Ben Harold is a singer-songwriter currently based in Sturgeon Bay. Through Midwest-flavored Americana and roots rock, Harold’s music is honest and convicted, as realized in the recent album “These Days” he released with his band Ben Harold & the Rising. It’s a record that confronts the complexities of trying to live normally in recent times.
SLOWEY: Alright Ben, first things first. How did you get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?
HAROLD: Well, I had met with Allison a couple years ago at 88Nine and saw the Black Pumas play right after they got their first Grammy nomination. I had heard about what she’d been doing with Wisconsin Music Ventures through a friend of mine and just wanted to see what was up, and I had a great conversation with her about what it’s all about. I wound up working beside them for a while before my own work and music was becoming too much, so I had to step away, but I got to meet all the people that work within Wisconsin Music Ventures and really had a good time getting to know them. I stick with them because I know they have the best interests for artists in mind.
SLOWEY: Right on dude. She can’t do it all by herself and I’m glad she has people like Bruce helping out.
SLOWEY: Ben, what’s your opinion on winter?
HAROLD: (laughs) Oh man. I have two opinions, and they’re equally strong. My first opinion is that I don’t like it (laughs) and I could live in LA happily. My second opinion is that I’m married to a very Irish woman who melts in anything above 72 degrees and sunny, so this is kind of her jam right now. I love her too much to hate it. So I’m kind of in the middle; I do like the changes of the seasons ultimately, and if I can get away enough then I don’t feel too bad about it. I make it work.
SLOWEY: I get it; I mean I’m part Norwegian and Irish so I come from a lineage of very cold-dwelling folks, so I don’t get cold very easily. But I still hate winter. I love being outdoors and it’s a bit taxing to have to be inside for four or five months.
HAROLD: It’s funny because I was just listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Letters to You” on vinyl, and when I put that album on I suddenly don’t care that it’s cold out. If that album’s on, I’m good. Then that high usually lasts for about 24-48 hours. So if I just listen to that album every three days for the entirety of the winter then I’ll be fine.
SLOWEY: That’s a good point; it’s good to have a few winter albums that can warm you up. The Fleet Foxes do that for me.
SLOWEY: If you had to recommend one Wisconsin state park or nature preserve, what would you choose?
HAROLD: That’s a good question. Well, there’s a couple. There’s Rock Island; I grew up in Milwaukee and on Washington Island and I worked on the car ferry there, and Rock Island to me was always cool. The other is also in Door County; there’s a place called Crossroads in Sturgeon Bay and that’s just big open walking paths, lots of trees, and it has probably my favorite place in any nature preserve – just a big pine forest area. You feel like a kid building a fort because the trees are all lining up the path. I love it; I just think it’s the most peaceful place to be.
SLOWEY: Great choices.
HAROLD: What about you?
SLOWEY: Out of what I’ve been to, my favorite’s been Kohler-Andrae State Park.
HAROLD: Yeah, I’ve heard about it a lot but never been.
SLOWEY: They’ve got some dunes and beautiful beaches. It’s just adjacent to Sheboygan. I also like Harrington Beach a lot too over by Belgium. I’ve been in ones you can do little day trips to but I want to go like across the state sometime.
SLOWEY: So Ben, you just dropped this new record, “These Days.” What do you have to say about what went into it and the themes about it?
HAROLD: I was coming off of “Solace” which was my first album, and that one came from a time that was very introspective for me. That was a little chip on my shoulder in a sense because I liked writing it and needed to write those songs, but my favorite artists write narratively, and I’ve always wanted to write that way. I had never really experimented with that, certainly not with my true-found style I’ve stumbled into, so I wanted to explore that more. I didn’t have to change a whole lot in my approach; I just had to lean into it a little more. I like talking to people and hearing their stories, and that’s what I had to lean into for myself. I started with the first song “Just A Ghost” which I wrote about my mom and our experiences growing up and what I observed about her as a musician, and her giving up that for us. I wrote it really as a poem and didn’t intend for it to be a song, but I think once it came together as a song and I ran it by the guys in the band and the group thought was “this is the single.” So once that clicked together I think the rest of the songs just started flowing out. It’s kind of funny how that works; you unlock it and it becomes something. The process really was just whittling down the eighteen songs that were written to say which ones fit in the story we wanted to tell. As you go along and put the songs together, it actually kind of lays itself out for you. We had more time than we thought we would have just because of COVID and it worked out naturally. I’m grateful for that.
SLOWEY: Thank you for sharing all that. Now that the record’s out, what are you working on now? What’s next?
HAROLD: Well, we’re relieved that it’s out (laughs). We have a campaign we’re working through for the release right now that we’re about 20 days into, so there’s still work to be done with it. That’s really where the focus is right now. We’re playing shows, but as we’re playing we’re also thinking about working on those other songs we have. It’s time to start bringing that into the fold because now we’re thinking about performance and where the songs line up. So there’s a lot of band meetings and conversations about all that stuff.
SLOWEY: What are your shows coming up?
HAROLD: We have a show through Wisconsin Music Ventures in Sheboygan on November 13th at the Lutheran High School’s new Fine Arts Center. Orlando Pena’s opening for us. Then I’ll be at The Pyramid at the end of November.