Interview: Ben Caplan

Ben Caplan


Back in September I had the chance to chat with Ben Caplan, who was playing a TIFF show. He had just started touring in preparation for the release of his debut full-length “In The Time of the Great Remembering,” which was released on October 18th. Currently he and his backing band, The Casual Smokers, have shows booked until December 3rd, making this tour that started September 1st 3 months long (so far).

“I haven’t started booking December yet, so we’ll see,” Caplan tells me.

Given that it’s his first full-length with quite a massive tour, Caplan is excited. “This is only my second major tour to Ontario and it’s great. The last time I was here I played the Cameron House and that was really awesome. It’s an awesome venue. I played C’est What, as well. Two great Toronto venues.”

At the time, he was looking forward to his show at the Drake, as well as a secret show at the Press Club.

But there seemed to be a glimmer in Caplan’s eyes when he started talking about how he was going to play Pop Montreal and the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg.

He says, “My first festival gigs were with Halifax Pop Explosion and Nova Scotia Music Week last year. And this summer I got to do a ton around the East Cost – Evolve and Folly Fest and a couple other ones like that around. Yeah, festivals are great. But these urban festivals are new. Pop Montreal is something I’ve always aspired towards and I feel really lucky to have gotten in. And the international festivals are just a different thing. I was not expecting this so soon. I had this 24-month plan. ‘I will eventually go to Europe when I can afford to.’ And then I got the call. ‘Okay. I’ll do it.’” But of course. When opportunity strikes, it’s hard to turn down.

Over the course of the tour, his backing band has varied. “This tour has 4 different legs, or at least 3. The first leg has been mostly a duo with me and drummer with a backup singer for a few tunes.” Caplan then spent some time in Europe, where he had a bassist and violinist with him. This month he’s playing in a quartet. He also says that “it’ll probably be solo in December if the December part happens.”

Caplan released an EP in 2009, which he had planned on shelving post album release. “There’s a little bit of overlap, which is one of the reasons why I’m going to shelve the older one. But I decided to redo them because I think I’ve matured a lot as a writer and as an arranger, so I didn’t want to let them rest in their old form. I felt like I had more to say. I had the resources now to say them properly.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Caplan, he describes his music as “diverse” and “rugged.” He adds, “It’s heavily inspired by Eastern European melodies and sort of gruff, dirty honesty.”

But what has garnered attention, aside from his epic beard, is his live show. He describes, “It’s about energy. It’s a high energy show. And it’s about engaging with the audience and having an experience together. I try to cultivate a moment that people are going to remember. I try to.”

As a sidenote, Caplan’s been growing his beard for a couple years now, but it’s par for the course, as he’s had a beard for a long time.

When I ask Caplan if he’s got any good drinking stories, he remarks, “Any good drinking stories? Oh man, yeah.”

With the prospect of receiving shots, he asks, “Do you want me to tell you my drinking story while we’re drinking?” and follows with “I just really love drinking.”

He then goes on to tell his story.

“The bar that I used to work at in Halifax called the Ward Room had this crazy night and I still don’t really know why it happened to what the justification was, but they were giving away free booze. And I think it was against the law. It must’ve been. And so I just sat down at the bar and I started ordering cask-strength single malt scotch, so 48-55% alcohol.

“And then a certain point I was drunk enough that I nicked a bottle of vodka from behind the bar and filled a pint glass with it and just started drinking a pint of vodka. And people were like “Oh Ben, it’s free booze night and you reverted to water.” And I would be like, ‘No, I did not take a sip of my water.’ And people would take a sip and be like, ‘You’re fucking nuts. You’re going to kill yourself.’

“And I eventually whisked said pint glass, because people assumed it was water, walked out of the bar and got onto my bicycle and started trying to bike home. And I managed to wind up in the middle of the road with my bicycle on top of me, pint glass still attached to the handlebars. And I just decided that it was a good time to take a nap. In the middle of the road. Well, a couple of cars stopped, which is fortunate because they might’ve run over me and somebody called an ambulance. And the ambulance showed up and they tested me for alcohol poisoning and I was just in that zone where ‘maybe he does or maybe he doesn’t, but he’ll probably live regardless. We don’t want to give him the catheter.’ And they just sent me home. They said, ‘Don’t ride your bike anymore. Go home.’

“And then I got back on my bike and rode the rest of the way home. And that was probably the drunkest I’ve ever been in my life.”

As far as drunken stories related to playing shows, he says, “I used to get paid in booze at the Ward Room, that same bar in Halifax. And so I would go down and play my set and I would order triple scotches on the rocks and I would just get so drunk that I would have to get my friends to some down the bar where I was playing and some of them would take my gear and pack it up for me and some of the others would come and carry me up the stairs and put me to bed. And that was what every gig was like for the first year.”

When I give Caplan the chance to say any last words, he says, “Buy my record. I have no money.”

So there you have it. Buy his record so he has some money. He’s playing a show tonight at the Supermarket, which is PWYC.

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