One thing that you become present to in your 40s is the brevity of life, so when you have the chance to do something like re-launch a music career, you say, “Why the hell not?” and go for it. That’s basically what local producer and multi-instrumentalist BenC (pronounced Ben-see) Jones is up to these days. I caught up with him for coffee last Saturday after he’d flown home that morning from playing a gig in New Orleans as part of a whirlwind sequence of solo performances he’d played the previous week that also took him to Austin and Houston.
“I came home to see Beck,” Jones said.
Beck had a show that night at Dos Equis Pavilion. We didn’t talk much about him, but like Beck, Jones plays every instrument on Just One Gun, the debut album he released a few weeks ago, and it also features a Beck-ian self-produced vibe (a la Mellow Gold), which makes sense given that Jones tracked the whole thing at home using Reason.
“It says it was recorded at ‘Cedar Creek,’ but I misprinted it, unfortunately,” Jones said. “It should say ‘Cedar Street Studio,’ which is actually just my kitchen.”
He had me fooled. The sonic quality sounded like it came out of a pro studio, which Cedar Creek, the South Austin studio known for Kris Kristofferson’s 2016 Grammy-nominated Cedar Creek Sessions album, certainly qualifies as. Jones’ production is solid, and a lot of Just One Gun’s polish also owes to the mixing of nigh legendary Fort Worth engineer Ty Macklin (Erykah Badu, India.Arie).
Jones hooked up with Macklin because Macklin is close friends with Dallas rapper Pikhasso, who himself is friends with Jones’ brother, Tahiti. Tahiti was a part of noted hip-hop trio PPT, which included Dallas-based Picnic Tyme as well as Pikhasso. PPT dissolved a long time ago over creative differences, but Pikhasso and Tahiti remained in contact. It was Pikhasso who gave BenC Jones his nom de guerre. “It was because I played all the instruments,” Jones said. “He said that was like Quincy Jones, so he rhymed BenC with that.”
Before he began work on his own project, when he went by his given name (which he keeps a secret so as to separate his artistic and professional personas), Jones went to University of Texas to be a screenwriter, though he became distracted from that aim. But he stayed in Austin after he finished school, trying his hand at the music scene. He’d learned piano from his mom and dabbled in trombone during middle-school marching band before picking up the guitar in high school, so it made a lot of sense to stay down in the Live Music Capital of the World trying to make it with production and session work. After nine years, he returned to Fort Worth, where he linked up with Sarah Sellers, a contestant on Season 10 of American Idol, eliminated in the “Hollywood round.” Jones wrote and produced an album with Sellers that didn’t really go anywhere, after which he took a break from music altogether.
“I didn’t want to do that ever again,” he said. “I had no desire to make another pop album like that.”
He still had the bug to write and perform, so he started working on his original material a couple of years ago, releasing it a few weeks ago. Just One Gun sounds like a fresh take on the hitmakers of the mid-2000s – besides Beck and the Black Keys, some of it reminds me of The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand, filtered through Lenny Kravitz’ early-’90s psychedelia. Jones has an ear for a hook and a guitar lead, and tracks like “Caught Up” and “Shutting It Down” could easily find their way to the playlists of KXT and beyond, based on ear-wormy choruses and radio-friendly sheen.
Jones is currently working as a solo performer, but he said he’s met some dudes who want to play his record in full-band form. He expects that they’ll play as a unit in late fall.
“I’m trying to figure it out, what mistakes to avoid,” he said. “But I’m having a lot of fun. … I think the advantage of being a little bit older and doing this is that now I’m a little more focused, and I have another job that allows me money to support myself. And I think when you’re older, you attract more mature musicians to play with, which I definitely appreciate more now.”