In 2014, Benjamin Booker became one of the most-talked about independent artists of the year—earning a slot at Coachella in 2015. Today, he’s still dazzling audiences with his brand of garage rock mashed up with soul.
He’ll be making his second trip to Coachella on Saturday, April 14 and 21.
Booker released his self-titled debut album in 2014, and spent two years touring behind it. He emerged again in 2017 with his second album, Witness.
During a recent phone interview, Booker discussed what happened after the tour was over, and he returned to his home in New Orleans.
“I was riding my bike—and I got shot at while I was on my way to a dinner party,” Booker said. “I don’t really like to talk about it, though, because I don’t want to give New Orleans a bad reputation.”
After touring extensively, Booker was exhausted.
“We did a lot of touring,” he said. “This time around, I’m not doing that much touring. That is very intentional: It was way too much. But you don’t know your limits until you push them. It took me a really long time to get back to a good place after that, and it was a long recovery. It wasn’t until a year after that I started writing again. It was probably longer than that—maybe a year and a half.
“The first record was so surprising, and I didn’t really plan on playing music; I didn’t have a game plan. I think that was something I had to figure out at that point: If I was going to keep playing music, where was I going to go with this?”
After the trauma of being shot at, Booker took off to Mexico City, where he wrote the new album. The legendary Mavis Staples sings the title track with Booker.
“She is the best. I’m playing with her for the first time in the United Kingdom, and I’ll be opening for her, and I’m really excited about that,” Booker said about Staples. “I just like hanging out with her. When we were hanging out one time, she was telling me this story about how she met ‘Martin,’ and I was like, ‘Are you talking about Dr. Martin Luther King?’ She is one of those people whose life is just so rich and full of events and stories. It’s cool to hang out with people like that. I think that was a bigger deal for me than the first album I did. Everyone knows who Mavis Staples is, including my parents. I felt like my parents were so proud of me, and it was special to be able to do it.”
Booker said he still has a lot left to accomplish musically.
“I think that as a musician, you have to look at this whole thing as a process,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m where I want to be as a musician yet, but I think I’m working my way toward that point. That’s how I’m looking at this whole thing. We’re all just trying to make that record exactly the way we want it, so it fully expresses the feelings you want. Until I get to that place, I’m trying to enjoy the ride.”
What does Booker find enjoyable to listen to these days?
“I like SZA and that album Ctrl—that’s what I’ve been listening to a lot lately,” he said. “I listen to a lot of Frank Ocean, and I like Margo Price and saw her perform recently. I saw Parquet Courts perform here recently, and I love them. I’ve felt recently that I have that love of music thing going again, so I’m going to concerts and checking out new people.”
I asked Booker if he lost his love of music at some point
“Oh, definitely. Somewhere after that first album, I didn’t really want to play music anymore,” he said. “You really have to be strong to do this, and I didn’t think it was really for me. I had no idea what was going to happen when I made that album. When you listen to it, it’s literally a live album: We just pushed play and recorded songs. We did it in two days, and nobody thought anything of it.”
Booker said he’s looking forward to his second time performing at Coachella.
“I had a great time last time,” he said. “Good music is good music. I’m not one of those people who just listens to rock music, and I like a lot of the things Goldenvoice does. So I’m excited to see a bunch of people.”