Ben Carroll is the guitarist in the rock band Ra, a solo artist, and music instructor. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ben and discuss his new solo record (A Dream Between Two Fires), Ra, and find out what else has been keeping him busy.
1) Your instrumental album A Dream Between Two Fires is set to come out on June 9th; how would you describe the recording process that went into the album?
BC: The recording process was a learning experience. Recording A Dream Between Two Fires was the first time I've recorded and mixed a whole record 100% on my own. So, as in when you do anything for the first time, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I'm definitely happy with how the record has turned out. I've been lucky enough to have worked with some great producers and engineers with Ra, so that helped my knowledge base to start. But taking it all into your own hands is all together a completely different experience. People can actually check out a few tracks at www.ADreamBetweenTwoFires.com and tell me if they think I did alright on my own.
2) Lyricists often write songs that strike an emotional chord within themselves, is it the same when you write an instrumental song; and, if so, what songs do you feel most closely tied to?
BC: Yeah, it is absolutely very similar. A lot of these tracks are about very personal matters and even though there are no words in the songs, some moments in this record are honestly a bit embarrassing for me to let other people hear; but as an artist if you are not willing to go out on a limb and really put yourself out there then you will never understand what it means to catch the magic of putting down a song that is extremely personal and close to your heart. There is something liberating about doing that. As far as picking one song that I feel more closely tied to over the others, I don't think I could do that. Each of these songs represents reflecting on a specific life experience to me, some wonderful, and some absolutely awful.
3) For people that have never listened to Ra, which songs would you recommend they listen to first?
BC: As far as Ra songs go, our signature track is definitely "Do You Call My Name" which is off of our 2002 album From One. There is a damn good chance they have heard that one before somewhere, sometime. "Fallen Angels" is another great track -- that song is off of our 2005 record Duality. Plus, a song that every one seems to love is "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," a Police cover we did which was also on Duality. I used to hear our version of that all the time in the most random places -- grocery shopping, at the mall, at CVS.
For A Dream Between Two Fires, my solo record, "Dropping" is the song that would be closest stylistically to what I've done with Ra. I think the main riff was originally demoed by me to be worked on as a Ra song, but then it has obviously ended up going somewhere completely different. Part of "Melting Through" was originally presented as a Ra demo, but didn't end up getting used so I turned it into something completely different. The rest of the songs were written and always intended to be for this solo record.
4) What is the current status of Ra? Will you guys be touring at anytime this year?
BC: Ra is still alive and kicking, going strong. We are actually getting ready to release our 5th record Black Sheep (we're entering the farm animal stage of out career) on June 9th as well. I am pretty sure we will be touring this summer, starting around mid July and hopefully hitting most of the country with maybe some international shows this fall, hopefully.
5) Do you do any finger exercises before playing in concert, or have any pre-show rituals?
BC: I like to warm up on the guitar before a show if there is time. A lot of times there isn't the chance to warm up pre-show. I don't really have a set thing that I'll warm up with; I just jam and maybe play some scales to get my fingers moving. The real pre-show ritual is PJ (Ra bass player) and I pop in the Slipknot DVD Disasterpieces and have a shot (or 2, or 3) of Jägermeister. I always stretch out before a show because they tend to be pretty active.
6) I'm sure that your adrenaline is pumping when you're performing in concert, what do you typically do to wind down afterward?
BC: After a Ra show, I always try to get back into the club to hang out with the fans and have a few beers. Anybody that has been to a Ra show will tell you we always hang out for a bit after the show and just have a good time with all the people that were there to see the show.
7) Along with releasing music and touring with Ra, you also provide guitar lessons to aspiring musicians. What are the most difficult and most rewarding aspects to teaching a novice to wield the axe?
BC: Yeah, I teach regularly when I'm not on the road with Ra. I actually teach live 1-on-1 guitar lessons online (BenCarrollMusic.com) through Skype and have taught students all over the country and even as far away as Germany. I'm also gearing up to launch two ground-breaking websites: The RockDoctors, LLC (a ground-breaking comprehensive music, artistry coaching, music technical training, and music business consulting firm) and The American RockStar Academy (provides the student with live, 1-on-1, music instruction from today's real-world rock stars, such as members of Shadows Fall, Ra, Megadeth and many many others.)
The most difficult aspect of teaching guitar is teaching someone that has never really held the instrument before. The guitar is actually pretty damn uncomfortable when you first start. You've got to hold your posture all funny, make wacked out shapes with your fingers, and rub your fingertips on metal strings until they feel like you've scraped them up and down repeatedly on a cheese grater. But the most rewarding aspect is seeing the joy in someone that nails a song for the first time or rips out a killer lick or riff for the first time. That is something special. It makes all the cheese grating well worthwhile. I really enjoy teaching and I like to think I'm a good teacher. I keep it fun.
8) It seems that every musical career has its ups and downs, what would you say has been your greatest joy thus far in the musical world?
BC: I've had a fairly fortunate career so far, so I'm lucky enough that there have been a handful of great joys! But the one that really sticks out in my mind is when Ra first started blowing up. I remember one show where when I got to the club the show was already sold out and there was a line of people all the way around the building just trying to get in to see the show that was already full. That was surreal.
9) Assuming for a moment that there actually were guitarist showdowns, à la Guitar Hero, which guitarist would you not want to get into a showdown with?
BC: Oh, there are a bunch of ‘em. Haha. The scene from Crossroads comes to mind when Steve Vai and Ralph Macchio are facing off. I definitely would not want to go up against Steve Vai, or Ralph Macchio, ‘cause even though I don't think he really plays guitar in real life, he could do the crane kick thing on me and that would just suck.
10) We end all interviews with word association. I say "wombat" and you say...
BC: Fold up taco. I actually got dumped on a radio interview once for saying "fold up taco." Hmm, the real question is what sentence could you put together to turn "wombat" into a dirty word? Any suggestions?