Photo of
Photo By Paul Moffett
The New Bravado

Ben Lally's Diverse Bravado

Kevin Gibson

New Bravado's Ben Lally doesn't feel the need to commit to any certain sound; he simply loves to write and play music.

He does, however, have a commitment, as he reveals during a recent phone call from his back yard.

"My wife said she saw a snake," he said. "I have to figure out whether it's a guitar cord or what."

New Bravado

Photo By Paul Moffett

New Bravado New Bravado

New Bravado

Photo By Paul Moffett

New Bravado New Bravado

New Bravado

Photo By Paul Moffett

New Bravado New Bravado

New Bravado

Photo By

New Bravado New Bravado

And while he's definitely committed to New Bravado, which recently released its first EP, titled Unconscious Afternoon, you never know what kind of sound might come out of Lally when he creates a piece of music.

He was most recently leader of the Americana-ish band Benanthrope, whereas New Bravado is more of a fuzz-rock ensemble. Before all that? He was in a Lexington jazz band called (note: you can't make this stuff up) Sexual Disaster Quartet.

But in a world of specialization, Lally never felt the need to focus on one particular thing. Or maybe he's just a little OCD, who knows?

"Playing in so many different kinds of bands, so many different genres, I was just really open to new ideas and never fit well into one exact [genre] growing up," he said. "Every few months or years I would get turned onto something new; I think that was a good thing. I can sit in on a country song with a Telecaster and pick stuff or I can sit in on a blues jam. I love sitting in on blues jams, it's great."

While one blogger (via American Gloam) described Unconscious Afternoon as "[eating] the living flesh and spirit that is Hawkwind, Sabbath, Blue Mountain Eagle, and the 60s/70s fuzz-psych galley," it honestly isn't all that far removed from straight-ahead 1960s garage rock. There's a little blues in there. There's a little pop in there. There's heavy rock and more, which really is just further testament that Lally isn't really writing to fill a certain sound he's just letting the songs be what they naturally want to be.

Just, you know, louder.

You see, once upon a time Lally wrote a whoooole lot of songs aimed at becoming the beginnings of Benanthrope. But not all of the songs fit. And, naturally, he wrote some new songs that were never intended. But mostly, he just wanted to do something different.

And, um, louder.

LEXINGTON, AND ALL THAT JAZZ

The aforementioned Sexual Disaster Quartet really wasn't even the beginning Lally was in his 20s by the time he landed there. The musical diversity actually started early in life with his mom, who had been a DJ in college, playing a lot of bluegrass music and modern country.

"Frankly, I wasn't a big fan of that," Lally said, "but my dad, in his car, would always have blues tapes."

Shania Twain meets John Lee Hooker?

"I of course listened to Guns n Roses metal or hair metal - as a kid," he continued. "When I got into playing guitar, I guess I was about 12, I started playing Metallica, learned some Slayer tunes, all that stuff."

In those days, Lally wasn't concerned with writing he was more interested in becoming an accomplished guitar player. So he learned to play a lot of blues and classic rock "to sort of hone my skills."

And then something happened. He moved to Lexington and got some eye openers.

"I met some cool kids and got turned onto new stuff," he said. "What really flipped my lid was Beck, Wu Tang and jam band stuff Grateful Dead. Three very different genres. It was different than stuff I had heard before. From hanging out with my new friends, I started meeting kids who had better record collections."

Then came late '90s indie rock (Pavement, anyone?) and after that came jazz. He listened to the greats and said he would lock himself away for hours and play.

That's when he found Sexual Disaster Quartet, which he describes as a "modern heavy avant garde freakout jazz" combo.

"Would cover 'Kinda Blue' by Miles Davis, and then do a free jazz set with distortion pedals on saxophone," he said. "We covered a lot of different kinds of styles in that band. We did a lot of covers we would throw in Al Green, Hendrix. You're not going to be invited back every week if you freak people out."

The band indeed played a lot, pretty much every weekend, and he did it for about three years. Meanwhile, he kept thinking about a singer-songwriter project he simply didn't have time for. He wrote songs. Lots of songs. Some were just bits of songs a chorus here, a verse there, maybe a melody or just a riff. But he had lots of songs. And then he moved to Louisville. Not long after, Benanthrope was born.

NOTHING LIKE JAZZ

Benanthrope was not a modern heavy avant garde freakout jazz combo. It was singer-songwriter, Americana type stuff, but with its own direction not the cookie-cutter Mumford & Sons knock-offs that have swarmed the music scene these days. There was rock. There was even a measure of psychedelia. But it was, um, a measured measure.

And the first Benanthrope record, Saddest of Bastards, came straight out of Lally's den. He had stockpiled a lot of instruments, and just went at the recording on his own in early 2012. He had plenty to work with.

"From the time I was done with SDQ, I just wrote and wrote and wrote," he said. "After so much playing guitar for other people, I just wanted to write songs."

And write he did. The songs were "a bunch of ideas I'd had flowing around for long time. It was the first time I'd found myself without a band because I'd just moved to Louisville."

And if you're in a new town and don't know many people, let's face it you have plenty of time to record. Besides, you can only wait for so long if you've got 80 or so rough drafts, as Lally did.

"I said, 'Before I get too old, I'm gonna try to record a solo project," he said. "And that was Benanthrope."

Benanthrope would become a full, five-piece band that included Lally, Andy Matter, Rory Hanka, Ross Whitaker and Jason Walker. The band's bio offers this interesting description of what a Benanthrope show was like: "Their full live instrumentation includes pedal steel, organs, harmonicas, synths and dreamy delay feedback noises with reverb-laced vocals while their freshman recording efforts, with their warm lo-fi aesthetic, go on to feature acoustic piano, banjo, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, and actual live barnyard animals routed through analog delay pedals."

Take a breath.

As sometimes happens, everyone in the band was busy with other projects, and one member lived in Lexington. Benanthrope played as recently as June, but Lally said that project is currently on the shelf.

Why?

"Well, honestly, because the band that I really started as a side project during summertime last year … kind of took off," he said.

That side project is called New Bravado. Regardless, Lally says Benanthrope will go on at some point.

"I still keep writing," he said. "One way or another, it will still go on. It may come back as an acoustic act, maybe not quite as alt-country as it was. It will be wearing a different kind of pants. It might show up in some jorts instead of boot cuts."

HERE'S YOUR BRAVADO

For now, forget the jorts and boot cuts. Lose the twang. New Bravado is a whole new kind of beast. What began as a side project has now become The Thing for Lally. Really, it was never meant to be anything more than just an excuse to play rock 'n' roll.

"After playing all those more alternative country songs, things that were less guitar oriented, I wanted to have at least a side project where I could just play real loud like I used to," he said.

It was a little over a year ago, he said, and "I started looking to have side project, do darker, psychedelic ideas. Get weird again."

Interestingly, some of the songs he'd originally written for Benanthrope have ended up being converted, because he decided after the fact they just didn't seem to work for that aesthetic.

"When New Bravado started, there was no preconceived idea of what it was going to sound like," he said, "except it was going to be a guitar -driven band and harder hitting. That was the only thing we had in mind. I knew I was finding the right friends and we would all work on the sound of the songs, and I knew the sound of the band would come naturally as we started to play together."

Adam Copelin, Colin Kellogg and Jason Walker round out New Bravado's lineup. Copelin met Lally when the former's band HuH Robots played a show with Benanthrope.

"He was doing a set of Benanthrope tunes and mentioned that he was looking for a bassist to try out some fuzzy sounding songs with," Copelin said. "Once I figured out that he actually lives in Louisville and not Lexington, I told him I was down. A couple of months later he started showing me some tunes and Jason and Colin joined the fray, and the rest, as they say, is history."

Copelin is not just a bass player, however; he's also an engineer, and he recorded the band's debut EP in a rehearsal space at Lally's house and used Lally's bedroom as a mixing booth. We know Lally's wife doesn't like snakes, but how did she feel about her bedroom being turned into a recording studio?

"She was really cool about it," Lally said. "She complained a little, but a lot less than I would have."

Fair enough.

The sound quality is pretty darn good; Copelin uses a Focusrite LS56 interface plus "a handful of mics I like and Pro Tools," he said. "It's just mobile enough that I can get into cool spots and run a lot of tracks at once, and just clunky enough to be a pain in the ass to move around. I'm very happy with that setup though; it sounds super nice, and getting into different spaces can shape the sound of a recording in really interesting ways."

"It so awesome," Lally gushed. "I'm so lucky. He's got a lot of exp at it for such a young guy [Copelin is 24]. He's got great ears, great equipment and he's really eager to do a great job."

"I'm very happy with Unconscious Afternoon," Copelin said. "I feel like it's the best thing I've engineered, and it was the most ambitious project I've taken on. Ben, Colin and Jason helped make my job a lot easier. They're great players with great gear, and they really nailed their parts."

He added, "Thankfully, Ben's neighbors are apparently pretty indifferent to drums and wailing guitars for several hours a day for a month, so we all really got to let loose and make some cool noise."

Interestingly, Copelin is a guy with diverse musical taste and ability to make different kinds of noises, just like Lally. His other band, huH Robots, is very folk-meets-punk, with a side order of beat poetry. Which is to say, not at all like New Bravado.

"I suppose that majoring in music really opened up my ears to a lot of things that I otherwise would have probably ignored," Copelin said. "Learning about and listening to a lot of music just makes you want to pull from more styles and put them together in different ways. Both New Bravado and huH Robots do that to some extent; there are a lot of different styles that make themselves felt in both bands. I'm just sort of drawn to groups that can reference several different voices while making something new out of them all."

New Bravado is splitting time playing a handful of shows a month in Louisville and Lexington, with no immediate plans to push the envelope any farther.

"We haven't fully figured out what the grand scheme is yet," Lally said. "We want to put out good music, keep getting better, make it more and more fun for us as it goes. We haven't ruled anything out."

He calls New Bravado an "organic thing" that gives everyone in the band a say. Putting out a record at least once a year and playing enough shows to stay active is the loose plan at the moment. Anything else will be a bonus.

Judging from the response Unconscious Afternoon has received, you just never know where New Bravado might end up.

The scary thought is that there's no telling how many more good songs he has stashed away. Or in what direction they might go once they're written.

As for his dabbling in a variety of genres, Lally said, "I think it's like, throughout the day how many emotions do you have? Most people run through a whole wheel of emotions. What do you listen to while going through those emotions?

"Doing pushups, you might want to listen to Wu Tang. If you're having dinner, you might want to listen to Neil Young's more country records, or classical. If you're pissed off and stuck in traffic, you might want to listen to doom metal."

Lally is 33, and says he has learned some lessons both musically in life.

"I finally realized in order to actually get anyone to listen to what you have to say, you have to reel [the diversity] in a little bit, even if you only [do so] one record at a time. [But] if you can put out enough records you can express any kind off idea you want to."