By Nicole Hanratty
Posted May 29, 2013
Ben Flanagan, lead singer of The Trophy Fire, grew up in North Carolina and says when he was 18 he figured it was time for a change so in the year 2000 he moved to San Francisco where his music adventures began. Playing with Dredg and The Actual gave Ben Flanagan experiences of a lifetime spending time on tour with Velvet Revolver, Slash and Scott Weiland.
His personal project The Trophy Fire now has his full focus and “Directions For Daylight” (The Trophy Fire’s third full-length album via Greyday Records) is the rock band’s most recent release and will be sure to have you “Spinning.” Hitting on themes of adult responsibilities juxtaposed with the simplicity of lost childhood, “Directions For Daylight” takes you on an emotional road trip with Ben Flanagan, Adam Schuman and John Schuman. The three man band puts a synthesized spin on alternative rock by infusing a vocal nod to 80’s pop creating a Snow Patrol effect.
Ben says musically he loves Fugazi, Jawbreaker, Jawbox, Sunny Day Real Estate and was listening to emo and hardcore bands in the early ‘90s. In the late ‘90s/2000s, he started listening to early ‘80s Brit pop. He also likes electro music including The Knife and the most recent album he purchased was Queens of the Stone Age “Like Clockwork.”
His favorite flavor of ice cream is neapolitan because he likes the way it looks and says, “It represents how the world should be, in multi colors, all a mix together…happy. Except, the pink flavor is gross. We all know that.” He remembers begging for gummie shark bite candies as a child in the market for school snack time saying, “I would beg for them. I must’ve ended up getting them because I remember always having them. But, I was a very convincing child.”
Ben’s all-time favorite movie is Cool Hand Luke and he says his favorite place to take a date is Twin Peaks in San Francisco. “You drive up Clayton Street, and then just park towards the top, and the you kind of walk up this cliff. If you don’t look North as you’re walking up, you can kind of make it so it’s a surprise, and then when you finally get to the top, it’s just this incredible, incredible view of San Francisco. It’s a gorgeous place. To be fair, I’ve taken my mom there too, but it’s just a really beautiful place.”
Witty and creative, Ben Flanagan is fun to chat with, even without any black coffee.
Nicole: It seems to me that you have got it all together with “Directions For Daylight” being released and getting attention from MTV and Virgin Red for the “Spinning” Music Video Premiere. But, your lyrics say that you have a lot of strings to pull, and sometimes you’re just unraveled. So, I’m wondering, can you tell me what strings you feel sometimes are unraveling for you?
Ben: Not every song is autobiographical, but that one is to a degree. I think it’s just basically about being like anyone being alive in modern culture and just feeling overwhelmed; just inundated. There’s just so much of everything. It’s just a universal feeling, I think, of just not feeling in control, and sometimes feeling completely in control, and then other times, feeling just totally out of control.
Nicole: “Crystal Skyline,” to me, on the album is so beautiful. Really, in that song, you mix your melodies and beautiful harmonies so well, and I think it really sort of exemplifies the sound of your band. Would you agree with that?
Ben: I definitely would, yes. I really like that song a lot. It’s really big and bombastic in parts, and then it’s really gentle in other parts. We have a wide spectrum of songs. We don’t like to stay in this little world. It starts off so huge, and then it’s these really quiet middle sections, so it kind of spans our whole sound, yes.
Nicole: I can’t help but delve into this because the line in that song, “Sirens always talk in my dreams,” is really powerful and reminiscent of The Odyssey, where the sirens lure men to their death. In particular, where Odysseus ties himself to the mast of the ship so he can continue on his hero’s path, and that’s sort of what comes up with that line, “Sirens always talk in my dreams.” I’m wondering what you think anchors you in your life and keeps you on your path?
Ben: Good question. Man, I need some black coffee for these. These are good questions. [laughter] In light of sounding cheesy, I think just the unknown and not knowing what’s to come. Then, the idea that this kind of hope and not knowing what’s to come, I think, creatively. Meaning that I just love being able to have an outlet to be creative, and the fact that I can pick up a guitar, pick up a notebook, jump on the piano, and I kind of don’t know what’s going to come out yet. Sometimes it could be crap, but I think, fortunately, a lot of the time it’s not. I’m a creative person, so that kind of creative energy and always knowing that there’s hopefully a good song around the corner keeps driving me, at least musically.
Nicole: So, what sirens do you think try to pull you off course?
Ben: We get older. People go away. People die. People change. The innocence that we had and that simplicity of life gets augmented and more convoluted, and things end up not being as simple as they used to be. I think that’s a theme of the record. It kind of sometimes sounds a little depressing if I phrase it a certain way, and it’s really not meant to be. It’s just kind of acknowledging a change and acknowledging that in adulthood things are different then when we were youthful and blissful, and things change.
Nicole: You talk about that a little bit in your “Kids” song, where you say, “I wish that we were kids getting high for the first time.” I’m wondering–aside from drugs or whatever that high is–do you remember things from your childhood that gave you a high as a kid? Those first-time experiences that stand out to you?
Ben: Absolutely. That song’s about much more than the getting high line. …Of course, I remember that actually, the first time I ever smoked weed, the guy that sold it to us, it was really oregano. The first time I ever truly got high, I really didn’t get high, and I was duped.
Nicole: That is a great story. [laughter]
Ben: Listen to this too. This is what really fucking sucks was that the kid I smoked with, we got caught because he wrote it in his diary. Then, his mom found his diary, actually read his diary that said he and Ben Flanagan smoked weed on the golf course. But, it was actually oregano that [someone] sold us. So, it was all a big marijuana debacle.
Nicole: The marijuana debacle! You got in trouble for smoking oregano. [laughter]
Ben: My parents are incredibly cool, and just sat me down and gave me the old, “Did you smoke pot? You probably shouldn’t smoke pot, right now, when you’re 13, blah, blah, blah.” But, they were about as cool as they could be. It was the drummer in my first band, we were called the Dorkestra. [laughter] He got in trouble. He wasn’t allowed to do sleepovers anymore, and I think that was actually the unraveling of that band. But, the rest is history.
But I think speaking back to that, I think those first highs to me so many had to do with music. I loved playing in a band now, and I still do. I love doing it and that’s why I do it, but right when you start off–and we were probably terrible–but, that excitement of getting in the room and just learning a new chord; figuring out a new riff on guitar, albeit badly I’m sure. But, that excitement was so, so real. Again, it’s not to say there isn’t musical excitement anymore. Again, I love it, but that was a huge thing.
Then, I think in relationships too, first kiss, things like that. You don’t get it again. So, that song was just kind of harking back to a time, 13 to 16, when I was just doing a lot of first things. It’s a point in time that you don’t really… you can’t have back.
Nicole: So, who was your first kiss?
Ben: I don’t remember. It was one of those stupid games. It was either the seven minutes in the closet or Spin the Bottle, and it was one of two women, who I’m still Facebook friends with, but I can’t believe I don’t remember.
Nicole: So, you gave your first kiss away to the spin of a bottle?
Ben: Yes. It was… Obviously, if I could … I don’t remember who it was. It was incredibly, incredibly poignant.
Nicole: You may have been high on oregano.
Ben: That’s what it was, yes.
Nicole: And, your “Young Blood” song also has that youthful theme, and you talk a little bit, in that song, about sometimes it’s in you, but it hides from you, and you don’t want to let it go. So, what is it that you think you have carried forward, and what do you think you hold onto from your youth?
Ben: Yes. I think that song, although it comes before kids, is kind of actually meant to supplement the message that it’s not just a hopelessness of, “I wish we were kids, but we’re not so fuck it.” It’s more of the, “We’re not anymore, but maintaining some of that hope and some of that wonder. So, it’s important to be relatively fulfilled in life.” I’m certainly never, in any of my lyrics, giving any advice to anyone. That’s the last thing I would want to do, but it’s just kind of an observation for me that when I do feel more fulfilled, it’s not necessarily when I’m reckless. But, it’s whenever I’m open and feel free, and don’t limit myself, and try to maintain some of that youthful exuberance, and not get weighed down by jobs and too many responsibilities.
Nicole: So, I was really excited by your song, “Devil At My Door,” and I’ll tell you why.
Nicole: Because I get to ask you what does Ben Flanagan want from the Devil? What would you sell your soul for?
Ben: That’s not a really autobiographical song as much. It’s kind of taken from some experiences of looking at other people, but that’s basically a song about addiction, and just basically needing more and it not being enough. But, what do I need from the Devil? I don’t truly believe in the Devil.
Nicole: So, what would you sell your soul for? If you believed in the Devil, what would you sell your soul for?
Ben: If I believe in the Devil or a soul, I would sell it for … Oh, boy. Your questions are too good. It’s coming up …
Nicole: Next time, I’ll make sure they warn you to have coffee first.
Ben: Good. I’m so proud of this record, I want a lot of people to hear it. So, the boring answer is wanting this album to get legs and for more, we just want to be able to keep doing this for a while. It’s so much fun. I love my bandmates and we get along great, so I just want to be able to keep doing this.
Nicole: That’s a great answer.
Ben: All right.
Nicole: And, it’s a great album. You’re on the right path with it, for certain.
Ben: Thank you very much.
Nicole: So, I have to ask, do you have any fun memories of hanging with Scott Weiland or Slash, Velvet Revolver?
Ben: Yes. That was the most surreal, most fun, probably, I’ve ever had within a couple month period. I think we only ended up doing two weeks of shows with them, and I was definitely good about telling myself, kind of pinching myself, and saying, “Enjoy this moment. This is ridiculous.” Because it was just our band The Actual and Velvet Revolver. Slash was incredibly nice. He came into our dressing room, and one time just sauntered in there, thought it was his, and just wanted to ask if he could have some water. We were just like, “Yeah, Slash. Sure you can have water.” But, my favorite of his was at The Warfield in San Francisco, he was just backstage in a red jumpsuit eating spaghetti, but he was still smoking while he was eating spaghetti. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say jumpsuit, one of those red Adidas tracksuits, like that your Italian grandfather would wear.
Nicole: Totally. [laughter]
Ben: But, he was eating. Yes, just having whatever the catered meal there was–which I think was pasta–fork in his right hand, and then a cigarette in his left hand. So, it was just like, “That is Slash.” He didn’t know we were around. He wasn’t doing that for cameras. That’s just really how he rolls.
Then, we had a lot of interaction with Scott. My coolest, proudest moment with him was when I joined The Actual after most of their record was done, and then I re-recorded vocals on one song that was already on it, and then the band did another song, a song that I had written, we recorded for the record in Scott’s studio.
When he came in and heard the final project, mix with the song, and he was in the room just doing classic–the way he moves his body to it and the way he nodded his head–I’m just looking over. I’m just like, “Oh. Scott’s doing a Scott Weiland slither to my song,” and it was just a cool moment. But, it was just so recognizable from 10 years of seeing his music videos and seeing them live. I was just, “Oh. He’s totally doing that right next to me.” So, that was a cool moment too.
Velvet Revolver was not my favorite band in the world by a long shot, but seeing those guys play every night, they’re rock legends for a reason. They’re pretty incredible, so it was fun, and Duff is the nicest guy on the face of the earth.
Nicole: Which song title, if you could choose any song that exists in the whole wide world, would you say best describes your personality?
Ben: I’ll go with one of my favorite bands, Superchunk. The name of their song “Art Class,” which is one of my favorite songs. I would just say that because I try to get something creative out of my day. So, I guess that would be the answer. Sometimes it’s impossible, but just try to write something; try to kind of come up with something new, and try to think of life as a big art class.
BEN FLANAGAN SUPPORTS ANIMALS
ASPCA We Are Their Voice