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Interview: Ben Burgess talks ideas & inspirations behind debut album ‘Tears the Size of Texas’

On debut album release day we talk to the man behind one of the strongest releases of the year.

Ben Burgess
Credit: Big Loud

Ben Burgess ended up in Nashville in 2015 signed to Warner Chappell publishing by way of Dallas, Austin and Los Angeles. After having a song cut by the Jonas Brothers (Chillin’ in the Sunshine), Burgess chased an L.A. dream that ultimately he was too loud and twangy for. Relocating to Nashville sparked a career much better suited to this organic, earthy writer. ‘Whiskey Glasses’ for Morgan Wallen, ‘My Religion’ for Dierks Bentley, ‘Flower Shops’ with Ernest and ‘The Difference’ by Tyler Rich are all Ben Burgess songs, amongst many others.

We recently gave Burgess’ debut album a full five star review which you can read at the link and were thrilled to be able to grab some time to talk to him all about it.

How are you doing Ben? Thanks for giving us your time today.

I’m great, man, I’m living the dream right now! It’s lovely to speak to you. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to from ‘over the pond’, I’m so excited. When I come over to England the first thing I’m going to do is go to Abbey Road, man. The Beatles, man, Wow! Releasing an album full of cowboy songs and murder ballads, I feel like Paul McCartney right now! (laughing) This is what they did. The Rolling Stones. Rod Stewart. So many of the greats had hits with Country, Blues and Rock.

I’d love to play in the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles played. Oh man, what a moment that would be.

Your album is easily going to win you loads of fans over in Europe. It’s such a great record.

That would blow my mind if it happened. I’ve been so heavily influenced by bands and singers from England. It’s just ridiculous. You have loads of new artists I really love over there too, one of them is Celeste – she’s got this one song that destroys me and the whole album is so calming. I wanna write with her one day.

“Tears the Size of Texas’ is one of those special albums that yields something new and a different favourite moment or song each time you listen to it.

Oh man, I love that you said that because that’s how I feel about it too. I aimed to create such a puzzle of words and melodies and lyrics that people really need to give it some time to explore all that’s going on. I want you to listen to this album a hundred times and still be finding new things that you love about it.

The title track, “When We Die’, ‘Jackson’, ‘Kill a Man’ – they are all such great songs.

You’re my favourite, man! (laughing) I feel like that too which is why it was so hard to pick the songs for this album! I’ve been writing in this town for ten years now and I was writing in L.A. for six years before that and Texas for five years before that! I gotta bunch a songs ready to go.

One day ‘Jackson’ is my favourite and then another day a song that isn’t even on the album is my favourite! (laughing)

Ben Burgess album cover
Credit: Big Loud Records

Let’s touch on the L.A. years a little. What drew you to Los Angeles in the first place and why did you decide it wasn’t for you?

What got me there was a lady named Gabby that my mum met through someone she worked with. I was in Dallas and there really isn’t any music industry in that town. You need a connection to someone in the industry, whether it be Nashville or Los Angeles, to help get you started out there.

Gabby got me a Jonas Brothers cut and that’s when I realised you could write songs for people and earn a living! (laughing) I figured that was way better than busting concrete in the Texas heat and playing cover shows for four hours on 6th St in Austin! (laughing)

I did that for a while and got my ass kicked! The first song after the Jonas Brothers thing that I got cut was with a Disney artist named Shane Harper (Good Luck Charlie). We wrote a song called ‘One Step Closer to You’ and he made a little dance to it and all we got was crickets, man.

If you’ve ever read ‘The Alchemist’ by Pablo Coelho, it talks about the circle in there, it’s such a great story and it made me realise that I needed to bring things back around to myself and write for me for a while. That led me to Nashville.

Did you come to Nashville with the intention of just being a writer then or did you have performer in your sights as well?

Oh, performer all day, man. I had writing in my sights but always eventually wanted to be the person who sang my own songs. I was doing all these sort of crazy records that sounded like The Band meets the Beastie Boys which the labels were telling me was too crazy and too ‘out there’, you know? So I drilled down into just trying to write great songs because that is what I love to do.

One of the first cuts I got after I buckled down was with Morgan Wallen. ‘Whiskey Glasses’ changed my life, that’s for sure. That song sent me down the path towards trying to become a great songwriter and sharpening that blade. It put me into the room with some great songwriters, man, and I just sat there and took notes!

That song changed, not only your career, but it changed Morgan’s too.

You know, I think about it all the time. When I met Morgan for the first time he had long hair and was touring out of the back of a van – and I have no idea what is going to happen with any of this but I can’t wait to make some great memories with it! The sky is the limit, that’s for sure. To see how far I can take my music is fascinating to me.

When we talk about the album we have to start with the evocative cover. it channels the greats of the past in how they used to present their music.

I didn’t know what we were going to do with this cover at first. Part of the cool thing about being part of the Big Loud team is that they have all these creatives to help with stuff like that. I’ve been working with them for a decade now on other people’s songs so it’s so cool that it’s my turn now.

Everybody at Big Loud brings something to the table and I trust their judgements. I had a fake pistol at one point that I was waving about and we got a bunch of black and white images from that too. They are such a cool family to be a part of.

‘Tears the Size of Texas’ is such a cool song. Tell me about the idea you had for the guy in the song and what he has done.

The guy in that story is me. I’ve seen the tears, man. Sometimes chasing your dreams can seem so crazy to other people who don’t share that passion, you know? Sometimes people want to hold you back from chasing those dreams because they feel like you are going to hurt yourself and that’s where ‘Tears the Size of Texas’ was at when I wrote it. I wasn’t able to chase my dreams and fly free at that point, so it came from a place of where the relationships I was in weren’t working and there was frustrations on both sides.

I’m exposing a lot of thoughts and faults on that song, man! I’m opening up to cats like you and being honest about things that have happened to me. ‘Tears the Size of Texas’ was the first song I wrote after I got offered the record deal with Joey Moi and Big Loud. I knew I had to come in with something good!

I love the video to it too! That final scene at the end, when Daisy catches up with you, is so cool!

(Laughing) It’s the last time I’m going to sing about being a damn cowboy because riding a horse is not an easy thing to do! It was intense out on that shoot but then who doesn’t want to get shot on film and get to do a death scene, right?

The chorus of ‘When We Die’ comes out of nowhere after such a quiet, reflective opening. Where did that come from?

You know, that one came out of frustration. It’s about a man at the end of his rope and I think during the pandemic a lot of people were in that place. I lost a loved one during that time too as well as getting out of a relationship at the same time so I think those two worlds kinda collided on that song.

I think the special thing about that song was that I was being as honest as I could be. I grew up on Westerns and will often go back to feeling like I’m John Wayne down in an abandon church surrounded by the cartel. It makes you think about how you wanna go out, right? I wanted to channel that in a song and go out with a bang! It’s a heavy song, for sure and I’m surprised that one is picking up the buzz that it is right now, surprised but delighted! (laughing)

Another great song is ‘Jackson’. I know you are not going to tell me but I’m going to ask anyway – does the guy end up in prison at the end of that song?

(Laughing) That’s for you to decide, man!! There’s a heavy iron in glove box of the car, what do you think he’s gonna do with it?

The song ends on a discordant note that suggests murder to me……………

You think he kills the guy? When I’m playing it, I pull up my guitar like a gun and I’ll mark somebody out in the front row, usually a guy there with his girl, and I’ll pop him good and proper with the guitar! (laughing) A bullet flies. Is it fatal? Who knows?

We’ve also got to talk about ‘Kill a Man’ which is one of the most original songs I’ve heard in a long time. It’s Morgan Wallen meets Sam Smith and Bruno Mars!

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! I love that. Thank you man. I wrote that with Kevin Kadish – we wrote ‘Whiskey Glasses’ together and when we write we try to fuck shit up, for the lack of a better way of explaining it! (laughing) We’re trying to mess up melodies, we’re trying to talk crazy and trying to create something new and different.

On ‘Kill a Man’ I feel like we really tapped into an unusual melody. When we played in Hollywood opening for Koe Wetzel about three weeks ago my West Coast team at Warner Chappell were like, ‘Dude, that’s the song right there!’ I feel like that song could reach outside the Country realm a little. It’s high drama and very honest.

Have you been jealousy guarding these songs over the years for your own project or have any of them been sent out to other artists?

“Kill a Man’? Sent that to Morgan Wallen years ago. Crickets. (laughing) Half of these are older songs that nobody else would touch and then half of them are newer ones that I’ve written just for me to record. The further we go I’m going to run out of songs that I’ve already written so there will be more new ones.

We’re already talking about album number two and making some more music.

My favourite line on the whole album comes on ‘White Picket Fence’ when you expose your flaws in a beautiful yet tragic way to the girl that is trying to love you by saying, ‘you can’t build a white picket fence around a house of cards.’ Have you got a favourite line, bridge or chorus on the album at all?

That’s a great question. Nobody has ever asked me that before. (thinking) I think it would come on ‘Ain’t Got No Phone’. It’s a ridiculous line but it’s ‘when that dealer hits that blackjack, I bet he smiles when he takes it all.’ That song poured out of me after losing my old man, on an old, famous guitar writers couch in his daughters living room at about 3am one night! That song is so special to me.

We can’t wait to have you over to the UK and can’t wait for this album to be out in the world and see what reactions you are going to get to it.

Fuck man, I can’t wait to come and have a pint with you all. This interview has blown my mind, the fact that there would be fans of my music over in the UK and beyond. I can’t believe y’all are as excited about it as I am.

‘Tears the Size of Texas’ is out on September 30th. Buy it, stream it, love it.

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