Mike Benign Focuses on Melody for His Latest Album, 'Kid'
A quarter-century ago, Mike Benign was counted among Milwaukee’s rising musical stars. These days, however, he’s content to write well, release an album every couple of years and perform only when the mood is right.
Kid, the latest album from his band, The Mike Benign Compulsion, rises along the pathway he set out on years ago. Kid’s songs would be welcome on a mix tape amid hits by Crowded House and Squeeze. And yet, Benign’s approach to that sophisticated style of post-punk pop rock has evolved since the breakup of his popular ’90s band, the horn-powered Blue in the Face.
“I’m much more conscious of melody,” he says. “In Blue in the Face, the horns did a lot of heavy lifting. The hooks were typically located in the instrumentation and not in the melody.”
Despite the tantalizing glimpse of a record contract and a Minneapolis agency that booked them at good shows across the Midwest, Blue in the Face’s momentum began to run down. “The band was together four and a half years, which when you’re at that age feels like a lifetime,” Benign says. He quit writing and playing after the band broke up in 1995 but was reenergized by a reunion performance before a packed house at Shank Hall in 2006. “I started writing songs again,” Benign recalls. “I was reminded of how much I loved music. It was no longer going to be about doing it for a living, but because I love doing it.”
Afterward, Benign began recording his new songs at the home of his friend, guitarist Joe Vent. Before long, drummer Mike Koch and bassist Brian Wooldridge were sitting in and The Mike Benign Compulsion was born. They played their first show in 2010 and released their first album, Rollicking Musical, that same year. During the recording of Kid, Wooldridge left and was replaced by longtime Benign collaborator Paul Biemann.
Not unlike the writers he admires, especially Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook and Crowded House’s Neil Finn, Benign’s songs are built from surprises—bridges in unconventional places, refrains that don’t follow expectations, along with irresistible choruses, lyrics in the form of intriguing character sketches and distant echoes of ’60s rock at its most concise.
“I don’t apologize for the fact that we’re not breaking new ground,” he says. “I don’t know that we’re retro sounding, but I know we don’t sound like 2017—and that’s OK! I don’t think something has to break ground to be good. I love the format of 2-and-a-half to 3-minute songs—get in, be hooky and get out quick!”
The Mike Benign Compulsion’s album release party will be held Friday, May 19 at Red Dot, 6715 W. North Ave. The Ball Turret Gunners will open at 8 p.m.