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Marco Benevento. Photo by Michael DiDonna
Marco Benevento. Photo by Michael DiDonna

Marco Benevento's continuing evolution: As told by Fred Short

By Scott Cunningham // Appears Friday at the Wonder Ballroom

Marco Benevento returns to Portland Friday night at the Wonder Ballroom to tell the story of Fred Short, the title character of his newly released album The Story of Fred Short.

Fred, you see, is a shaman of sorts, living in the Catskill Mountains of New York, much like Benevento himself. The album is filled with messages of celebrating life, while also warning of the perils our planet faces in its current condition.

Fred's story is told largely through a combination of Benevento's catchy, pop-ish, psychedelic laden grooves and his recently acquired confidence in his vocal abilities. The result is a grand adventure through space and time, set to Benenento's knack for capturing foot-tapping beats.

The album is a continuation Benevento's evolution as a musician. As a starting point, The Story of Fred Short is the second album in a row that he has tried his hand at vocals. He began singing about three years ago and is slowly coming into his own as a vocalist and lyricist.

"Compared to Swift (his previous album) I'm more comfortable about my vocals, I'm not embarrassed. I think the beginning is the hardest part and once you're past the beginning, you're learning how to (sing) great," he says.

"We're all born with the ability to sing, it's a very intuitive thing. Now I'm just honing in on it. I'll be honing in on it for the rest of my life."

The album is also the first recorded by Benevento in his home studio. Like singing, recording is an art to be learned and confidence obtained. His 2014 release Swift was recorded at Richard Swift's studio here in Oregon.

Marco Benevento // Photo by Michael DiDonna
"We flew out to Oregon and recorded at Richard's place. He even told me before I came out, 'I have a very small studio and a very humble setup.' It didn't matter to me because I'd heard his records and his tast in music is incredible."

What Benevento wasn't prepared for, however, was the simplicity with which great recordings can be made. In the studio, Swift took four lines: drums, bass, piano, and vocals, running them through various EQ's, pre-amps, and compressors.

"I looked at the ProTools setup and thought, 'I flew all the way out here just to watch this guy record four tracks of music? I can't believe this.'

"It was, for the most part, Richard just knowing what he wanted and capturing it in such a professional way. I thought to myself, 'I can do this at my place.'"

And so he did.

For The Story of Fred Short, Benevento recorded each song in his own studio, cutting a demo for each track on which he played all of the instruments. He would then have Dave Dreiwitz (bass) and Andy Borger (drums) come in and record their parts as they put together the final recordings.

Although the basic concept for the album came to Benevento in a single night of inspiration, seeing those initial seeds through to fruition was a year-long process.

"There's rarely instances where something comes to you quickly, you play it quickly, you write it down quickly and boom, you have a song. That happens rarely, but it does happen," Benevento explains.

"Other times, you record your demo and you realize it was in the wrong key and you re-record it and you realize it was in the wrong tempo and you re-record it and you realize the A section should be the B section and you realize the chorus should actually be the verse. That's literally how i was working with this record and have been working with songs over the last couple of years, it does take time for me."

His old, quirky, upright accoustic piano is one area that Benevento has perfected. Getting there took some time, though, and was a product of necessity.

Benevento was to perform in California after recording his first album. The piano on that album was heavily laced with effects and Benevento couldn't figure out how he was going to duplicate that sound on the road.

"I was sitting (in the green room) thinking, 'How am I going to do live what I really want to do?' In the drawer next to me was an old acoustic guitar pickup that was in the drawer for a reason, because it sucked on the guitar and sounded horrible. I thought, 'What if I stick this thing on the piano? The piano is a lot thicker, it's a lot louder, it's a lot heavier (than a guitar), so maybe this thing will work."

After attaching the pickup he was surprised at the result.

"I turned on the tremolo on the amp and there was tremolo on the piano instantly. I was like, 'Oh my, this is awesome, I just figured out how to put a quarter inch out on my piano.'"

Through a process of trial and error, he has perfected his setup and now uses a combination of four C-ducer pickups and pickups from Oregon-based manufacturer K&K. The C-ducer pickups are clean (no processing) and go straight into the PA system, while the K&K's are sent through various combinations of effects pedals, then through an amplifier before being sent into the PA.

ON TOUR: Marco Benento appears Friday night April 8 at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. Joining him are Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) on bass and Andy Borger (Norah Jones, Tom Waits) on drums. Doors are at 8:00 PM and tickets are still available.

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