We had the good fortune of connecting with Ben Hernandez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ben, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I think it was inevitable. Even from a very young age, my personality seemed more disposed to creative things. I was always drawing, or writing, singing or even acting a little. My parents are also very creative and artistic, so there never seemed to be any other path for me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I hesitate to use the term “sets us apart from others” (at least for me) because I believe that no artist’s music is really set that far apart from the rest. It’s all linked together in myriad ways. Sometimes we’re connected to artists of the past and other times it’s our contemporaries. Artists will create unique links and stretch those lengths out a little farther from the source, but it’s still all connected. That’s what I love about music; the individual voices and phrasing and the inspired “breaking of bread” between artists and bands. That’s what I love about what our band does, too. The elements that make up the links in our little section of the chain are the depth of knowledge and appreciation for gospel, soul, and blues combined with the experimentation of modern, electronic music, samples, and vocals. It’s not particularly “groundbreaking”, but it is our own fingerprint. Our interpretation. Our own voice. And I’m very honored to be a part of it. I played music professionally for at least a decade, but then moved to North Carolina and because of circumstances at the time, I gave up continuing my career and let it fade away a bit. But eventually I couldn’t ignore the desire I had to play music again and to write songs and so we packed everything up and moved back to California. It wasn’t easy and continues to be a challenge especially in this time of COVID. One of the biggest challenges I had when I first moved back was operating in a completely different music landscape here in San Diego than when I left those 10 years before. Many of my contacts were gone. Musicians had moved away or stopped playing. Venues had closed. Booking agents no longer remembered me. In so many ways, it meant starting over and building from the ground up. Building a band in general was also a huge undertaking! Just finding new ways to coordinate our schedules for rehearsals and gigs seemed like a full-time job. But eventually we found a rhythm that worked for us and we gained momentum pretty quickly. There were a couple of venues that took a chance on us and booked us early on, before knowing anything about us. A few that come to mind immediately are The Casbah, in San Diego and a couple of little local spots in Oceanside: The Moose Lodge and Pourhouse. Thank y’all! I think one of the many lessons we learned during that early time was how to be as efficient as possible. With a full band, and band members who had a lot going on in their daily lives, we had no choice but to be efficient with our time. I also think we learned to be discerning (when we could) with the shows we took. Of course some shows may have been a little more challenging than others, but I’m still grateful for them; especially as a platform to build our name and broadcast our music. And we’ve made some great friends and supporters in these venues. Our music can have spiritual undertones and the themes I try to work with in these songs are ones that convey my own spiritual shortcomings in a world that seems to feed on that. But I also want to express hope for people who might feel hopeless. I want to reach people who may feel unreachable.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m going to answer this as if there was no coronavirus…. Because I’m in Oceanside, there would be some early morning/evening runs on the beach. You gotta stop by Captain’s Grounds Coffee or The Cup for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Both of these places offer a good little slice of local life. Also, Wrench and Rodent for ramen and sushi. I don’t drink out much anymore so I can’t offer a whole lot of info, but I know there are a LOT of great craft brews in town. We’d probably be making a stop to see shows at Pourhouse or The Moose Lodge which also shows off the local characters. You’ll see everyone there: Old-timers, surfers and skaters, musicians, artists, baristas, moms and dads; everyone. ha ha ha. I think we’d probably be catching shows at The Casbah, The Belly Up, or Music Box. I always find time to take out-of-towners to Balboa Park as well. Especially for people who have never been to San Diego. Depending on the time of the year, there’s also some amazing desert hiking out at Anza Borrego. I don’t go out much anymore, so I’m sure there are better lists, but these do just fine for me! Ha ha ha!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The first person that deserves credit in this story is my wife. We were living in North Carolina and just had our first baby. I had taken a lot of time off of performing and my wife could see how miserable I was without it. So she agreed to move back to California so that I could put my band together the way I wanted to. That was a huge sacrifice on her part; leaving a job she loved, leaving family, our house, just so I could resurrect my music career. The next in line for recognition is our band, Malachi Henry and the Lights (Kevin Spencer, Scot Smart, Cheyne Dolly, Aaron Hook) and also our former members (Marty Dodson, Shea Thompson, Troy Sandow) who have all put in so much time and energy to making this band and our music what it is. Collaborating with these artists has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Rick Holmstrom. During the summer of 2019, Rick, who is the bandleader for the legendary Mavis Staples, recommended me to sub for one of Mavis’s backup singers who was taking some time off. She agreed and I spent that summer touring with one of my musical idols! It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’ll forever be grateful to Rick and the rest of the band for having faith in my abilities and taking a chance. Mavis and The Staple Singers have inspired me and my music more than any other group. To be able to share a stage with her, as well as artists like Jason Isbell, Lake Street Dive, Jeff Tweedy, Hosier, and Brandi Carlile has been one of the highlights of my life and has deeply shaped my own musical endeavors.
Kristina Weekes Russell Spencer Paul Montero Cole Herauf