Laura Benitez and the Heartache’s biography says, “If you love Americana and Classic Honky-tonk, uncensored and unpolished, you’ll love this band!” It is a statement that is hard to ignore and easy to understand. Even on this side of the Atlantic where the genres have not flowed into the mainstream hearts of music lovers as they arguably should have done, the music that Laura Benitez and her musicians have produced is something tangibly infectious and instantly enjoyable. So much so that the album, Heartless Woman should be seen as a classic in the making, as real a piece of Americana as you could hope to hear and shines a lantern deep into the heart of what makes the country so fascinating and beautiful to be involved in.
Laura Benitez, songwriter, lead singer and founder of Laura Benitez and the Heartache, has been making her mark on stage and screen since the turn of the century and with her band has come along it seems just at the right moment to inject some Americana love into the hearts and minds of fans of the genre. In one of the first interviews in Europe with Ms. Benitez since the release of the album, It was an honour to be able to ask the talented songwriter questions on the album, her take on 21st Century Feminism and relationships between music, drink and male and female attitudes.
Congratulations on the new album, it is a terrific and inspiring piece. How did it come about?
Laura: “The album came about very organically. I had a group of new songs that I had been playing at shows with the Heartache, and I really wanted to record them to highlight the new sound that the band was developing. Recording is a long and tedious process, though, and I didn’t know how the band and the sound would gel once in the studio. After the first mixes came back I knew right away we were on to something, and I think the rest of the band felt it too.”
The idea of a heartless woman is one that seems prevalent throughout the album and yet underneath the surface, it should perhaps be seen as a great critique and look at 21st Century feminism, a new and perhaps ideological way of looking at the subject, is that a fair statement?
Laura: “I love that you see feminist critique in the album, its immensely flattering! It’s not something I did consciously, but because I am a feminist living in this time and place those themes do come up in my life and therefore my songs. The theme is probably strongest in “Heartless Woman,” because women are asked all the time to conform to out-dated male notions of behaviour. Professional women are supposed to never show emotion, to be “tough,” to make work a priority over their personal lives the way that men traditionally have. And I have struggled with these notions personally, wishing I was tougher and not the emotionally sensitive person that I am. But it’s the outdated ideas of what “tough” means that need to change.
The album is also feminist in the sense that I want the voice that comes through in my songs to be positive and proactive and funny. I don’t want to be the victim, or portray myself as helpless, or feel sorry for myself in my music. The songs are sad, but not helpless or hopeless.”
The song Worst Vacation is one that seems very personal to you, where does that idea come from?
Laura: “My songs are all autobiographical, but Worst Vacation is the one most literally taken from my life. My breakup with my ex-husband back in 2012 was very abrupt, and I moved out of our home within a month. Anyone who’s been through that kind of break up knows how disorienting it can be, having your identity wrapped up with another person’s and then suddenly severing those ties. The song describes the first morning I woke up in my new apartment after the breakup. At first I didn’t know where I was, but I could see my two huge suitcases, and for a second I thought “Am I on vacation?” Then I remembered where I was, and I had to laugh at the idea of this new life as a vacation – the worst one ever!”
You have a very talented set of musicians working alongside you in the Heartache, how did you get them to buy into the nature of the songs?
Laura: “I am extraordinarily lucky to have Bob, Michele, Ian and Ted. They are all fans of classic country music, and they understood right away the sound I was going for. Every one of them has made invaluable contributions to the mood of the songs and the arrangements. There’s a moment during every Heartache show when I look around and think, “Wow, these great musicians want to play with me?” It never ceases to amaze me.”
The song Imitation of You is punchy, it offers a wonderful look at the stupidity of blatant misogyny that some people who practice such outdated masochistic nonsense, was this a conscious rebuke to get some men to look deeply at their actions?
Laura: “It was a very conscious rebuke of one particular man, of course, but it is a critique of bad behaviour in general. That sort of womanizing behaviour makes me angry, as does the “boys will be boys, none of my business” attitude that allows it to thrive. I had the idea for that song three or four years ago, but I couldn’t finish it, I just didn’t feel confident about it. It took me being really mad to be able to finish it.”
Do you think that the nature of relationships has changed in the last 50 years?
Laura: “We’re still very much dealing with the fallout of the sexual revolution and feminism, and the nature of relationships is still evolving. There’s a lot of freedom in relationships now, there’s a sense that you can have any kind of relationship you want, define it however you choose. Because relationships are no longer about conforming to some sort of societal norm – traditional marriage, nuclear family, etc – they have to be about true honesty, equality and intimacy. And that kind of vulnerability is really difficult.”
The more you hear to the album it also seem to have an underlying thread of a woman’s journey, a female Kerouac if you like, in which the listener is given a real taste of your life, this must be something to feel very proud of.
Laura: “This album does feel like a journey, because it chronicles a time of great movement and transition in my life. I am very proud of the album and of the journey itself. I came out of a sad and confusing time with a great deal of strength, clarity, peace and gratitude. Heartless Woman documents that path.”
The empty Bottle and Tear My Still House Down deal with the subject of alcohol, to the rock musician this is normal territory, how does it transfer into the realm of Americana and country.
Laura: “If you go back to classic country music of the 50’s and 60’s, alcohol is a huge theme in those songs. I’ve always been inspired by the brutal honesty in classic country music, and songs like “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'” and “There Stands the Glass” are all a part of that. I think of the songs I write about alcohol and alcoholism as coming from that tradition.”
Do you have a drink of choice?
Laura: “I do, my go-to is a rye whiskey on the rocks. Or I’ll go with a Jameson if they don’t have rye.”
Congratulations again on such a marvellous album, it was a privilege to hear it.
A review of Heartless Woman can be found at http://www.liverpoolsoundandvision.co.uk/2014/09/16.
Ian D. Hall