Musician Benjamin Booker mixes garage rock and blues to create raw sound

Chris Duncan

When musician Benjamin Booker recorded his first EP, Waiting Ones, in 2012 in his parents’ bathroom, he intended its release to be a private affair. Instead, he almost immediately found himself gaining recognition as one of the best up-and-coming rock acts in recent memory.    

“A blog had a satellite radio show, and they played it,” Booker said. “Suddenly, people were hearing my music. It was an odd feeling. I hadn’t even performed for a crowd yet, but my phone was ringing.”

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter’s breakthrough led to performances on “Letterman” and “Conan,” a tour with Jack White and critical acclaim from Rolling Stone — all before his debut album came out.

Booker, who graduated from the University of Florida, said he has always been interested in music. He attended punk shows regularly in middle school and has played guitar since he was 14. Still, he never felt the call to perform.

“I really liked playing,” Booker said. “But the idea of playing for someone made me nervous. I never wrote songs; I just never felt the urge.”

After his EP breakthrough, Booker began performing around New Orleans as a solo acoustic artist. Although he still writes on an acoustic guitar, Booker found the low-key performance style didn’t suit him well.

“It’s boring to me,” Booker said. “I like it when people are excited, when people are rowdy. Shows need to have that thrill, and acoustic didn’t provide that.”

To amp up the energy of his gigs, Booker formed his first rock band. He teamed up with drummer Max Norton and later added bassist Alex Spoto to form the band, which they named Benjamin Booker.

Once the band signed with ATO Records, Booker threw himself into the project full time. After experimenting with a variety of instruments and post-production techniques, the band chose to abandon a complex style and recorded their first album, Benjamin Booker, live over the course of six days.    

Electrical engineering freshman Juhi Pathak noticed the album’s lo-fi style the first time she listened to it. “His sound manages a good balance between modern indie and throwback ’60s,” Pathak said. “It’s definitely a simple album, but it’s something you can jam out to.”    

Since the release of Benjamin Booker in August 2014, the group has received praise for its raw blend of garage rock and blues. Mechanical engineering freshman Claire Harrigan said the combination of multiple genres creates a distinct listening experience.

“It’s frenzy of garage rock, but there’s a good helping of blues influence,” Harrigan said. “It’s really interesting to hear the two blended together.”

Booker addresses themes of home and family in his natural raspy singing voice, but he said he might explore different ideas in the future.

“I usually write about people around me,” Booker said. “But, I’ve only done this one time before. I’m not sure what I may be writing about in years to come.”    

When thinking about the band’s future, Booker said he just hopes the group will stays true to its roots.

“We’ve always been about making music that interests us,” Booker said. “That’s always been our goal. People seem to appreciate our sound; they get into it. As long as that’s happening, I know our goal has been accomplished.”