We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Benack and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in Pittsburgh in a family of professional musicians. My paternal grandfather, Benny Benack was a trumpeter and a big part of the local jazz scene. He was best known for playing “Beat ’em Bucs”, the theme song for the 1960 Pirates during the World Series. My Dad plays saxophone and clarinet and my Mom is a classically-trained singer. They met in a band called The Dodge Kids that my grandfather led. Growing up, my brother and I were required to take piano and music theory lessons starting at age 4. Although I wanted to give up the piano during my middle school years, I’m very glad today that my parents made me keep at it!
Today, my Mom teaches singing at Carnegie Mellon’s drama school and my Dad plays gigs around Pittsburgh most weekends. My brother, Benny Benack III, is a crazy talented trumpeter and singer. He’s released several jazz albums and gets to tour the world, playing with his friends.
I’m so grateful to my parents for my musical training, and for surrounding me with music that developed my ear, taste and sensibility. That said, it took many years for me to really own my identity as a musician. I think I needed to rebel against my upbringing and focus on other things for a while in order to rediscover music on my own terms. After meeting my partner Steven 10 years ago, we started writing songs together. As a “real deal” musician who had toured the world playing for 15+ years, Steven’s belief in my abilities really helped me develop my own confidence as a songwriter and performer.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m one half of the band Bass Race, along with my musical and life partner, Steven Mertens. Our musical inspiration for Bass Race is retro soul music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. We met 11 years ago in New York City and started making music pretty much right away. The first song we wrote was an ode to mimes called “Clowns Everywhere”. We recruited my brother to play Chuck Mangione-style trumpet on the track made a trippy music video where we did our own clown makeup.
We’ve always tried to not take ourselves too seriously and a lot of our music, especially our earlier songs, are very light-hearted and sort of funny. Sometimes we think we should pivot majorly to writing children’s music.
For many years, Bass Race was a hobby that we’d try to fit into life outside of our day jobs. Although Steven was a touring bass player for many years (The Moldy Peaches, Adam Green, Dev Hynes, Here We Go Magic), these days he works primarily as an animator and music video director. When the pandemic started and there were no distractions outside of work, we finally had the time to finish writing our half-completed songs and to mix and master them at our friend Jason Soda’s studio, Palomino Sound in Boyle Heights. In March of last year, we independently released our first album, Tender Vittles. We created short music videos for each of our songs (with the help of our muse Jack Reed!) and turned our Instagram account into a surreal, never-ending, multi-media collage.
Although the band is an incredible outlet for our creativity, finding the motivation and time to keep a project going for 10+ years while paying the bills in NY and LA has certainly been a challenge. Releasing our album was a huge milestone for us, as it was the culmination of so many years’ of hard work! Playing our first live show with a full band of incredible musicians and friends was our chance to celebrate how far we’ve come.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
After almost nine years in LA, I have played tour guide to many guests!
One of the places I insist that everyone go to, no matter where they’re staying, is Tacos Delta in Silverlake. The breakfast burritos and shrimp tacos there are just the best. It’s right in the middle of the shops at Sunset Junction and is generally a great spot to people watch. After lunch, I’d recommend picking up a couple drinks to-go at Sunset Beer nearby and heading to Elysian Park to find a spot with a view to take a load off. Before heading home, stop by Angelino Heights to take a stroll among the Victorian homes, stopping to take a photo at the “Thriller house” (from the music video) on Carroll Ave. Also nearby is Don Draper’s childhood home/whore house from Mad Men!
Spending an afternoon in Atwater Village is another favorite weekend activity of mine. I recently discovered this incredible secondhand store called reDress that started in Finland. Anyone can “rent” a rack and sell their clothes and accessories. So when you find an item that you love while shopping, you’ll probably find something else on that rack that’s a similar style and size! I have left the store wanting to befriend the person that sold my items. After stopping by another vintage stored called Lucky Pig, I’d pick up a falafel wrap at Dune and then head to the Social Type to buy some kitschy cards for whichever one of my friends is getting married or having a baby that month.
If my friend were staying on the west side of town, I’d meet them at Duke’s in Malibu for brunch and then head to El Matador Beach to soak up the sun alongside the incredible rock formations and tunnels there. On our way home, we’d stop at Hidden Treasures vintage store in Topanga. They have the most eclectic collection and I always leave with something unique.
I recently moved to Altadena, and there’s a ton of beautiful hikes to explore in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. I would suggest we hike the Dawn Mine Trail up Millard Canyon to the abandoned gold mines or the Eaton Canyon trail that leads to a waterfall. After working up an appetite, we’d either head to Homestate for tacos, or if it’s a weekend, stop by the new Altadena Beverage market to get some delicious sandwiches on fresh-baked bread.
Lastly, I’d try to find some live music going on while my friend was in town. If they’ve never been to the Hollywood Bowl or the Greek, I’d insist upon seeing whoever was playing as the setting alone is magical! A couple of my other favorite venues include The Echo in Echo Park and Zebulon in Frogtown.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to shoutout all the amazing collaborators that worked with us on our first Bass Race album: Jay Soda (Production), Jack Reed (Photography, Art/Music Video Direction), Nice Rec (Production, Songwriting), GrandEar (Songwriting), Laura Herrmann (Songwriting), Benny Benack Jr. (Saxophone), Benny Benack III (Trumpet), Charlie Scott (Bass), Nadia Sirota (Viola), Justin Flint (Drums), James Pollis (Guitar), Peter Simon (Engineering), Kate Hunter (Styling), Yvonne Wilson (Live Vocals), Will Scott (Live Drums), Keith Karman (Live Bass), and Pam Nashel (PR). And thanks to all of our friends and family who shared our music and videos far and wide!
Other: Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/1YZrIBejHOWPqQUC3Ojs8c Amazon Music: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08TM328QS Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/bass-race/1549987077
Laura Page, Jack Reed