Ben Trickey’s “Alabama” opens with an elegiac piano & violin figure. Trickey’s voice fires like the carburetor in your dad’s old pick up truck. It’s a song about the ambivalence of being alive, but choosing happiness. Tricky is somewhere between a barroom poet and a sage. After he sings “Give us good pictures / of good friends up late laughing/ no matter what happens, we’re in this together—together we’re captive,” the elegiac figure is reintroduced, but now it becomes a celebration. “Alabama” isn’t a banquet—it’s a party happening at the tail of some humid day. There’s a picnic table, gas station beer, and a sun that’s just about to fall below the tree line.
SC: I love how you use silence in your songs like “Alabama” and “Toenail Moon”. It seems these silences are bookended by melodically rich interludes. How do you see silence working in your songs? Is it a simply a tension builder? Or is there a larger metaphor behind it suggested in the title Choke and Croon?
BT: Silence is definitely something I consciously use in my music. I'm really interested in ideas of restraint and frailty. There's a certain power to it. I feel like the lyrics are touching on the same ground, so by literally poking sonic holes in the compositions you can make something that pushes and pulls with the mood. I think of silence as an instrument and everyone playing the band should respect and let that instrument have its parts too. The title "Choke & Croon" speaks to that frailty. It's a reference to us living this life dying and living at the same time. Like you're going to choke sing through this song before you choke to death. I know it sounds morbid, but it's really supposed to have a bit of levity as the lyrics fill the idea out. Just sort of accepting and being gracious about getting old.
SC: What was your writing process like for “Alabama”?
BT: "Alabama" was actually the thesis for the record. It was the first song written and an early version of it appears on a 7" from last year. I'm originally from Alabama, but haven't lived there in almost 20 years. I do keep up with friends and family there and go back to visit. The song is a reflection on how it was and what it is now to me personally. It represents how far I've come from youth. So I bring up a childhood friend and our families and how we're all still hanging on and trying to make the best of things this many years later. That all came together to form that "we're in this together" message at the end.
SC: How often do you write? Do you keep a songwriting schedule or do you wait to be inspired?
BT: I keep sentences on my phone or written down here and there. These usually cumulative over time and I wait for a feeling to hit me. It happens every couple months. Then I sit down with all these tidbits at a piano or my guitar and see what kind of melodies are coming and what threads are running between all the tidbits or what images I want to go with. There's always a specific mood and feeling I'm chasing. I don't think I've ever gotten there, but I think I've gotten close.
SC: How does your community of songwriters influence your writing?
BT: There's a super-important thing to having a community of songwriters to tap into. Atlanta is a pretty horrible town for songwriters to get an audience, so it's even more critical here to find others that can relate. In my time starting in New York and then moving down here I've made a ton of music-playing friends. Some of them have become my best friends. Those are the relationships that influence my work, because I like to push my feelings on life into my music. A quick example of that is the line in "Alabama" that says "give us good pictures of friends up late, laughing." I was on tour with Ryan Sheffield and the Highhills and Jason Waller plays guitar in that band. He was taking all these pictures of us hanging out and tagging it #goodfriendsuplatelaughing. I took that and put it in the song.
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