Shelbi Bennett’s personality mimics her voice in that she is powerful, direct, engaging, mystical and so clearly filled with passion. Bennett is the lead singer of San Diego-based band The Midnight Pine, whose sound is both comforting and eerie all in one fell swoop. The deep lyrics and natural, soundscape-style of sound is soon to be on the verge of transformation, Bennett said.
DiscoverSD recently sat down with Bennett at Rip Current Brewing in North Park to discuss the progression of sound, how the band got its start and where they hope to go in the future.
DSD: How did Midnight Pine get started as a band?
Bennett: Four years ago, almost to the month, I met Al (Alfred Howard), who plays percussion and writes most of the lyrics. I met him at the (Ocean Beach) record store called The Cow. We started talking about music and how he’s in a band, and I was singing, but I wasn’t doing a lot of singing at that time. I was doing a lot of jazz, singing jazz and going to school for jazz music and…
DSD: And all that jazz?
Bennett: Yep, totally all that jazz! Al was like, ‘I write songs and you know I have a bunch of songs that don’t have a home yet, so maybe I could email you some of them and we could work on some songs together.’ I was like okay, whatever, sure. He emailed me like five songs and you know, I only really listened to one of them. We made a plan for the next week for him to come over, and I was really nervous because I did not feel very prepared for it. I sang the first song and once it was over we looked at each other and we were like okay, we should probably continue to explore this. Really shortly after that, by October, we had an album recorded. We released it in January. It was incredibly fast. We then recorded another the following year and our next one drops on Sept. 9.
DSD: What is your third album sounding like?
Bennett: This one has been the longest process I think, but it’s been a good thing. It’s given the songs time to marinate and time to turn into what they are meant to sound like. This album is different because the first two albums didn’t have a rhythm section, but there is on this new record. It gives everything more of a punch. I’m really happy about it, and I’m listening to the other songs and thinking we could do like a weird, EP B-Sides thing. It’s still folky, but it’s a little more rock-n-roll. My voice has changed a lot since the first two records. I was in a band called Creature and The Woods, and I disbanded from them in November, but I sang so much louder in that band. My voice changed a lot by doing that, and my voice is just more rough and different. It’s more expressive and sounds more like me. The new Pine record really showcases my voice, and I’m also proud because I wrote a song completely by myself on the record.
DSD: What’s the track called?
Bennett: It’s called “Barricade,” and it’s track number three. That song is one I am really stoked about; I am stoked about all of them though. With a lot of the musical stuff, I would write a verse and send it to Al or Matt. Then, Matt would write the chorus and Al would write the verses. This is the most that I have been in those records. I wrote “Barricade” a couple years ago, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be a Creature song or Midnight Pine song. I wrote it about Roger, who I was in Creature in the Woods with because we were together. Even though that song is, in some ways, about him, it’s more about the feeling of being in love and it can apply to anyone who I feel that way about.
DSD: Are you recording a music video for any of the new songs?
Bennett: Yeah, it’s funny because my friend Marissa, who is kind of the band manager of the Redwoods but also makes music videos, helped me with “Barricade.” She’s like, ‘Okay, I want you to cry in part of this song’s music video.’ It’s really difficult to try to do that because I’m not really comfortable in front of a camera anyway, and video is a totally different story than photos. We filmed in my room at my house with just me and Marissa. Me and Roger have broken up since then, which is why I’m not in Creature, so I had a lot of material to draw from when thinking about crying. I drank a bottle of wine and was able to do it… and I wasn’t acting, I felt things. It will be weird for people to watch that. We’re also working on a video for a more upbeat, radio song called “Vice.”
DSD: Can you speak a bit about The Redwoods record label?
Bennett: So Redwoods is a collective record label based in San Diego. Al writes the lyrics for all of the bands, and they have kind of a house band type of thing. Al is one of the most gifted prolific song writers. He’s a poet. I’ve texted him before like, ‘I want a song like this, this is how I feel.’ He sends me something that’s great, two hours later. We are really good friends and so when I tell him how I’m feeling, he writes a song that is still true to me, yet can apply to everyone. Matt Molarius is a part of it, he’s a label leader and Josh Rice does a lot of the behind the scene stuff and also helped write for the Pine. They run things. Basically, the backing band that I have is the same that Birdy Bardot has. They are also the band for Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact.
DSD: How has it been for The Midnight Pine rising up in the San Diego music scene?
Bennett: The only thing that is distinct is that I can go to a show and know pretty much 60-percent of the people there. There is a real sense of community you start to feel. For instance, last night I went to the Hills Like Elephants show and I’ve sang backup with Birdy for Botanica Chango who opened for them. I got there last night, not expecting to play and saw Carlos who asked if I wanted to come sing with them. So, I hopped up there and sang with them. That was really awesome.
DSD: How long have you been singing?
Bennett: I grew up singing in a church with my dad, and I started singing harmonies. That just became my job, and I got really good at it when I was young. I feel now I can do any kind of style that people want. It’s the only thing that I have really been exceptionally good at. I have been teaching at the School of Rock for about two years now and teaching singing is weird because it’s really subjective. People can have the same guitar and have it sound the same, but nobody has the same vocal chords. It’s special.
DSD: What is The Midnight Pine’s goal this year musically?
Bennett: I’d love to play L.A. more even though I hate, hate L.A. It’s so over-saturated there… I think it’s good for us because there’s always that chance that someone is in the crowd that could make a huge difference for you.
DSD: What local bands do you like?
Bennett: I really love Madly. The lead singer is the wife of Tim Mays (who runs the Casbah) and her voice is terrifyingly good. That woman, I watch her, and I feel like I’m at school. She has a really badass girl bassist, too. I really like G Burns Jug Band. They’re like super old-timey. I think it’s really important to go out and see local bands play because even if they’re better than you, or especially if they’re better than you, it’s like, ‘Oh sh*t. I have to go work on my stuff so I can have an answer to that,’ basically.
DSD: Who has influenced your album?
Bennett: I was listening to Jessica Lea Mayfield a lot when the album was being written and recorded. I also was listening to Buffalo Springfield, The Band and Neil Young. I love Neil Young. His “Live at Massey Hall” album is great. One of my other favorite bands at the moment is PWR BTTM. You got to listen to them, they have a really great tiny desk concert. They perform in drag and are just like, so unafraid.
DSD: What does San Diego need more of?
Bennett: What I would like to see and like to do more in San Diego is just get weird! You know, San Diego needs more people like Bjork that are just arty, and weird. Do something unique and don’t worry about fitting in, because that’s just not what art is about. Sometimes, you have to write a song even though you know your parents will hear it and you don’t want them to know about that. You can’t censor yourself, you have to write it and just be willing to do art for art’s sake.
The Midnight Pine CD release show at Moniker Warehouse, Friday, Sept. 9
Shelbi Bennett, vocals
Matt Molarius guitar/vocals
Jake Najor, drums
Jason Littlefield, bass
Dillon Casey, guitar and pedal steel
Daniel Schraer, keys
Al Howard, percussion/lyrics