LowellArts has launched a new music program for 2021 called the Featured Artist Series: Connecting You with the People Behind the Music. This monthly feature offers audiences a personal, insider view into the current music scene from the perspective of West Michigan’s talented performers. Check back on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month for a new article or interview from the featured artist. The June artist of the month is a recently formed group, the Benzing Graves Collective.
Article by Sue Clements. Photos courtesy of LowellArts.
Cowpie Music Festival, Rad Dads’ Tacos & Tequila Bar, seeing each other around the local music scene and the Jammie Awards… With different styles and backgrounds, how do four musicians connect and come together to find their own (collective) voice and unique sound?
Somehow during the last year and a half and despite COVID’s restrictions, Austin Benzing, Hannah Rose Graves, Jeremiah Wenger and Luke Lenhart have connected and are making music. They are Benzing Graves Collective.
What can I say about their music? It’s like going for a walk and being surprised at what you find along the way, coming across something unexpected and delightful.
Austin describes their music as if it were, “a distilled drink, with a strong country flavor on the initial taste, notes of funk, R&B, bluegrass and a soulful finish.” Jeremiah adds,, “Mellow country ballads can transform into a ripping funk/rock song during live performances.”
Hannah sees their music as uplifting, fun and powerful. “The boys in this band are so talented, you’ll want to listen all night. They honestly remind me of the O Brother Where Art Thou band. Twangy, traditional bluegrass with a funky swing to it.”
Gathering information for this article, I was struck by their genuine respect for each other and the sense of freedom they demonstrate in their composing and playing.
Take a look at what they have to say about each other.
Jeremiah states, “We all bring something to the table. Luke keeps us grounded with his roots in traditional folk and classic country music. Hannah brings the soul and energy for sure. She has an amazing ear for melody and harmony as well. Austin and I do a lot of improv and play off of each other. He supplies the groove and feels with his country/funk and classic rock chops, while I have a lot of psychedelic blues rock influence in my playing.”
Luke’s answer is short and sweet. “Luke: steady low end, Austin: vast musical emotion, Jeremiah: extra added flavoring, Hannah: sparkle and depth.”
Austin says, “Jeremiah is an incredibly perceptive player, he can read everyone so incredibly well and compliment what they are playing. It seems like he knows where everyone is at all times. Luke is like a Chevy pickup, rock solid and movin’ weight (haha) – whether it’s on bass, mandolin or any of the other many instruments he is a wizard at. You can always count on Lukey. Hannah has an incredible ability to translate emotion and feelings to words in real time, and she has such a powerful and fluid way of leading a crowd. Her voice can soar over the wailing guitars, roar in the most ferocious way and be gentle as a butterfly.”
Hannah sums it all up saying, “What is relatively uncommon about us is that we are a family unit. You can see how close we are and how much we love what we are doing. I’m very proud of this group.”
This group enjoys playing together. Their enjoyment, along with clever instrumentals and thoughtful lyrics, add up to something definitely worth listening to.
I’m always curious about how music gets created. What’s the method for Benzing Graves Collective?
Jeremiah describes it as, “Usually we just jam around the firepit and play whatever comes to mind, sometimes Hannah records it. We’ll listen back and refine the ideas little by little and eventually we’ll have a pretty set version.”
Luke adds, “We are very good with improving and coming up with music on the spot as it happens. Often we try something new and play off each other and experiment. Hannah is especially good at coming up with lyrics and a melody to an instrumental part of a song. We are all part of the songwriting process in general. It’s great to work with musicians who are open to that.”
Hannah’s writing is inspired by friends and family. “I write songs that are stories. Present day events or memories of loved ones passed. Honoring their legacy is important to me. I like to “free flow” write, which means completely improvising, using feelings and nature or the environment surrounding me.”
It’s fun to think about huh?
What can fans expect? What is it about Benzing Graves Collective’s music that is unique or unconventional?
“I think what sets our music apart is a freedom to be unashamedly ourselves in these songs. Without worrying too much about a particular sound or style, allowing it to be as it is,” Austin shares. “So, zoomed in, individual songs may appear to be country, funk or blues, but when you zoom out, there is a definite through-line and cohesive sound.”
They’ve been busy.
On May 22nd, Luke became the youngest member to be inducted into the Michigan Country Music Hall of Fame.
Benzing Graves Collective is in the process of recording their first studio album titled Medicine. Why that title?
“It is named after one of our original songs from our first batch of writing together. The song came to life relatively quickly between Austin and I, and the title means what it says,” Hannah shared. “I truly believe music is medicine, and I have witnessed it’s healing powers many times in life.”
All 11 tracks on this recording are original. They’re aiming for a fall release date. Look for an event of some kind. Hannah thinks probably outdoors and socially distanced. Don’t wait until fall to see them though. According to Jeremiah, they’ve got, “20+ gigs lined up for the summer and they are looking forward to having a good time.”
You’ll want to join them and won’t be disappointed.
Look for their upcoming performances and merch at benzinggravescollective.com.
Music is such a give and take between performers and their listeners.
Austin put it sweetly, “We are grateful beyond words to be able to share something of a personal nature and have it resonate with someone. Knowing that they are feeling the same thing we are feeling. That is what keeps everyone going, that connection with other people.”