Interview: Ben Liebsch of You, Me, and Everyone We Know

Ben Leibsch

Recently I was able to connect with Ben Liebsch of You, Me and Everyone We Know for an interview discussing his band’s great new album called Something Heavy. The album hits the streets this Friday, and Ben and I discussed his unique writing process for this record, the choice to bring in outside collaborators, as well as his advice for others struggling with their mental health during this ultra-tough period of time.

Thanks again for connecting with me today, Ben! Let’s discuss your upcoming full length record called Something Heavy, which will be the band’s first full length album in nearly a decade, I believe. Why do you feel the time is right to release this new album? 

I think we’ve been done with it for long enough. There’s something special about this record. I can’t quite tell what it is. I don’t quite know what it is. But the reaction it’s been getting from people is deeply emotional. And so I thought, if other people are feeling about this the way that I am instinctively, maybe I should spend the time to actually try to promote it correctly. So that was it. That was essentially me saying, “Alright, let’s give this a go.” If I’m trying to spread some sort of message and help others, I would argue that now more than ever, my own perspective on my suffering in life may help others with their own currently, if that makes sense? It’s always a good time to grow and to be able to reflect on that, and it’s never a bad time to make something new.

Yeah, and it seems like there’s a little bit of urgency, and a lot of the songs, especially the first single, have this call to attention, so was that intentional? Or is that just a reflection of what’s going on in the world or what kind of comes through in your mind?

So my life…I had a very challenging life. Abuse as a child started for me at three years old, and I’ve had a lot of really fucked up situations. I was kidnapped and tortured for a year, so the trauma of my existence has been something that I only have really fully understood in the last year or so. And this comes after sort of hitting my head and having this thing develop where I passed out in my bathroom from the startling response of my PTSD. And it led to this dysautonomia, but at the same time, I had this pretty crazy spiritual awakening, and intellectually I always understood sort of like a baby, and everyone’s basic goodness….But, I feel like I’ve finally “felt it,” if that makes sense? And it’s just sort of that connection to the “is-ness“of things. For me, it’s so constant these days. But it’s grounded me and changed my whole approach to writing. I used to think of myself as the driver of creativity. Now, I just think I’m sort of listening to what’s come up. The more listening I’m doing, the more making I’m doing, which is paradoxical. But it’s true. This album, it’s full of things I’ve been working on for upwards of 10 years. But they suddenly all came together a year ago, over the process. And almost a year ago, or the process of three or four months. So I don’t know, maybe I’m channeling something. It feels good to feel grounded and connected. 

Yeah, I hear you. Where did the title come from, of Something Heavy? What does it mean to you today?    

So, with the title, I don’t know where I heard the phrase. I think it may have just come to me, and the notion of there’s “something heavy” here, and I’m carrying some sort of weight, and I’ve liked it. There’s so many allusions and metaphors in my songwriting over the years to that. And this record is very much about examining all of that and sort of getting to not only touching the bottom of the trauma pool, but like Mr. Rogers said, “Those who are suffering are the closest to God.” The metaphor that is so paradoxically, “I’m in that same place.” So, examining all that you’re gonna realize, it’s not just…we think it’s all this different shit. And it can be what it is, in every evitable way, and it just congeals into this one big thing. There’s always the expression of, “the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” and there’s always this singular thing that makes that sort of the crux of all of it. And whether it’s abuse, or your relationship with your mom, or your parents, or you had a really fucked up relationship at some point. There’s just that hold onto you, rather than you holding on to it. And I realized long ago that something’s going on. But I’ve finally figured it out and figured it out as much as I think I’ve ever been able to. And I wrote about it. So there’s something quite literally, something heavy here. That’s the thing. It was an interesting sort of coincidence that the last album was called, “Some Things Don’t Wash Out.” And we’ve gone from many things, the idea of dualism to something like this one thing, and this record feels like the distillation, the purest distillation of what the band is, and has been working towards this whole time. So yeah, it just feels like it’s clicking in very interesting ways.

Yeah, it’s nice to get that kind of synergy from the past to like where you are today. So, a lot of this album deals with key core human elements that you’re talking about, such as navigating the struggles with mental health, but what do you hope listeners will most connect with on this record?

You know, my otherness has followed me throughout my life, even in music. Not a lot of folks, but a lot of people listen to the band. But I don’t get a lot of it. I’ve had a lot of unfortunate experiences with the music industry. And so my existence, even as a musical artist, has been sort of like that otherness has followed me regardless of how that happened. But those are the people I’m writing music for. If you’re having a good life, have a good life. You don’t need this. You don’t need this music. You can have a good day. Richard Rohr, this guy wrote a great book called “The universe Price,” and he talks about the truth that is never found in mass consciousness, if that makes sense. So there’s a big part of me that accepts that I’m just gonna keep making my music to be what I want. There’s something so freeing in that. But I’m just trying to be what I needed when I was younger, if that makes sense?

Yeah, definitely. In the connections that I’ve made with the first few spins of the album, it seems like there’s almost like this narrative throughout of the existential versus the human element, and that kind of connects together. So yeah, I got a lot from it, too. So I hope a lot of people are going to connect with it the same way that I did.

I’m glad you did. Yeah, I’m glad it did something for you. That’s to me, the whole point. The whole point of sharing our “salt”, or our suffering, and like fucking Pete Holmes says, “If Hell is just not being able to share your suffering if you got like a break room every 10 or 15 minutes, then all you’re getting is  hauled sticks. Like, many hands make light work, so to speak. And that’s sort of like a weirdly metaphorical existential version of that, so I’m just trying to share, and that helps me lighten my mind, and it helps others, so it’s all mutually beneficial.

Yeah, definitely. I really enjoyed the new single, “Dragged Across Concrete,” and I understand that it has several different lyrical references to different elements like TV shows and films. A lot of that comes through in the lyric video that I watched. Can you walk me through how the lyrics of this one came together?

So this is the thing about how I mentioned to really be listening a lot more. So, one of the things I mean by that is, I’ll just hear phrases. “Some things don’t wash out,” like I heard that phrase in a movie. I was just half asleep at one o’clock in the morning, and I was like, “Oh my god!” My brain just reinterprets things, and there’s a tangent, but for example,I think “Hotline Bling” is an incredibly sad song. And other people are like, no, it’s really chauvinist to couples, and it wants to be shamanistic, but it’s painful and glaringly obviously weak, and vulnerable. I guess someone who does protest too much. You know what I mean? I feel like I’m hearing what’s happening underneath. So I get that sense of a lot of weird stuff. So I just kind of hear things and write it down right away. Or if I hear a melody, I record it, and then I forget about it, I forget about all of it. And if it just stays in my head, I’ll record it just in case I forget shit,  because I do that too. But if it stays in my head, I’m like, “Oh, that’s something that’s staying with me for a reason!” So there’s a connection to that, and then I explore that, and that’s sort of the writing process. So a lot of the things I hear come from odd places. Like, “We all die, why not do it in a parking lot?” is just from this silly little commercial in the middle of a cave episode with Kenny Beats. While he’s that fox-like stab that he’s like, we all die…Why not do it in a parking lot? That’s dark! So I wrote that down. This whole record, I explored a lot of different writing methods that I have had in the past. The content and the albums vary. As I’ve always assumed that the band is different, but even for me this time. But I pull a lot of allusion and referential stuff. That means some of these things are not connected. They don’t make sense together. But if you tie them together in this way, and it seems to form, it creates this narrative that blends along with what the story I’m telling.

And I can hear some of that too. It’s almost like going through your thought process in your brain, and you have this back and forth. 

This whole record is full of holding disparate ideas together, sort of like transactionality non dualism, but this layer of a part, and song sections that don’t seem like they go together, but for some reason it works. And there’s a lot of those ideas that you’re talking about and a lot of things that don’t pull from different areas. But on the surface, you’re wondering how’s this going to connect?

It’s interesting, and it’s almost like, if you only listen to commercial jingles for a while, you may be like, “Oh, I’m gonna make the poppiest record ever!” or pulled from that. There’s so much more that you put into this album that it feels like there’s so much more deep connections there, even if there are kind of random thoughts falling in there…

I appreciate it. Yeah, it was a very interesting process. I’m so glad it all worked.

Who designed the album artwork?

The story behind it is a bit of a bummer, as are most of the lyrics. Very shiny, happy people music, with very sad lyrics. A person by the name of Adam Drew Resco under the moniker of “No Supervision” sells a poster from a movie that I see, and alternately changes it up getting ideas for like the one of his all posters, and I looked at it and I had this deeply depressing thought that it felt like a self portrait. Sort of like a dual idea of death and decay, and this whole process. Because it’s what we are. The growth and decay, and it’s all happening all at the same time. So that’s kind of weird. That’s probably the trauma. Let’s explore that. So I reached out and said, “Can we use this?” and they said yes! And then I asked a local artist here in Lancaster, Danzer Dilla, who does analog collage work, to cut it through cutting like National Geographics and stuff like that, like old stuff. And he creates a lot of textures with little bits of images, rather than sort of just gluing images together. So I brought this idea to him, and said, “Can you do your interpretation of this?” So it’s just a gorgeous piece of art. And then I was like half asleep, and sort of like waking up from a dream and I just got this purple idea after sort of reading about through the experiences of like non-binary folk and this idea that some people feel red, some people feel blue, but I feel purple. And I was like, This feels very appropriate, with all this stuff together. And so I like a broad sort of that whole process to this gentleman, Nick Farron, who’s a longtime, sort of like merchandise album, or visual collaborator for the band. And he just knocked it out of the park. Yeah, that was the process. I think it took longer than the recording, but it’s worth it, I think.

It’s a good representation of the idea that there’s so much going into this album. I think it’s a good way of “branding” it, so to speak. So this particular album features a number of outside collaborators, such as Rivals’ Collins and Dylan Slocum. At what point during the writing process or the recording process did you decide to include some of the outside contributors on this one?

Well, it was kind of my plan for a while. So some of the initial plan for sort of getting back to making music was like making singles at a time. And then last year wasn what it was. And so we just had time to write, and the industry really fucked up by giving me a year to think about this. <Laughter> So my initial plan was sort of like it had been, and it’s sort of what the industry is doing now. And it’s catching up too, but hip hop has been doing shit that makes their artists so much more successful online. Using real and just simple stuff that I just didn’t see. So my plan was to do that. And then the last year happens, and suddenly everybody’s looking for other ideas. And I’m like, shit, my secret lane has been discovered! Because nobody else had anything to do. Normal habits are just keep doing what you’ve been doing. So you’re just continuing to play. Continuing to push guitar music the same way. But now it’s shifting. And that’s half the reason for this new punk thing that’s happening. But people have been making hip-hop inspired, or influenced guitar music, for a long time. It’s interesting as it’s being marketed this way now. But I would say, it’s slightly different from rap-rock or Nu-metal in that way. 

And it’s interesting how some publications will say, “Rock is coming back!” It’s like…it never really went away. It comes in phases, genres, sub-genres and everything else.

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s just sort of been the plan. I asked one person <to collaborate> and they said, Yes. And so I was like, why don’t I ask somebody else? And they said yes, too. And then we got to I think the last person I asked was Tate Logan. So after he agreed, I was like, “Okay, let’s do it!” It felt good too, because everybody that’s on the record is connected to the band in some way. So I wanted that like loose tangential connection, and not just sort of like I’m trying to make fire from what’s left. You know what I mean? Like the soul is collaboration. I could give a fuck less so yeah, it just worked out that way

And when you offer contributions like that to this scale for what you did on this record, how much control do they get? The contributor, that is?

I give them the melody and I give them a part. And then I say, “Just trust your instincts.” Just because I want to, I pay so much attention to my lyrics that I want them to be great. I want them to be within the theme. I don’t want somebody singing about Skittles. <Laughter> I just trusted everybody I went to, and that worked on this record. We’re gonna trust our instincts here. If something feels good, we’re going to do it. It’s really like the way James Brown was in the biopic. They’re like going to that rehearsal, and the one the bandleader says, “This doesn’t make any sense. It hits on this third note, and it needs to hit on this note.” But James says, “Well, does it feel good?” And everybody’s like, “Yeah!” Then James says, “does it sound good?” And everybody’s like, “Yeah!” So he says, “Then what’s the problem? Play it like that!” So that’s how we approached everything. And my buddy James was recently telling me that  more and more artists are just doing their own beats. And then they’re getting smooshed together with minimal transitions. And I realized that transitions are going to become this new lane of creativity. And sure, we’re gonna get more and more complex and weird. There’s not a “Transitions guy” yet, but I can assure you there will be. And there will be people that want to become them. Because if that’s the way, those are two weird ways that hip hop’s evolving. Think of the early days of sampling. And some of the ones that are happening vocally now like they’re trying to bring back the sort of “togetherness” vibe of 90s hip-hop recording sessions. He said that Eminem and Logic had a moment like that on one of their songs together, but anyways…

No, that was interesting! The main last question that I have for you is the pandemic, as you know, seems to be never-ending. We’re going into these cycles of back and forth between, “we’re at the finish line,” to now we’re back to almost where we started. But there’s a lot of people struggling with their mental health and anxiety at times. So is there anything you’d like to share with people that need advice on how to navigate through this kind of dark chapter in their lives?

If this is your first time experiencing chronic, unnecessarily drawn out trauma…welcome! <Laughter> My advice is just to accept the present. You’re fighting, but not surrendering to it, and being just dealing with these circumstances. And you can work to change them, but those are the cards you got. It just lessens your suffering. It’s like, well, what if the pandemic didn’t happen? I wouldn’t have gained these 15 to 20 pounds. Like, what if this didn’t happen? That’s like, that’s an alternate universe shit. I would almost argue that anytime you feel bad about yourself, you were taught to feel that way. Somebody wins by us feeling bad about anything about ourselves, you know what I mean? Because then you’re going to try to please that person that’s like, oh, you’re too short. Or, you’re too fat. Yeah, I would say, just accept the present. But it’s so hard. That’s the transactional nature of all this. The answers are all so simple, but they’re so hard to accept. Well, life is like that. It’s both so simple and so complicated. Trusting yourself is probably one of the best skills to learn. Like, getting to know and love and trust yourself, is probably your most valuable asset. Yeah, because realistically, we can get dark from here, but life is cool. 

Well, thank you so much for your time, Ben. It was great to connect with you! I am really connecting with the record, so I really appreciate what you’re doing on this album and everything you’re doing for people going through struggles right now.

Thank you for the time. I appreciate it greatly and we’ll chat soon. Take care, Adam!