An Interview: Ben Combe (Particle)
As I was eating breakfast I glanced down at my phone to see that "Ben Combe" had sent me a text message that stated that today was a good day for the interview. With that I finished up at the diner and headed home to prepare for what came out to be one of the more enjoyable conversations I have had in a while.
J-man: You joined Particle with Scott Metzger after the exit of Charlie Hitchcock. That new era of Particle music was referred to as “Transformation”. Shortly after that, Scott left the band and a few years later; yourself. What was really going on?
J-man: I’ll start off with a hard hitter…
Ben: No, that’s ok… I’ve had a lot of time to weigh all of this stuff out. Well, it’s not like a simple one sentence answer. There were lots of things going on in everybody’s life at that time. There was… One of the things that I think was an issue for me… and those guys… Let me start by saying; We’re all cool. I’m playing with them again. I’m not necessarily officially back in the band, but we’ve been playing shows and we have shows coming up. We’ve always been cool.
Ben: I think for me, the reason why I left was we were touring, pretty much like six months out of the year. So, I was married at the time and I was basically on tour so much that I was able to even unpack my suitcase (Laughs). I’d get home and I’d know I’d be going back on the road in two week. So I would do my laundry and put everything back in my suitcase, because I knew I was just going to be packing up and leaving again. That after a while was… it was tough , man. Particle started out, we were on a bus my first tour I ever did. Then due to whatever reasons we ended up in a van with a trailer, with six people running laps around the country in the summer time. It was just like; enough is enough. One of the things that a lot of my friends always say about this stuff that’s pretty funny is… I’ll talk to one of my friends who aren’t really musicians and they’ll be like “Wow! That’s awesome, you’re going to play Lollapolooza!” and “You’re playing with Robbie Kreiger!” and all this shit. The reality is that it’s really tough to make it, doing that. Even though that was going down. I mean, you’ve got to be able to support yourself and I wasn’t. I was running circles around the country, my marriage was falling apart and that was just my personal side to it.
Other factors were of course, Steve was getting into Phil & Friends. I’m actually glad I left when I did because he went on tour for a year and a half with them. So, actually; it was kind of serendipitous when it all happened. It just needed to happen.
J-man: In talking to Charlie and Scott it was eluded to that there were egos at play within’ the group. How does that play into the situation and do you think it effects the outcome of the music?
J-man: Let me give you a piece of advice, think about your answer…
Ben: (Laughs) Wait, let me ask you a question first.
J-man: Sure, shoot.
Ben: What kind of audience do you have?
J-man: Well basically geared towards the festival/jamband/live music scene…
Ben: I know… But numbers.
J-man: (Laughs) Well, on a good day *Edit* hits a day.
Ben: Well, Alright… Um… I’ll say this; You know what… I have this… Here it is. I’m at the stage in my life where I’m not going to run and hide from anything. This is the reality of it and this is a lot of the reason why I’m going back to school full time… And this is actually one of the things I wanted to say to you. I heard about this recently… With the Disco Biscuits, when John Barber broke his wrist…
Ben: Right? Ok. So I looked on Jambase, and I started reading all of the “fans” posting stuff on the site…
J-man: I know where you’re going with this…
Ben: One thing after another! “Hate, hate, hate… I hate you., my band can beat up your band, my band is cooler than your band.” All just bullshit stacked on bullshit (Laughs). One of the things… There is always going to be ego and bullshit in music. Always, and there is always going to be ego. I think that, what I’ve learned about being a musician is that’ most musicians that I know are a little crazy. It’s a weird lifestyle, it’s a very different avenue that most people don’t… Look at what you’re doing. You’re stacking all of these people inside a vehicle and you’re driving circles around the country playing music to people who are partying and doing drugs all of the time.
Ben: You know what I mean?
J-man: I do.
Ben: That’s going to affect everybody. (Laughs) You know, when you step on stage; no matter how you think you play there’s always going to be that dude who says “Dude, what kind of guitar do you play!?!” and some chick saying “Hi, how are you?” of course that affects ego… and of course things like that have an effect on playing. For me, when I got into Particle; I auditioned for it and I was kind of Mr. dude, from left field. I mean, I was living in the desert at the time, playing for a band that not many people were hearing. Then poof! There I was. Did that effect how my opinion got weighed…? Of course it did. I’m not saying anyone was like “I’m better than you.” or anything like that. But, it’s just like; of course. I auditioned for them… I was basically a hired gun and that’s what I did.
J-man: I appreciate that answer.
J-man: So, you’re going to be touring with Particle this summer…?
Ben: Oh yeah! Right now it’s funny, the way it is with the band. I actually like the way it is because it’s very loose with me. Now I can, because I am perusing other interests in life, in the fall. I’ve enjoyed playing these last ten or so shows and we have more shows this summer. I’m sure we’re going to be playing a lot more. But, now my whole perspective on everything is so different. Now when I’m going out to play I’m playing just for the joy of it and just the shear joy of playing my guitar. Which is something that the competitiveness was really getting the best of me. I think when we were like, playing two hundred shows a year, we were all over the place. Now it’s nice because it feels like we’re playing more from the soul… which is great (Laughs).
J-man: What other projects are you involved with?
Ben: Well, right now I’ve just been doing the Particle thing. I played a few shows with the Schwag. I don’t know if you know Stu Allen, he’s playing with the Jerry Garcia Band and Melvin Seals, all of that. So, when he was doing that, they would call me. So I did a bunch of shows with those guys. Those are great guy and I love them, and I love playing … That’s the thing about my playing is everybody… You know with Particle it’s kind of balls to the wall, ramp up and hit the screeching high note and playing the Dead; which you know, I am a huge Deadhead. I like that stuff because you can stretch out a little bit and don’t have to worry about melting people’s faces off all of the time (Laughs). You can melt them in a different way. It’s more like, hypnotic.
J-man: I heard the Schwag changed their name to “Dead Ahead.”
Ben: Yeah, they did. I think that was just kind of a sign of the times for them. They were looking to kind of branch out and do a new thing. I love those guys and I wish them all of the best.
J-man: What are your plans for the summer? Are there any shows or festivals that you’ll be playing or attending? Phish tour maybe?
Ben: Well, yeah. I put in for a ticket in the pre-sale lottery for Phish. I hate dealing with calling up Ticketmaster, I know that sounds a little lazy. I’m kind of an old-school Phishhead and I remember back in the day when you would have to hand-write your orders and they would like, send the tickets back to you. I kind of liked that (Laughs).
J-man: Yeah, Ticketmaster sucks. It sucks having to deal with them at all.
Ben: Yeah, it’s not that big of a deal… There is something I always liked… Especially now that Phish is back, there is some kind of nostalgia with getting those cool, funky, printed tickets. But, yeah but those are the shows that I’m going to go to just as a civilian, I guess.
As far as what we have coming up this spring; Wanee Festival, a festival in New York… I can’t remember the name of it.
J-man: Rock the Resort.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. Then we have a date in Muncie… Some festival in Muncie…
J-man: Yeah, Muncie Springfest. My friend James is involved with that.
Ben: Yeah, so we have that and something in Brooklyn. I know there is also going to be a Southern California run for Particle, who of course is from L.A. So, I think coming up we’re trying to line up a So-Cal run. We’ll probab;y do L.A. San Diego and somewhere else. I’m sure other dates in the summer will come up, but I like it now because they just say “Hey Ben, can you do some shows?” and I say “Yes, where are we playing?” It’s nice to be able to fly around the countries and play shows for people that want to hear it.
J-man: Is there anything else you’d like to communicate.
Ben: I just hope everybody goes out and has a lot of fun this summer. I just get bummed out when I see all of the hate that’s being spewed by everybody about things… You know, just the competitiveness of the fans these days…
J-man: I guilty of that as much as anyone. I am on Jambase frequently and I am overly critical. I mean, that’s what I do. I am a music critic.
Ben: Yeah. Dude, man… I have been a musician my whole life, but like come on.
J-man: I’ve had to collect myself a couple of times to ensure that thought was going into what I was putting out there. It does get really nasty… and often times it’s ignorant shit.
Ben: One thing that I do want to add is that what I have noticed is that (Sigh) … and again, I am kind of… It’s funny to say this, but I consider myself sort of old school. I started seeing Phish in the early 90’s. Of course I am from Massachusetts and they were always around here. I think in their absence, I noticed that… It’s weird but I think that a lot of people started to kind of come on to the scene, without seeing things the way that they were. Then all of a sudden everything just branched off into this new realm of… You know, I just think the drugs on everybody are just getting way to crazy. It makes people sour.
J-man: Do you think the drugs are a negative thing per-say? Or do you see positives in it as well? I feel like the use of psychedelics, as long as it’s somewhat controlled, could be a positive experience.
Ben: Sure, yeah… But when people are going and smoking DMT and doing all of those crazy/weird chemicals, that no one can pronounce; No, I don’t think those are good for anybody(Laughs).
J-man: I agree.
Ben: You know?
J-man: But I think to generalize the situation and to say that “drugs” are not good for the scene… I don’t know if that’s correct. Because I think they do play their part, you know what I mean?
Ben: Of course… and you know, you’re right. So, fine. I will retract that…
J-man: … That’s just my thought, and I appreciate your input on that topic. I have been easing into discussing it with some musicians. It’s a big part of the scene and a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. I think it needs to be discussed, maybe not in this format but…
Ben: Of course, that’s the thing; it’s not being discussed in a logical way, other than people just wanting to go out and party.
Ben: I like to party too, but when I see the negative aspects to it… I’ve seen too many times, that’s the only reason why people are in the scene.
J-man: It’s gross.
Ben: Yeah, it’s like the music is secondary. The partying is first and whatever happens to be playing at that point in time, or whatever their friends say is cool at that moment; that’s what’s going on.
J-man: Yeah, that’s really sad and I think that a lot of times the people who go on tour for an extended period of time or who are on the scene for a long time, run the risk of somewhat loosing a grip on reality. A lot of substances in a semi-utopian environment can do a number on people.
Ben: Yeah, I agree. I think you’re right on with that.
J-man: Again, Ben… I appreciate you taking the time do this as well as your insight.
Ben: Yeah, man.