Interview: Benjamin Tod and Ashley Mae of Lost Dog Street Band

Interviews

Look in any music group on Facebook and you’ll likely see the name Lost Dog Street Band. With six albums under their belt, including Benjamin’s previous solo album, these aren’t newcomers to the music world. They’ve been busking, crisscrossing the country and playing to whoever will listen for years. In the past couple of years their name (and music) is mentioned more and more. With raw emotion and lyrics (sometimes brutally so) and harmonies that will gut punch you, they’ve built quite a following. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them twice this year and each experience has been different. Regardless of the venue, the reaction to the music is often the same. Fans singing along, sometimes you see the emotion overtake them and you realize how much the lyrics and the feeling is affecting them and possibly reminding them of their own experiences. It’s truly something to see. The following is an interview with Benjamin Tod and Ashley Mae, two of the three members of Lost Dog Street Band.

AH: I’ve found when I ask people how they first heard about Lost Dog Street Band, many of them reference Gems on VHS and admittedly that was my first real introduction to you as well. Can you tell me how that collaboration came about? Is that a collaboration you plan on continuing to do for the foreseeable future?

Benjamin: Us and Anthony Simpkins briefly lived at a punk house called ‘the twin towers’ in Nashville together in 2012. It was a rowdy shit show and I was really bad on drugs and booze. The first time I met Anthony I threatened to stab him because he wouldn’t stop playing that, “live like you were dying” pop country song on his banjo. We actually filmed our first two videos (“Tom Ames prayer” & “Coming Down”) at that house. I got kicked out of the house eventually after violently attacking someone and getting arrested. We always stayed in touch and developed a real friendship despite my insanity. I plan to always work with Anthony. He is an absolute genius and the best in the business right now, damnit.

AH: I read in your bio that often to exorcise your demons you end up writing songs strung out on drugs and drunk. Do you think your best work has come from those times? Or are you a better songwriter in your sober and clean periods?

Benjamin: I wrote at least a quarter of the songs throughout my career on heroin and/or meth. It’s sad to say but some of those songs just never would have happened the same way unless I was using them. I’m not in any way encouraging anyone to do them. I hope my music is a direct testimony of why not to start. Booze never helped me write, but the aftermath of what I did on booze definitely did. Getting sober was scary because of that. I know a lot of artists struggle with the fear of getting sober and their writing going down the tubes. For me it has given me more clarity and focus. I believe my writing today is better than ever.

What’s the positives to traveling and making a living with your significant other? Any negatives?

Benjamin: Hhhhmmm…. that’s a tough one. Having her around is everything to me. Even if I was touring solo there’s no way I could do it without her along. It definitely affects our relationship negatively sometimes. We have to work hard to keep our romantic relationship separate from our business and bandmate relationship. Sometimes feelings in our marriage get hurt over things in the band. It’s worth it over all and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ashley: Working together professionally definitely strengthens our relationship in a lot of ways — we face problems as a team and have each other to bounce creative ideas around. Being in a business/musical relationship with your spouse absolutely has its own host of unique struggles. When tensions are high we have to step back, take a deep breath and remember that we’re in this together.

When you write a song like “Using Again”, is it hard for you to admit to yourself and others that you’ve fallen back into old habits? What’s your motivation in difficult times like those?

Benjamin: Definitely. I haven’t used a needle in almost 2 years, so I don’t have a bad conscious about hard drugs for the most part. I think back to the first show you (Melissa Payne) came to and someone yelling, “I thought you quit drinking!?” as I took a shot of tequila on stage. I’ve never tried to tell people about quitting drinking but it does come out and sometimes I just have to have a fucking drink. Having that expectation has certainly helped me stay sober. There have been a couple times I was losing it and almost got some dope on the road. I would always think about how much people depend on my strength and in the end walk back to the venue.

AH:  I know you guys mentioned homesteading at your concert in OKC, will your touring schedule change once you add animals to your homestead? How do you balance the homestead, touring and making new music?

Benjamin: That is a question we are still trying to find the answer to. We plan on finding a full- time resident for the property that will live in a private section. Time will tell.

AH:  Tell me about your upcoming solo album, Benjamin. How is this different than other albums that you’ve put out as LDSB?

Benjamin: My solo albums are no frills. I consider myself strictly a songwriter in every sense. I love the craft, the process, the insanity. Benjamin Tod is my truest nature as a writer. Lost Dog incorporates a lot of narratives and a bigger sound which I also love doing.

AH:  I love that you guys bring other artists on tour that are talented, but maybe your fans haven’t heard of before. Are there any artists in this genre or a different one that you’d like to eventually collaborate with?

Benjamin: Joseph Huber, Sarah Shook, Vincent Neil Emerson, Jason Dea West, Lori McKenna ….. of ones we haven’t played with.

AH:  Ashley, I know you are an artist and your gallery is impressive (your prints are my favorite). Are you still actively working on your art? Or has that taken a backseat since you’ve been so busy touring?

Ashley: When we’re touring I have very little time to work on my art. However, while touring I’m actively incubating ideas and usually have some of my brightest creative moments when I’m driving the bus. When I get home, I hide in my studio for hours and unpack those ideas and sketches. It’s very cathartic. It’s taken me a long time to do so, but I’ve learned to balance touring and my own personal creative practice. I’m hoping to get a website up and running very soon to share what I’ve been working on.

AH:  What led to the decision to add Jeff Loops to the group?

Benjamin: We were getting on bigger stages and needed more sound and rhythmic consistency. I did a one-man band setup for years with a tambourine and kick drum. I f-cking hated it. It looked unprofessional and sounded terrible. It was the last remnant of my Street busking past and was great to get rid of it. Jeff is an incredible friend and bassist. I don’t know what we’d do without him. Jeff Loops is also a phenomenal songwriter and vocalist. He’d never tell you that, though.

AH: What’s something that people would be surprised to know about each of you?

Benjamin: I’m a big Green Bay Packers fan.

Ashley: I love learning about the paranormal, aliens and serial killers….all the weird shit that give you nightmares….and I’m a Broncos fan.

AH: Who or what has been some of the biggest influences on your music?

Benjamin: Obviously Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and Townes Van Zandt. I grew up listening to them before it was cool. My friend Christian Tengelitsch’s father (stage name)Rick West was a songwriter and worked in and out of their circle in his time so from around the age of 14 it was commonplace in my life. It was strange getting older and watching it become this hipster litmus test. Another huge influence that is significantly lesser known is Jim Ringer. He’s definitely in my top 10 greatest songwriters of all time.

AH:  Where do you see yourselves in the next couple of years? Any big goals or plans to share with the world?

Benjamin: Nothing special. Never wanted to be famous. Just want to make a living doing this and inspire people to fight their own demons. I see a lot of artists just push and push and lose themselves in this fucking industry game. They can have it. I will be in Kentucky living a simple life and touring when I have to. It’s not about the charts, the trends, or how big a show you can play in the end. It’s about moving people spiritually.

AH:  The following are questions from the fans in the Unofficial Lost Dog Street Band Fan Group.

All-time favorite song (you only get one) not artist, not genre, not albums, just one favorite song.

Benjamin: “Mama You’ve Been on my Mind” Bob Dylan ONLY from the 1964 Halloween recording.
Ashley: My all-time favorite song right now is George Jones’s “Color of the Blues”.

AH: Ben, how has your playing style developed into what it is now? How has the overall aesthetic of the band and your music progressed through all of the projects you’ve been involved with?

Benjamin: Playing on the streets, hands down. It tends to be loud and I had to project and learn to use my voice in strange ways to be heard. Living on the streets in general shaped my view of the world and who I am. Desperation taught me things that are hard to explain. It doesn’t pay to be humble when your down.

AH: Ben, will you ever go back to playing the banjo live?

Benjamin:  Playing the banjo live is hard because of sound issues. Banjo’s are also harder to tune and stay in tune. More than likely, no. I was never very good at playing banjo and I rarely pick it up anymore.

AH:  Ashley, where do you get those clothes and those amazing boots?

Ashley:  I get my clothes and boots at the many vintage stores, antique malls and second-hand stores we stop at on the road.

AH: Ben, what is your stance on anarchy?

Benjamin: I grew up on the far left. I considered myself an Anarcho-primitivist in my teens. I was apart of protests and food not bombs and the whole leftist culture in Nashville. I can still use the arguments to my advantage when I need to or when playing devil’s advocate. I was obsessed with sociology, political science and philosophy in my younger years. I am absolutely not an Anarchist nor do I identify with the far left anymore.

AH: What are you most proud of? Either personally or music related?

Benjamin: I’m most proud that my music helps people as individuals. The things I write are reflections of my own hard times and for people to actually relate to them is amazing. It makes me feel less alone in the universe and gives me hope in humanity. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and there was a long time that my art really made me feel more alien than connected to others. The fact that I can write a song about a very personal feeling that other people have felt and just them hearing the song puts some clarity to their darkness very rewarding.

Find out more about Lost Dog Street Band, here: https://www.lostdogstreetband.com

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