The Man Behind The Beard—An Interview With Ben Caplan

By Adrienne McLaren

Words can hardly describe the feeling you get when listening to Halifax folk singer and songwriter Ben Caplan. In fact, if you haven’t heard him, go listen to him now. This interview can wait. Finished listening to him? You may proceed. I caught him for a nice chat at the Folk Alliance International which went on from February 20-24 at the Delta Chelsea Hotel. His debut album In the Time of the Great Remembering was given a great deal of Canadian attention a couple of years ago. Sometimes joined on stage by his band The Casual Smokers, Ben Caplan knows how to put on a show. His name is quickly being recognized on a much wider spectrum, greatly due to his European tour last year, and is set to play in Sydney, Australia this April. His sophomore album is to come out later this year. Keep your eyes and ears open for this brilliantly-bearded man, for he isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Demo: What thoughts are going through your head when you perform? You have a way to always have your audience really engaged in your act.

Ben Caplan: When I’m at my best, I’m in my body and not in my head. It’s almost like a trance. I think it’s from practice and doing a lot of shows, I guess I don’t have to think about it.

D: Yeah, for me when I perform on stage, I never actually remember what it actually felt like to be on stage.

BC: Yeah, after shows people are like, “It was so funny when you said that thing!” and I’m like, “I don’t remember… that’s ridiculous. Why did I say that.”

D: Where do your lyrics come from? What goes through your mind when you’re writing them down?

BC: It comes from a lot of different places. Some come from nowhere… from the ether. And other lyrics are very meticulously calculated. There’s a song I just finished writing on my next record called “Belly of the Worm”. The first line of the song just came to me while I was riding my bike. It goes “It ain’t your job to take care of me”, and it all came from there. It’s a break-up song and I wrote the song and then re-wrote it and edited it, then re-wrote it again, and the song totally transformed itself. There wasn’t a time when I knew what the song was about… I sort of let the song tell me what it was about.


Ben Caplan and Demo Contributor Adrienne McLaren.

BC: Not really, it’s just that outside tends to be more visually interesting for a video performance. But I do like playing out.

D: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

BC: I don’t know, I mean before I was a musician, I was working a little bit as an actor, doing some theatrical interpretations of historical sites… stuff like that. Telemarketing.

D: Oh God…

BC: (laughs) I mean, I have a degree in history and philosophy. My aspiration before I decided I wanted to be an entertainer was to be an academic and maybe I’d be further along that road. I’m also interested in environmental issues of degradation. Maybe I would’ve become a permaculturalist or an environmentalist, I don’t know.

D: Tell me about The Casual Smokers. Who are they, really?

BC: The Casual Smokers aren’t really an entity. I mean, in my mind there’s the ideal version of the band which is based off some musicians I’ve played with in Halifax. The Casual Smokers is a violinist, a bassist, and a drummer, and those three characters change a bit from gig to gig.

D: Tell me about the difference between touring in Canada and Europe.

BC: It’s very, very different, I mean a lot of it has to do with cultural expectations when people go to a show. A lot of the shows I end up playing in Canada are at bars and people go to a bar to meet up their friends to have a drink and catch a band if a band’s playing. Usually I’m able to make the audience shut up and become engaged in a show. A lot of my performance style has developed from trying to get a room engaged in the performance. In Europe it’s very different because it’s not a struggle. They are there to engage. They’re less willing to get rowdy and crazy because they want to be passive observers. In Europe the band walks on stage and the crowed are like (whispers) “Oh, yeah we’ll finish our conversation later- the band’s here.” If you were to go to a night of theatre, you wouldn’t say to your friend (loudly) “This play is not that good!” You know, you wouldn’t even whisper, you’d shut up and watch the play.

D: Any words of advice for bands trying to get their foot in the door?

BC: Be the best. (long pause)

D: Right…

BC: (laughs) There’s all this talk about the social media, and the marketing, and the blah blah blah, and all that stuff is really important, but like, practice your instrument, and practice writing songs, and write all the shitty ones then throw them out, and then start writing the good ones. Listen to your favourite music and ask yourself “what is better about it than what you’re doing. Why is it that this is awesome and why are you not getting any traction. When I listen back to my old performances, all I can hear are the flaws. If you think you’re the f***ing bees knees and you’re god’s gift to music listeners, then that’s probably a problem. You should be trying to figure out the difference between the bands who are doing really well and yourself. If you can’t hear that difference, then maybe you’re amazing, or maybe you need to start listening a little closer. You should constantly be looking for learning opportunities.

One Response to “The Man Behind The Beard—An Interview With Ben Caplan”
  1. Marc says:

    Looking forward to your show in Hamburg this October!!

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