New Ben Franklins
Gig Seeker Pro

New Ben Franklins

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF
Band Americana Alternative




"Perfectly Franklins"

Most members of the Beavis and Butt-head generation believe that when it comes to rock and roll, words suck. It's hard to argue the contrary: Wretched lyrics abound, from new-age prattle and sleazy backseat boasts to juvenile political pouting. It's enough to make you wish that more singers would follow the lead of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who mumbles so incoherently that most people can't understand him.

That's why "Sold Out," a tune by Denver's New Ben Franklins, comes as such a pleasant surprise. The number, as sung by Malcom Tent, is a vicious slam at rock's ongoing commercialization, aimed in particular at ex-Who mastermind Pete Townshend: "I hope you die before you get old/Now you're bald and you can't hear/So don't talk about my generation/When you're sponsored by Miller beer...It's better to sell out than to fa-fa-fade away!"

What makes this lacerating assault cut both ways is that guitarist Dave DeVoe, who wrote the song, has more in common with Townshend than he may care to admit. Like the famed guitarist during the Who's salad days, DeVoe has a high, thin voice and takes an occasional lead vocal on band recordings (the Franklins have issued two cassettes--Blake and the just-released No Songs for Christine), but mainly puts his words into the mouth of a more powerful lead singer.

"Malcom and I played folk music six or eight years ago," DeVoe says about his first collaborations with Tent. "It was very simple, very crappy." After Tent moved to California in the late Eighties, DeVoe performed solo under the name the Zero People. "It was basically me, a guitar and a machine," he adds, "doing dark techno stuff."

When DeVoe ran into bassist Andy Harris two years ago, this pair of old friends decided to form a group. "Andy and I tried putting something together because of our common musical background," DeVoe says. "We were into early Eighties gothic stuff like Bauhaus, Killing Joke and Joy Division." The twosome subsequently recruited drummer George Edwards, and when Tent returned to Denver, a band was born.

"I thought the New Ben Franklins was a brilliant name," Tent says--although DeVoe's admission that the moniker was inspired by a cartoon mouse in a Walt Disney film tends to debunk this opinion. "I liked it," Tent continues, "because it doesn't say anything."

DeVoe's songs say plenty. He calls his outlook "dark and introspective," and one listen to the band's set confirms this assertion: The common threads are themes of abandoment, betrayal and painful self-knowledge. While the other three mem-bers are starting to make minor writing contributions, DeVoe concedes, "I'm still pretty much the leader and censor of the band. I decide what we will and won't do."

Devoe dubs the group's music "progressive gothic," but this label doesn't sufficiently describe the Franklin's ever-shifting sound, which includes twangy country guitar, punky trash-can rhythms and distortion-heavy hard rock. The one constant is Tent's angry, sandpaper vocals, which sound like Bauhaus's Peter Murphy imitating a whiskey-soaked Jim Morrison.

The players are adequate and the songs interestingly structured, but the real meat of the material lies in DeVoe's sharp lyrical insights as delivered by Tent. "Seeking Indulgence," for example, explores the anguish of a lapsed Catholic no longer comforted by confession: "Puts his money in the slot/Creeps into the hallowed box...Puts his head between his knees/Chained down, burdened and diseased/ Sweating blood and counting beads." Elsewhere, the almost martial cadence of "Words" underscores a scattershot condemnation of fanatical zeal. "What word should I die for?" Tent asks in a mocking singsong. "What flag or royalty/What phrase will make it lay down/ Commit such loyalty?"

If all rock lyrics were like these, even Beavis and Butt-head might listen to the words. - Westword

"Catherine Wheel playing Johnny Cash songs? That's what David DeVoe's shooting for with the New Ben Franklins"

"Ultimately, my goal is to sound like Catherine Wheel playing Johnny Cash songs," says New Ben Franklins frontman David DeVoe, "which is impossible to do, but it's a great goal to have. Trying to figure out how to get there is a completely different story."

Indeed. So far, it's been a seventeen-year journey for DeVoe, who, inspired by Joy Division and Sisters of Mercy, formed the New Ben Franklins in the early '90s as a trio with a drum machine. Since then, DeVoe says he's been working on this whole concept of taking a noisy and shoegaze-y approach to country. We spoke with him about the band's new five-song EP, which is a bit more steeped in country than shoegaze.

Westword: Can you sum up what the EP is all about?

David DeVoe: The thought process behind it when we started was, we obviously had people who wanted to take music home from the shows. I wanted to really come in and have kind of a big sampling of the stuff that we're capable of. And that's why we've got the gothic country of "Horse." There's the acoustic-y bluegrass of "Best Friend." There's the old country of the Waylon Jennings song "Amanda." There's more of the noisy pop of "Maine."

You guys were doing Sisters of Mercy- and Joy Division-inspired stuff when you first started out. How did you end up doing alt-country?

I grew up ranching, and so I grew up around country. The very first album that I bought was a four-record Glen Campbell live record. I grew up around Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings; that was the stuff that I really cut my teeth on. When I got a little bit older, I got turned on to the darker side of the whole thing with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Joy Division, the Cure, more of the post-punk new-wave stuff.

When the band first formed in '92, we were still really pushing for that. The fact that we had a drum machine and a vocalist who had a really deep voice kind of drew me to that. As you get older, you kind of rediscover — or discover for the first time — that country music is really visceral. I hadn't listened to much country aside from the occasional Johnny Cash tune. About the time when music was kind of headed toward the grunge thing, I got back into roots and Americana stuff, especially with the whole revival with Uncle Tupelo.

It was like this whole scene was burgeoning. I think that some of that works its way in, because it's part of me. I would love to tell people we're an alt-country band, but a lot of times I just have a really hard time saying that. I don't necessarily think we are. I think we're a really noisy rock band that has some roots in country.
- Westword


Miserable - 2011
EP - 2009
Deaf Child Blind - 1995
No Songs For Christine - 1994
Blake - 1993



New Ben Franklins is the long-standing musical project of David DeVoe. The band formed in 1992, building their sound around the then mostly defunct “gothic” music ideal. Three musicians - DeVoe, bassist Andy Harris, vocalist Malcolm Tent - and a drum machine created songs with the depth and striking rhythms of bands like Sisters Of Mercy and Joy Division, but incorporated influences much wider than that genre would allow. The band recorded and released Blake in early 1993. By the fall of that year the band had grown to include a drummer- George Edwards - replacing the drum machine and allowing a much more organic and dynamic sound. Upon release of their second cassette album No Songs For Christine the band found themselves at a crossroads. DeVoe asked Tent to leave the band and took over vocal duties on his own. The band released Deaf Child Blind in 1995 and then took an on-again-off again approach to music over the next ten years. In 2006, DeVoe was asked to put together a line up to play a couple of live shows around Denver. Reaction to the new lineup was favorable, but tensions within the players' families caused the lineup to implode once more. In fall 2008 DeVoe once again found willing contributors in bassist David Meyer and drummer Mark Kosta. They began rehearsals in November and had their first gig with the new lineup in December at Denver’s indie wonderbar, the Larimer Lounge. After only a couple of shows, multi-instrumentalist Tom Oberheide joined the band, completing the current lineup. 2010 found the band running through a few bass players before settling on Benjamin Williams - long time member of the Denver music scene with bands like Ghost Buffalo and Murder Ranks - to fill out the line-up.
Currently, New Ben Franklins are recording their next full length record and playing gigs to support their current release, 2011's Miserable EP.