Meet The Band: Ben Caplan and The Casual Smokers

Beardtastic folk singer Ben Caplan is quite the character. Those who have seen him live know all about this. Gravely voice? Check. Rockin' tunes? Check. Jealousy-inducing beard growing ability? You better believe that's a check. But Ben Caplan is more than just a good beard, which is why we invited him to do a Meet The Band before he wows you (with more than his beard...) at The Horseshoe on Nov. 28.

How do you describe your music to someone who hasn't heard you before?

I have a really hard time answering that question, so I am going to let the bio writers from Pop Montreal 2011 answer the question for me:

Marinate a talented quintet in Swordfishtrombones broth for two to three decades. Baste with whiskey and gently stir in four tablespoons of creepy Victorian accordion-waltzes. Cure in nicotine for three years, garnish with a generous pinch of klezmer-folk-shanty songs, and voilĂ : The Casual Smokers will serve an entire drunken gypsy caravan.

Say, for some strange reason, all the music in the world is going to be destroyed, but you can save all the songs from one decade. Which decade's records would you save?

2010's . The vast majority of the music that I listen to comes from right now. I am not one for nostalgically fawning over the ‘60s or ‘70s, and certainly not the ‘80s or ‘90s. There was some really cool stuff in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but I am not going to listen to just jazz for the rest of my life... I want the derivative stuff too! So it would be the 2010's. Does that mean I would get to hear new releases for the next 9 years?

Who, in your opinion, has/had the best facial hair of any band ever?

The Elwins, hands down. Have you seen Feurd's moustache? Plus they just put out an amazing video about moustaches and movember.

If you could open for one current band that you haven't played with before, who would it be?

I would love to play a show with Bruce Peninsula. I am a huge fan of that band and I've been friends with a number of the musicians in the band for years, but the stars have never aligned for us to play together. I've seen them a number of times, but not since their new album came out. There was talk of both of us sharing a bill at Halifax Pop Explosion this year, but we both wound up headlining separate shows, so I missed their set. When I was in Toronto this month I missed them again because I was playing a competing show on the other side of town!

If you could play one venue you've never played before, what would it be?

I would love to play The Music Room in Halifax. The venue was built and designed with acoustics in mind. The house seats probably around 150 people for an intimate affair in a space that sounds amazing with our without amplification. I'd also love to play Saint Mathew's Church in Halifax for similar reasons – or Massey Hall for entirely unrelated reasons... man, that would be a blast!

What was the craziest live show you've ever played?

The craziest live show I've ever played was definitely Evolve festival 2011. I had a 9-piece band including three backup singers, and an auxiliary percussion player. The audience was crammed into a yurt, and it was so full both on stage, and in the audience that no one could move. At one point, I tripped over the drum kit and flew into the cymbals and hit the drummer holding my electric guitar. It was mental. Rock and roll.

What's your favourite song to play live? Why?

My favourite song to play live right now is probably “40 Days and 40 Nights.” That would be because I usually get to play a saxophone solo during that tune. There is nothing more fun than playing a saxophone solo.

What was the first record you ever bought? When was the last time you listened to it?

I think it was the soundtrack to Wayne's World – with “Bohemian Rhapsody” on it, which I can still sing, note for note, from beginning to end (including the guitar solo). I don't think I've listened to that album in 10 years at least. Maybe more. I certainly don't know where the CD is. But I kind of want to find it!

Or are we talking about vinyl in this question? Maybe Outlandos D'Amour by The Police. Their first, and, in my opinion, best album.

Who was your favourite band (or artist) when you were 12 years old? Do you still like them?

My favourite band when I was 12, above and beyond all else, was Phish. I couldn't get enough of that stuff. By the time I was 12 I was trading Phish tapes in the mail and listening to bootleg live recordings. I lived and breathed for that band. When I hear them now there is a nostalgic pleasure, but I don't really like anything they've done since 2000 and their music in general is far from my favourite thing to listen to right now.

If you could switch places with another musicians in some type of "Freaky Friday" type incident, who would you want it to be?

Iggy Pop circa 1977. That shit looks fun! Plus, I would never put hard drugs in my body, but it would probably be a lot of fun to put them in his!

If you could have one musical superpower, what would you want it to be?

My superpower would be the ability to play every instrument well. That would open so many doors for writing! Imagine if you wanted to write a french horn line, and you could just pick up a french horn and figure out the timbrel qualities first hand, and then discover how your melody feels on the instrument and what sorts of things are idiomatic for that instrument. Plus with a bit if practice you wouldn't need to hire a french horn player to play that line...

Do you hate your hometown?

I didn't love it all the time when I lived there, but now that I've moved away I have a strong affinity for the place. It's easy to think that everything sucks when you haven't been anywhere else (and especially when you are a snotty teenager) but I think my Hamilton hometown has a lot going for it. Now more than ever perhaps. I'm told it's the greenest “industrial” city in the world, although industry is taking up an ever smaller part of the local economy. Standing on “the mountain” and looking out over the city all you see is green. The city is also jam packed full of parks and waterfalls along the Niagara escarpment. And the music and arts scene is thriving now more than ever. It was in Hamilton that I got the opportunity to open for the best bands I've played with (like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors) and saw some of my favourite shows (like Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings or Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra). So, I moved away from my hometown, but I still believe in it, and I certainly don't hate it.

Photo: Ben Caplan

Meet The Band is a regular feature where we introduce you to bands we like. You can find all of the rest of them here.


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