, we'll collect bones that we find or rocks or crystals and "play" those in percussion tracks. So in that way, I like to think that perhaps subconsciously our minds pick up on those things.

All of your music sounds incredibly cinematic. Do you have particular films you think of as inspirational?

I love that question. No! But I think that, in the background, there's always a running reel of the potential film that will get made.

Well, that's the other half of the question: Do you make up your own movie to go with the soundtrack?

Yeah, for sure. I can't say that I operate, artistically, quite that concretely—that I'm, like, scripting a plot or anything in my brain. But there's definitely a lot of attempts to create a certain vibe, a certain atmosphere, a certain feeling. Honestly, mostly with the intention of expressing it and having other people feel it in either a live performance setting or when they listen to the music. I think one of the biggest compliments after shows is when people run up and want to, very excitedly, tell us about the movie that was playing in their own mind as they listened to us. And instrumental music, without vocals, goes a long way toward letting people internalized their own journey with the music. Which I think is really fun and cool.

For sure moving in the direction of sync licensing and teaming up with people whose more creative focus is film, art film, is a goal for us. And we hope that we start to realize that on the horizon. We have a few conversations on the back burner along those lines. And I hope that something like that comes to fruition.

But while we're on that topic, I'll just give the plug that we have a lot of conversations, both within Sheverb and on the Benedeadly project side, about how problematic a lot of the film and cinema is that this music is often mapped to. And so there's a call to work with more feminist or queer or BIPOC filmmakers and help get some other narratives on screen that would hopefully match some of the alternative headspaces that were trying to bring through with the music.

What about touring with new album?

Yeah. I can't say I have anything concrete to publish and share in terms of dates and a tour schedule. But we for sure are planning on roaming around the Southwest this spring and summer. We're planning on being back in Joshua Tree in May again to kind of do a one year anniversary with all the friends and other musicians that we made out there, and we'll be doing some shows out there. And our plan is to do a tour from Austin to Joshua Tree in April.

Hopefully with Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos somewhere in the middle?

Yeah. My family wouldn't let me get away without it.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here