Gothenburg is the debut album from Kaiser Cartel’s Benjamin Cartel and it’s a great collection of contemporary Americana style songs with subtle songwriting and very personal instrumentation. Featuring songs written over many years, it’s got a feeling of completeness, and on several levels these songs have already travelled, grown and matured along their own life paths before being recorded here. There is patience, wisdom and resilience in Benjamin Cartel’s music and we were curious to talk to him about it – here he is in his own words.
RUST: Benjamin, thanks for talking to us and congratulations on a really well composed collection of music. We like it a lot and we’re grateful that we can ask you a few questions. Firstly, how do you feel about Gothenburg now that’s it’s done and out there? Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted to with your music?
BC: Thanks for taking time to interview me. Gothenburg represents years of work. There are songs written last year, and songs written many years ago. Gothenburg is a great moment for me to put it all together in one album. I did my very best to make sure the songs came out well and told the stories is that I wanted to tell.
That being said, any good artist will always want to twittle the knobs, go back and tweak things out, and basically fix any recording or any collection of recordings that they’ve made. That’s only natural. But I put a lot of work into this album and I feel good about what I’ve created. It was a team effort with Kristoffer Regnstam and Joel Lundberg ( producers ) Ryan Kelly ( the mixer ) Kieran Mulvaney, Mike Cohen, and David Gould ( from my band in NY ). They were very much a part of this work.
RUST: There are songs here that are from very different times in your life, spanning over a decade… when you recorded them, what was it like to revisit these ideas? Did you feel that you had a new perspective on them or did they remain much as you had originally written them?
BC: The older songs have a new perspective on them. I don’t think I’d want to go back in time and make them sound like 2009 or whenever I wrote them. I looked at the older songs with new vision – as far as music and production. When it comes to the lyrics of older song, it’s not hard to look back and feel my way into emotions of the past. If the songs are carefully written the first time, then it’s easy enough to pick them back up again. That’s my hope for every song I write.
I feel grateful and thankful to be able to finally get some of these other older songs recorded. I feel like older have held up over time, and can hold their own next to the newer songs.
RUST: Can you tell us a little about some of the other people that helped make this album?
BC: Much this recording was made possible by the cheerleading of my good friends Joel Lundberg and Kristoffer Ragnstam the producers. Their enthusiasm was the spark that got the recording happening. Kristoffer and the Harbour Heads were label mates of Kaiser Cartel and fans of my songs. A few years ago they asked me if they could add some instruments to some raw recordings. We both loved the results. This lead to a recorded collaboration which became the sound of the Money and Love EP.
We decided to record together in the same place for the next release. Joel and Kristoffer invited me over to Gothenburg, their hometown in Sweden, to record an album. In Gothenburg, The backing band for most of the recording was Kristoffer and Joel, with help from a few other Gothenburg based musicians.The songs were American / New York Benjamin Cartel creations, but many of the sounds of the band were products of Gothenburg musicians. That’s why I named the album ‘Gothenburg’. Ryan Kelly, the mixer, had worked with Kristoffer and Joel, and was familiar with their studio. I was familiar with him through Kristoffer and Joel. I also made sure to make my NY based band part of the process of recording the overdubs.
RUST: This album developed in a somewhat unique way. It started with you, travelled away and returned again – was the making of this album it’s own journey?
BC: Yes, it was very much a journey. I am finding that this has become pattern with me. I often like to travel to make recordings. If I look back on my last few major recordings with Kaiser Cartel – I have recorded in Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, London, and now Gothenburg. But making the Gothenburg album was very much a personal journey, nobody else came with me to Gothenburg. And while I was there I was staying on my own in a tiny little apartment. I was literally left alone, and I purposely tried not to have a lot contact with anybody else in the world. Because of this, accidental or perhaps self-imposed isolation it was easy for me to focus and just let the recordings pour out.
It wasn’t as though I was out in the woods or anything. I was in a major Scandinavian city with public transportation, tall buildings, etc. But I still felt like I was off the beaten path. To be honest, coming from New York, most cities that aren’t London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, or LA, seem like small towns to me. Being in the “small town” felt freeing for me. And working with musicians who first language is not English, and come from a different culture, put a different spin on the recording. So there was my own personal, and physical journey to another country, and there was also a journey of having another culture meet with me. I was in a far away land. And I was excited about where Gothenburg would take my music. When I came back and finished the recording, I added some of what Kristoffer and Joel would call American flavor to the recording, but in essence what remains for me are the recorded creations that happened in Gothenburg.
RUST: There’s a very integral piano/keyboard thing happening here – there are several people playing – what can you tell us about this?
BC: There were three keyboard players on this album. Joel Lundburg who was also one of the producers, played most of the keyboards. Emil Carlsson Rinstad played piano and keyboards on a few songs. On “Subway Breakup,” we recorded with only Emil and I. We also had Klas-Henrik Hörngren play piano on the song “Borderline” The idea to use keyboard and piano came from Kristoffer and Joel. I don’t know if I would have thought of using so much keyboard on my own. When started recording I found that all the parts on piano and keyboard suited the songs naturally, so I went with it. I guess it I could say was part of a subconscious effort to get the natural sound of the producers / band. We recorded all the keyboard and piano parts live as I was playing rhythm guitar and singing my lead vocal, so there wasn’t a question of whether or not to use them.
RUST: Now that the album is out, what’s next for you?
BC: Next for me is to be out in the world promoting the album with as many tours, press, radio support as possible. In two weeks Kaiser Cartel will play a one-off show in Brooklyn at Union Hall. Then I will be playing in Manhattan in August at Hi FI Bar. After that, I will traveling up and down the East coast. I have already done a west coast tour. I will be coming back to the midwest, and going back to Europe as well. And while at home I plan to work on more videos to support the new album. So far, we’ve made 3 videos for the songs “No One”, “Rockaway”, and there will be a video for “Subway Breakup” coming out soon. Although the album comes out on July 14th, I am inviting fans and friends to help support this promotion of this album on Pledge Music. You can help out by going clicking on this link: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/gothenburg