The rise of Benjamin Booker has been a short and sweet one. Since leaving his birthplace of Tampa, Florida, the 25 year old has become accustomed to audiences both vast and small within the musically fruitful frontier of New Orleans. His music is of juggernautish proportions; a raw and engulfing wave of blues-inspired guitar played with the distortion and brashness of early punk – all the while varnished by his husky, emotive growl. In the wake of the release of his self-titled debut album, the performer detailed for us its creation, New Orleans, and his fairly recent venture into music.
His first introduction to performing was with drummer Max Norton – who after seeing Booker’s songs on a music blog contacted him online. “He grew up in the town that I grew up in,” reflects Booker. “I was back home for Christmas and we got together for like an hour and a half and played the songs, and then we played a couple of shows in the area and it went really well.” Even his relocation from Florida did little to dampen their musical relationship, with Norton following suit soon after Booker. “It seemed to work out right away,” he says, “so then I left to New Orleans, and I came back to pick him up the next time around.”
And then, after only a year of playing together, the album materialised. The rigid, soul-drenched sophistication of its maiden singles, ‘Have You Seen My Son’ and ‘Violent Shiver’, barely indicate the relative recency of songwriting for Booker, who started doing so in 2012. “I had maybe like two songs that I had written when I was 19, but nothing big” he recalls; instead playing guitar throughout his teens in the private surrounding of his bedroom. The album is a collection of some of the earliest songs he wrote; all of which were initially composed on acoustic guitar.
“The first record is like when people write their first book” Booker continues, “it’s usually a combination of everything that’s happened to you before.” The album has gestated long throughout his upbringing; serving as a twelve-track nod to the range of genres that flavored his earliest encounters with music. Calls to punk, blues and jazz emerge within; three styles that Booker lists as being amongst those most informative to him, referring to the album as “a combination of my musical background.” Another of these early influences is religion; with references both subtle and direct littered throughout the album. Although not religious “at all”, Booker still views his Christian upbringing in Florida as having some effect on his music, adding, “I think my youth and growing up in churches definitely informed some of the songs.”
Furthermore, his rapid ascent to success remains beyond his full comprehension – having already undertaken the hefty feats of performing on The David Letterman Show as well as touring with Jack White. The rise, he indicates, has been overwhelming; sporting more success in a little under two years of performing than most other musicians would in a lifetime. Elaborating on this, he says, “It’s definitely daunting! I don’t feel comfortable, but I mean, you’ve gotta do it.” And despite garnering acclaim particularly swiftly, it’s never become too much for Booker. “It’s all positive things,” he says, “I’d be very unhappy with myself if I’d just stayed afraid and didn’t try.”
And thus, having rapidly transitioned from his bedroom to stages across the world in such a short time, Booker welcomes the turbulent years to come. With an album already under his belt and an expansive tour over the next few months, it’s all apples for the 25 year old.
“I’m always happy that I do these scary things,” he concludes.
His self-titled album was released on August 15th through Rough Trade/Remote Control.