Wed 24th July 8:00pm

BEN DE LA COUR: With songs that explore life’s murky corners and shadowy characters, Ben de la Cour’s music occupies the intersection between gothic Americana and dark, gritty folk. It’s a sound fueled by the stories and struggles of its creator, a lifelong searcher who’s never been afraid to shine a light on his own demons.

Born in London and raised in Brooklyn, Ben experienced a coming-of-age when he left home at seventeen to become a farm worker, a janitor, a boxer in Havana, and — in his own words —”one of the laziest and most inept bouncers and bartenders in history.” After logging several years on the road with various metal bands Ben followed his muse to New Orleans before
landing in Nashville in 2013 where he found a community of simpatico musicians and songwriters who weren’t afraid to chase down their own musical horizons.

Albums like Ben’s 2012 debut, Ghost Light and 2018’s career-shifting The High Cost of Living Strange chronicled not only that deep sense of restlessness but also his various attempts to wrestle his own vices into submission. The result is a haunting, harrowingly personal version of folk music that earned praise from outlets like American Songwriter and NPR. Ben was named a Kerrville New Folk Winner shortly after the 2016 release of Midnight in Havana and began maintaining a regular presence on the road, playing more than 100 shows a year. In a genre that has become increasingly polished and pop-friendly throughout the 21st century, his stark tales of heartbreak, supernatural menace, God and the ever-present specter of death seem to harken back to folk’s roots, making him a modern torchbearer of a classic sound.

“Folk music has a long tradition of darkness,” he explains, “and darkness is something I know a lot about.”

That darkness takes on new dimensions with his fifth record, Sweet Anhedonia, a gripping collection of Americanoir soundscapes haunted by crooked folk ballads, scorched-earth heartland rockers and even the occasional ode to love, hope and redemption. Bouncing between first-person narratives and sharply-written character studies, these songs radiate a bruised, battered energy, with Ben delivering each one in a voice that’s textured by years of hard touring and even harder living.

Ben recorded the album with Jim White, a cult folksinger celebrated for his own Southern gothic sound. “Jim’s album Wrong-Eyed Jesus! helped me through a truly terrible time in my life,” he says. “I’ve always been such a big fan of his music, so I tracked him down and basically camped outside his house until he finally agreed to produce my record. I think he did it so I’d leave him alone, but the joke’s on him because now he’s never going to be able to get rid of me. We worked together in Athens and Nashville, taking alternative approaches to my songs by building soundscapes and percussive patterns. The goal was to make an art record — something that felt small. But somehow, everything kept expanding and becoming more twisted as we went along, and here we are. I think Jim refers to these things as ‘psychic bonsai.'”

In 2020 Ben released Shadow Land, his first album to be recorded since completing a stint in rehab. Despite his continuing struggles with the internal forces waging a war within his head, Ben’s stays in various institutions didn’t just bring clarity to his life; they added new perspectives to his music, too. The experiences made him increasingly empathetic to other people’s
struggles, and that awareness shines on Sweet Anhedonia’s sharply-written songs. He doesn’t just sing about this way of life; he lives it too, dedicating his working hours between tours to his job as a clinical associate at a recovery centre for teenage boys.

“I have love for all the characters I write about, even the ones who seem to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever,” he explains. “They have redeeming qualities to me. To be a good writer, you have to have empathy, and part of that is resisting the urge to judge or justify the things your characters do. Sometimes you just present your characters and follow them along their path, writing about whatever they’re up to without getting in their way. They’re sensitive and very easily spooked. And I’ve never been shy about presenting unlikable narrators, because that’s subjective anyway. Plus, I think it’s a human thing to root for ‘the bad guy.’ We all want to hold out hope for redemption, right?”

Sweet Anhedonia makes room for acoustic fingerpicking, electric amplification and a host of bizarre and evocative soundscapes, casting Ben de la Cour’s stories against backdrops of sinister roots music (“Appalachian Book of the Dead”), Springsteen-sized heartland rock (“Suicide of Town”), moody minimalism (“Maricopa County”), and orchestral, cinematic bombast (“Shine on the Highway”). With “Numbers Game,” a song that weighs the resilience of the human spirit against the gravity of human suffering, he even writes from a female’s perspective, duetting with fellow East Nashville resident and close friend Becky Warren over arpeggiated guitar and bowed fiddle. Like all of Sweet Anhedonia, the song’s textures are rough-edged and lovingly pockmarked, emphasizing authentic performances over well-scrubbed perfection. It’s a setting that suits Ben’s writing well, with the songwriter subtly nodding to his influences — including Townes Van Zandt, Nick Cave, and authors Raymond Carver and Toni Morrison — while creating something starkly singular.

Sweet Anhedonia unfolds like a soundtrack for the resilient, the run-down, and the battle-scarred among us, its various vignettes glued together by a man who’s logged years on a battlefield of his own making. A leading light of folk music’s underground, Ben de la Cour has kept his songwriting sharp while charting his own murky path towards redemption over the past decade. Sweet Anhedonia marks the latest chapter in a story that continues to unfold. It’s Ben at his narrative, nuanced best, delivering songs that seethe one minute and soothe the next.



Doors open 7.30pm. Music starts 8pm. The venue is mixed seated and standing. Tables are limited and available on a first come first served basis so, if you’d like a seat, we recommend arriving early!