As a child, Ben Seretan spent his summers attending a music camp in his home state of California. One year, the sweltering summer heat melted the glue that held his cello together, snapping the neck in two and leaving the songwriter without his instrument of choice.
While his cello spent time at the repair shop, Seretan’s older brother offered up a guitar to his ambitious sibling. From that point on, the cellist traded his title for guitarist.
Eventually, Seretan traded coasts as well, moving from California to Connecticut and then to New York. Spattered in between, he embarked on extended trips to Alaska as an artist in residency through the Sitka Fellows Program. For seven weeks, Seretan worked on testing out a rigorous proposal.
“It’s really difficult in modern life to focus on your work for more than a couple of hours,” says Seretan. “I proposed that I was going to try and rehearse for a certain amount of uninterrupted time each day, building it up until I as playing for more continuous hours each day.”
For five hours a day, Seretan sat looking out on Alaska’s arresting landscape while creating music that now comprises the album “Double Alaska.” All the while, Seretan played in a particular tuning inspired by his geographic location.
“When you’re open and receptive and responding to things in an improvisatory fashion, your surroundings dictate what happens.”
Back in New York, Seretan is trying his best to rediscover happiness.
“I want to have a life here. All the residencies I’ve done and all the traveling I’ve done has been a steam valve in a lot of ways for escaping the city,” admits Seretan. “It’s hard to merge the solitary, spread out journey of the soul with the hectic, sardined nature of New York. Now I’m starting to figure out how to be stable here.”
While he attempts to create a sense of permanence in the city, Seretan continues to write and record music. He recently set out to work on another record with a projected release for the New Year. He recorded the songs at various studios across the country, making it feel–as he describes it–like a greatest hits record. This mentality became inspired by the first record Seretan purchased with his own money, “The Very Best of Violent Femmes.”
“The concept emerged that I was going to make a greatest hits record,” he says. “Not that any of these songs have been heard before, but it was recorded at different times by different personnel. You mash these songs together and it becomes listenable as an album.”
Some of the songs on the forthcoming record feature only Seretan and his guitar, while other tracks have upwards of nine musicians accompanying his thoughtful vocals. Overall, Seretan claims the album focuses on gratitude for the people in his life.
“These songs are like little Christmas cards for people,” says Seretan. “In this age of social media and endless content creation, we all project an image of ourselves that is happier, fitter, more fulfilled, and more wonderful than who we might actually be. This record is vulnerable and it’s about gratitude for friends and affection and people who make you feel good.”
And when it’s not the people in Seretan’s life who make him feel most comfortable, it’s the music.
“I say this a lot, but I can be the person I want to be in my day to day life when I’m singing or playing my guitar.”
Some people may use their instruments as a shield; for Seretan, his guitar rivals that sentiment, working in a way that brings his true self out of hiding and allows his sincerity to shine through.
To hear the rest of our interview with Ben Seretan, tune into this week’s episode of Discovery Corner.
Or interpret the music for yourself by clicking here.