jackbenny, the dynamic musical duo comprised of twin brothers Jack and Benny Lipson, is exactly what the music industry and the world need right now. They are young, grounded in tradition, bounding towards what’s next in the world of sound, and always refreshing. On the eve of their upcoming show National See-A-Show Day!, debuting at the Luckman Intimate Theatre for one-night only this weekend, I had to buzz with these boys about music, their current work, and – of course – queerness in artistic expression. Here we go!
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): How did jackbenny begin?
Jack and Benny (JB): Growing up here in LA we started jamming together in our tweens singing songs by artists and composers we admire. Benny moved away to Miami for undergrad and as soon as he returned the two of us began playing bass and keyboard, respectively, in a handful of local bands. But soon we grew antsy to write and perform original material with more pointed lyrics and unbound to prescribed musical formulae. We retreated to Sedona, Arizona for a week in December 2016, and thus spawned jackbenny and our first batch of songs.
RQM: Let’s talk about style. You two beautifully meld musical theatre, jazz, pop, rock and other influences to create a very unique live concert aesthetic. What was the inspiration behind your sound?
JB: We love all the musical styles you listed and more, and of course we invite them into jackbenny‘s sound! We decided to link our material not necessarily through a certain soundscape – although we do stamp our songs with surprising harmonic diversions and metrical twists – but rather through their savvy and sometimes provocative lyrics addressing contemporary social phenomena. In musical theater the same composer can churn out disparate scores from show to show as they craft in service to the characters and drama; we believe each of our lyrics earns that specificity…the music in a way writes itself!
RQM: Tell me EVERYTHING about It’s National See-a-Show Day!!
Jack: Well we can’t tell you everything, then you’d know exactly what to expect! It’s National See-a-Show Day! is a culmination of all we’ve culled from our residency last year at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre, where we presented 10 unique 2-act shows of our material sprinkled with a range of guest performers coloring our material. At the Luckman, we’ll maintain that 2-act form – this time with five guest artists contributing – but we’re beefing the production value: our set designer roommate built a 60s/70s TV special-esque set for us to play on, we’ve expanded drummer-percussionist Theo Seidmon‘s arsenal of toys, and throughout the evening we’ve planned 92 light cues. Simply interacting together as twins on stage seems to invite uproarious laughter, but we want you to leave, as one audience member articulated, “simultaneously smarter and optimistic about the world.”
RQM: Okay, breaking with form – I’m going to ask 6 questions – not five. Jack, what’s it like working with Benny?
Jack: Honestly I can’t fathom working solo – who can fulfill both the artistic and especially the auxiliary managerial work singlehandedly?! In writing and executing our material, we expect utmost excellence of one another, and often this manifests in frank, brusque criticism…that shortly evolves into laughter. On the business end, Benny and I’ve started to carve our own territories: Benny oversees and edits video content for jackbenny’s website, YouTube, and Facebook pages while I manage our Instagram and mailing list, as well as write all prose surrounding the project.
RQM: Benny, what’s it like working with Jack?
Benny: Collaborating with a sibling is both comfortable and challenging; we never hold back how one another is thinking or feeling, good or bad. Since we know one another’s capabilities, we push to those limits. I often keep Jack focused on the tasks at hand and monitor his musical ideas from reaching a level of absolute obscurity. Our personalities as composers and businessmen complement nicely.
RQM: Can you tell us anything about your new work Brainstorm?
JB: Brainstorm is a musical theater song cycle of our songs, many of which we’ll perform on Saturday. The one-act zooms in on three twentysomethings navigating today’s ever-confounding socio-political scene. In continuous sequences of song and movement, they share their newfangled ideas on queer identity, climate change, consensual conduct, bee extinction, healthcare, bureaucracy, and more. The millennials by the piece’s close not only refute putative misconceptions of their caricatured generation, but come to empathize with one another on a mutual journey towards a more just and compassionate world. Actually major news regarding Brainstorm began brewing – pun intended – just last week, though we can’t formally share just yet…but our audience at the Luckman will be first to hear!
RQM: And finally, let’s talk about queerness music. What makes music or a musician or a style of music queer? And why should everyone care?
JB: To start, a couple of our lyrics directly explore queer identity, of course the aptly named “Queer” and its companion number, “Asking.” Other lyrics refer to queer relationships when much music offers either definitively straight characters or nebulously dodges sexual identity as not to expose the creators. But much of the content of our songs, as well as our shows’ theatrical aesthetic, stems inevitably from conversations and interactions through our deep involvement in the LGBTQ cultures of LA and New York. Whereas other artists fear this “queer” label will pigeonhole their art towards a niche audience, conversely “queer” to us embraces a spectrum of individuals as variegated as the rainbow. We want those individuals to find themselves within the characters of our music, and hopefully glean from them truths they’ve – and even we’ve – yet to discover.
For more information about their show, go to LuckmanArts.org or call (323) 343-6600.
All photos © by Cliff Lipson
Mason’s plays include Orange Woman: A Ballad for a Moor; Onion Creek; and The Duat. Mason’s works have been seen at such venues as McCarter Theatre Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA; Son of Semele Theatre; Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens; and Chicago Dramatists. He is an Activate: Midwest New Play Festival finalist, New York Theatre Innovator’s Award nominee, and the winner of the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore Producer’s Award. Mason holds an BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, an MA in English from Middlebury College, and an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University.
Mason has received commissions from Steep Theatre and Chimera Ensemble in Chicago, as well as the Obie-winning Fire This Time Festival.
For more on Roger Q. Mason, visit www.rogerqmason.com