Parental Advisory: Brendan Benson
Parental Advisory is a new feature on Stereogum where we’ll talk to musicians who also happen to be parents. It can’t be easy to raise kids from a tour-bus bunk, or to explain to your toddler why random people keep walking up to you and asking if you want to get high with them, and we thought it would be interesting to learn how some of our favorites learn to live that double-life. And for our third installment, we talked to a slightly shell-shocked Brendan Benson, father of Declan, two and a half years, and Adeline, two weeks. We’ve also got the premiere of Benson’s “Happy Most Of The Time” video, which is all kinds of adorable.
STEREOGUM: Congratulations on having a second kid! How’s it been going so far?
BENSON: Well, it’s been going pretty well, considering. Truth be told, she’s kind of stuffed-up, which, for a baby, I’m realizing has got to be pretty frustrating. She doesn’t know how to blow her nose or get rid of it. I mean, it sounds terrible, like she can’t breathe. You just start to panic. But all is good.
STEREOGUM: Are you doing the thing where you siphon the snot out?
BENSON: We suck it out. There’s this contraption; it’s got a filter on the end so you’re not sucking snot into your mouth. But you put one end in your mouth and one end in her nose.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, those things from Whole Foods. It feels so gross to do it, but it works. If you can make your kid not feel sick anymore, it’s worth sucking that snot out.
BENSON: I agree, totally.
STEREOGUM: How is Declan adjusting to the idea of being a big brother?
BENSON: You can’t really tell. I don’t think it’s really phased him too much, luckily. He doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any strange behavior. I was a little worried about that, what might happen when she came along, if his position would change or he would be challenged. But he doesn’t seem to really care much about her. He’s got more important things going on, like his tools and his trucks and stuff. It’s funny; I was really excited about having a girl when Declan was born. I couldn’t imagine having a boy, just couldn’t picture a son. I thought it would be me and my little girl, always. So of course, Declan was born, and I couldn’t imagine anything else. But so now I have this little girl, and it’s just amazing. It’s a dream come true, really. I don’t know why; I just thought I would relate more to a girl. Maybe it’s because my dad wasn’t around and I relate better to women, or maybe I’m just a softie.
STEREOGUM: Having a daughter is awesome, though. It’s its own thing; you don’t need to figure out reasons why you like it.
BENSON: It’s only been a couple of weeks now, but I think she’s a daddy’s girl. I can tell already. I think there might be some truth in that old adage that little boys tend to gravitate to their moms and girls to their dads. It’s so strange.
STEREOGUM: When Declan was born, was it a huge adjustment to think about touring and recording and maintaining this life now that you had somebody you had to take care of?
BENSON: I had mentally prepared for it. My wife and I reassured each other that things were not going to change. This baby was not going to be the end of our lives. We were going to integrate this baby into our lives instead of giving him everything, and that’s what we told ourselves. But the reality, of course, [laughs]… We did a pretty good job, actually, you know? We kept that in mind. But there’s only so much integrating a kid wants to do [laughs]. Ultimately, it’s about the kid. But this is what I do for a living. It’s a little different. It’s a different life than someone who works in an office nine to five. But it all just comes out in the wash. It equals the same in the end. I might be gone for weeks at a time, more often than I’m home. Recently, I’m in the studio a lot, and every chance I get, I come home. That goes on for weeks. But then, there are weeks that I’m more present, at home all the time. And luckily, my wife is a superhero. She’s the best mom ever, and also, she doesn’t work. She’s able to pick up the slack. A lot of the slack, actually. Maybe all the slack. It works out pretty well.
STEREOGUM: Have you taken Declan out on tour at all?
BENSON: Yeah, actually. At the very beginning, we took Declan to Spain. I wasn’t doing too much touring, but I was doing some one-offs and festivals here and there, and we were just bringing them. He was a baby, and he and his mom were kind of self-contained. So it was perfect when he was that young. And then, when he hit two, he liked having a schedule and a routine. He needed that. We decided to honor his routine, his wishes, but I think we could’ve taken him on the road and had a little gypsy baby. The answer to everything is just showing the kid with love, letting it be known that he’s loved. Everything else will work out. If his routine is disrupted or not happening at all, it comes with that.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting how much a kid’s routine seems to matter. When my daughter’s bedtime gets pushed an hour one way or the other, everything gets thrown off and she’s miserable.
BENSON: I’m torn about that. It seems good, but what is that? That need for routine? Is it obsessive behavior? Is it natural? Is it in us to want or to need that?
STEREOGUM: The way I’ve come to think about it is when you’re a kid, the entire world is these vast forces that you don’t understand. Things are constantly happening that don’t make sense to you. So there’s a safety in predictability.
BENSON: But what about kids in the wild [laughs]?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, but in the last centuries of evolution and civilization, kids are living on farms and getting up to do the same work everyday… I mean, I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing. We almost never travel with ours, and I always wonder if I could be exposing them to interesting new things.
BENSON: But why don’t you?
STEREOGUM: Well, she just seems a lot happier when that predictability is there. There’s a peace that comes with that.
BENSON: And also, it’s a pain in the ass to travel with them.
STEREOGUM: It totally is. What kind of music does Declan like?
BENSON: Man, he likes it all; he loves music. Of course, he likes daddy’s music. He likes the Kills. He likes Cory Chisel. He loves Rufus Wainwright. The Zombies — when kids learn “no,” it’s the worst, but it’s cooler if your kid is singing “no no no, no no no,” sings the Zombies song ["Tell Her No"].
STEREOGUM: Has he gotten to know any of the musicians he listens to?
BENSON: Yeah. He likes the Kills because of Alison [Mosshart]. In fact, he’ll say, “I want to hear Alison.” I think he can identify that much: That’s Alison singing. And of course me and Cory, these are people he knows. He’s never met Rufus. I don’t know what it is. But he really loves music. He has to dance. If there’s music on the TV, he gets up to dance. He’s always asking for music in the car, which drives me nuts because I don’t like to listen to music all the time [laughs]. He just wants it always. I think that says something about him, that he’s got an appreciation for art already. I don’t know if all kids like music or what; maybe they do.
STEREOGUM: Do you listen to kids’ music in your house?
BENSON: No, no really. I mean, I can’t stand it. The TV is on a lot, so that’s where he hears kids’ music, I guess. But it’s an incidental thing. But I can’t stand to hear that crap, so we don’t listen to that. We do listen — it’s not kids’ music — but one of our favorite things is to put on Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas records at Christmastime. His Christmas records are some of my favorite things of all time; they’re so good. So that’s the closest we come. That’s terrible to say; those records aren’t kids’ music. But I had the idea that he wouldn’t watch much TV at all, and that idea went out the window. That TV is on all the time. It’s not something that I’m proud to say, but man. Declan is super-hyperactive, like maybe he has a problem [laughs]. And the TV will make him still for a second. We need a break. I need to be sane.
STEREOGUM: You never feel good about putting the TV on, but it always works.
BENSON: I know; it’s crazy. I had big ideas, too, man. I had big ideas that I was never going to say no to him. Instead, I would present options and be creative, invent ways to never say no. And I think that lasted the first six months of his life. Now, I’m just sick of hearing myself say it.
And here’s the video for Benson’s new single “Happy Most Of The Time.” The video is inspired by Benson seeing his son dancing to the song the first time he heard it, and it’s made up of footage of fans’ kids dancing. Declan’s in there, too, and it is mad cute. Myke Adams directs.
Benson’s new album What Kind Of World is out now on Benson’s own Readymade imprint.