By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When asked what disc is currently in his car's CD player, Ben Templeton's expression is one of bemused sincerity.
"I listen to me a lot," says Templeton, singer-songwriter and guitarist for Roy Bennett, a relatively new entry into the Dallas music scene. His full name is Roy Bennett Templeton, but the bearded, 39-year-old father of one is adamant that his semi-namesake is indeed a fully functioning trio.
"I think about this as a group thing," says Templeton, who spent years writing songs while serving as a sideman but who has never been the center of attention. "The name is a nice way of not drawing attention to me in case the whole thing really sucks."
The band's 2006 debut, Onomatopoeia, proves that Roy Bennett is a long way from sucking. Painstakingly recorded at Templeton's home studio in Lake Highlands, the debut is solid alt-country in the vein of Todd Snider and Tom Petty, but with a unique sense of funk and soul. The latter elements are brought to play by the experienced rhythm section of Hayes Smith and Collyer Spreen.
The talkative and technically obsessive Spreen toured and recorded with Starship in the '80s and has served as a recording engineer with Crowded House, Steve Winwood, Don Henley, XTC and many others. Bassist and horn player Smith hails from Virginia and was involved with the Ernies, a long forgotten pop/punk band from the '90s; Smith has also played sax with James Brown, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and local faves [Daryl].
"Hayes lived the dream of being on a major label, touring the country and going to cities where he found his record wasn't there," says Templeton with a laugh.
"We were cleaned up by Universal, spit out and then sued by our own manager," says Smith, with equal amounts of resignation and muted contempt.
The combined experiences of all three members contribute to the band's measured approach to recording and performing, as well at their stress-free attitude.
"With this band, it's all about misdirection and irony," says Templeton.
Coming together a little less than two years ago as a quartet (Templeton's brother-in-law Carl Poldrock played guitar on the debut before his company transferred him to the Panhandle), the trio made the conscious decision to hone their skills and sharpen every song before performing live. They have yet to play a traditional gig, but they plan on hitting the stage after they complete a second effort in early 2008.
"Once we solidified as a trio, we had to come up with new arrangements for the songs," says Templeton. "We also have a high standard of quality and expect the presentation to be just right."
Adds Spreen, "We don't do anything half-ass."
As a relatively new dad, Templeton is also very cognizant of his commitment to his family. "Time away—I want to be strategic with it," he says.
All strategies aside, songs such as "I Sucked Today," "2 Kids Chasing the Sun" and "What Happened to the Rain" are clear and concise expressions of middle age and middle class, performed with a glossy professionalism that reflects the real jobs of each member. Both Templeton and Smith are recording engineers for Fast Cuts, while Spreen works for a competing company, Red Car Inc.
"I have a lot of recording experience," says Spreen, who arranges much of the material and serves as chief editor of the band. Throughout his lengthy career, Spreen has seen many changes in the music industry. His experience has helped the band determine its direction.
"The record companies don't hold all the cards anymore," says Spreen. "It's all about marketing and word of mouth, and the record companies are being taken out of the loop."
Onomatopoeia was released on the band's own label, and Templeton handles all of the publishing rights and promotional duties. Sitting in the well-kept rehearsal studio behind his house, the three guys of Roy Bennett exude a confidence that reflects their years in the music business and having well-paying jobs that have allowed the band to grow at its own pace.
"As far as throwing down ideas and getting things down, it's second nature to us as recording engineers to be able to plan ahead," says Spreen. "We have a lot of ideas on the back burner that are not leaving the kitchen."
Those ideas include half a dozen new tunes that all three agree are better than anything they've recorded before. Leaning harder on influences such as Snider and Lyle Lovett, the new songs find the band's inherent tunefulness and humor intact.
"I'm proud of what is on the first disc," Templeton says, "and I'm even more excited about the stuff we are working on now."
Some might fear that three studio engineers might make music too clean and sterile, but the evidence on hand shows a band willing to allow mistakes to color the songs, to allow the organic nature of the lyrics to be reflected in the music.
"We are not Steely Dan," laughs Spreen. "We're not agonizing over every eighth note."
Yet the instrumental faculty of each member creates high expectations and professional disagreements. Some of Spreen's edits were painful for Templeton to endure, and the singer's apprenticeship on harmonica often sends Smith running for the door. Each person puts up with the others' imperfections in order to achieve the best possible final product.
"The thing that will make the second record a success is that we're holding each other to higher standards," says Spreen.
For the moment the members of Roy Bennett are mulling over some options. Perhaps they will play some private parties around town. Certainly, they will keep recording, perhaps making some videos for various Internet sites.
"I am just now getting into the marketing," says Templeton. "I am an entrepreneur with a product that we own." Although unsure of their niche, Templeton is confident in his songs and the band's production of them.
"We're not aiming at any style specifically," Spreen says. "The Americana elements just came about naturally."