Red Bennies

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Photo: Chris Swainston

Dan Thomas – Drums
Dave Payne – Vocals, Guitar
Tommy Nguyen – Bass

“We have been around for sixteen years, and there’s a reason: it’s because we’re the best band—ever. And we challenge anyone as proof of this. Book the show and we’ll be there.” These are the words of Dave Payne, vocalist/guitarist of venerable local rock veterans The Red Bennies. With over ten releases to their name and a list of alumni that includes some of the most notable musicians in Salt Lake, The Red Bennies’ self-described style of “rock soul punk” has certainly become legendary, and now they’re presenting themselves and their music in an entirely new way. “I consider our approach to the group as an absolute evolution of the rock n’ roll culture.” Payne says, “If everybody had our outlook, then every band would be together forever and every band would sound amazing and every musician would be incredible.” This new approach that Payne so boldly speaks of is as simply clear as it is frighteningly unfamiliar: cut all of the bullshit out of music.
As is the case with most major revelations, it took years of hardship for Payne to arrive at the revolutionary philosophy he currently employs in The Red Bennies. After releasing Shake It Off in 2005, The Red Bennies went through a period of turmoil. Longtime members left the fold while others pursued new projects. Payne kept busy as a member of The Glinting Gems and Marvin Payne & The Gifted Seed as well as teaching at The Rock and Roll Academy and raising twin girls with his wife Leena. When the band found time to regroup and work on new material, things didn’t go well. “We weren’t that good of a group.” Payne says, “We were not very productive and didn’t have a very good attitude for about three years.” In early 2010, bassist Scott Selfridge and keyboardist Terrence Warburton decided to leave. Payne convinced them to stay long enough to record the band’s newest album, Glass Hands, which Payne considers his masterwork. “The new album is just us doing the final takes of these songs after our grumpiest years and I feel like I really captured that.” Payne says, “By toning the sound we make down enough, I shone a light on the individuals in the group and I think it sounds like the most personable and realistic album that I’ve ever made.”
Fresh off the recording of Glass Hands, Payne and drummer Dan Thomas recruited bassist Tommy Nguyen (Tolchock Trio) and the entire dynamic of the group changed almost immediately. “We were the worst band ever—now we have the best band ever.” Payne credits his rediscovered love for playing music to teaching kids every day at his Rock and Roll Academy. “The school is tailored to my experience, not because I think it’s the best way, but because it’s what I know. Through the process of having other people do that, I’ve realized that the whole thing stinks,” Payne says. By teaching the kids how to play music via endless repetition, he realized he was making them hate it. To combat this, he makes his students treat every song as a cover song after they’ve learned the basic structure—a practice he has also incorporated into The Red Bennies. He has also enforced several new rules within the band (for example, each member has to try three new things in each song and the band must learn how to play a different song for each performance) designed to keep the experience of playing music fun and exciting. “The rules keep you in the mindset that you’re not there to make good songs, but you’re there to express yourself and your musicianship.” Payne says, “The goal is to enjoy playing music in the long term.”

Recently, Payne has also introduced a new tenet into the revamped Red Bennies philosophy: battles. The band has faced off against Blackhole and Subrosa, trading off songs with one band on the stage and one set up on the ground, each group trying to outdo the other’s previous song. “After a million shows, you’re just in front of an audience that you don’t respect at all. You have nothing to prove to them and nothing to prove to yourself, but you do have something to prove to this other band.” Payne also finds this format to be more engaging for the audience, and more attuned to the short attention span possessed by most people. “After the Subrosa show, everyone was talking to me about the different bands and the different songs. Everyone had an opinion where they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he says.  Payne plans to keep on battling, and the challenge issued at the beginning of this article is not an idle threat. “I only want to play battle shows from now on.” Payne says, “I have this fantasy that we’ll be able to battle someone we don’t know and get the reputation to have someone challenge us.”
Though he played Craft Lake City with Coyote Hoods last year, expect a much different performance from Payne and The Red Bennies this year. “[Playing Craft Lake City] is actually the ultimate battle. To play somewhere we’d never play in a million years in the middle of the day gives me the same feeling I get from the battles. It’s a unique experience and you’ll never get that feeling any other way.”

Photo: Chris Swainston