With his newest album, “Brand New,” dominating the iTunes and Billboard charts – you would think Nashville-based artist Ben Rector would have grown a head to rival those on the face of Mount Rushmore. But after spending time face to face with the singer-songwriter, you learn that this is someone who has embraced their musical talent without hubris. Ben Rector has discovered that through music, a purity of self emerges; one that isn’t marred by delusions of grandeur or self-importance. Rector’s songs can be embraced without inhibition because they are intricately layered with truths about humanity and are the musical equivalent of a mirror reflecting back the essence of life.
Rector’s first memory of music was at a young age when he heard Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” at a wedding. While his own family is not musical, he was able to decipher it by ear and thus began his own singular journey. Rector felt “competent when it comes to music,” but didn’t think he would pursue a career until he was already actively engaged in performing. “When people started coming to shows who weren’t my friends, I thought maybe I could really do this. My parents are supportive, but it’s just not their thing so I had to figure it out on my own.”
This is an artist with a sense of purpose that comes from a self-fueled fire within. He isn’t writing and performing to impress anyone; rather, he feels that it would be wasteful to squander the aptitude for music that has been bestowed upon him by the universe.
His first realization that success was in the cards, came at a House of Blues show in Dallas. A sold-out crowd of 350 fans brought about a moment of clarity for Rector: this was going to be his career and it was his duty to commit to it without reservation. Like any one struggling to manipulate talent into art, he is always hardest on himself wishing that he had performed better, connected more, every time he steps off the stage. Rector doesn’t believe he is a star. He says that he is simply someone who is lucky enough to do something he loves that people enjoy. His most recent worldview realignment moment came when he heard that he had sold out a 3000+ show in Dallas in anticipation for his new album. “I was really shocked and excited all at the same time. For me, that was huge.” But with every new stepping stone of success, Rector becomes more resolute that he must keep himself grounded and never take his gift for granted. “No matter how well or poorly it goes, no one gets to do this forever.”
The drive to outperform the last performance manifests itself in the genesis for his latest album, “Brand New.” Bands grow tired of the road, tired of the grind, tired of being in the spotlight and the typical response is to retreat into a temporary hiatus. While Rector experienced this same apathy towards what was happening with his career, he decided to channel this into creating something that would challenge him to push beyond the boundaries already established. “I wasn’t very happy. You are chasing the dream so hard and then you catch it, and it’s a weird let-down. I didn’t feel bad but I didn’t feel awesome. I wanted to get back to when I started music when I just didn’t want to set a guitar down so I started writing again.”
On the new album, one song in particular stands out from the rest. “Men Who Drive Me Places,” highlights a group of people often overlooked—the taxi and limo drivers who take us from Point A to Point B on a daily basis. Rector has spun an earnest tale of his chance meetings with these men who are hard-working average Joes fully dedicating themselves to a task that most of us would find mundane. But throughout the song, Rector cleverly spotlights them as the real heroes—the cogs in the wheel of life that keep the world turning. When asked if a song like this comes from a place of guilt that he is the one receiving the accolades instead of these men, Rector responded by saying that, “I think my heart in that song was that the more I talked to people like that I realized that for whatever reason I was dealt this hand for musical aptitude in a time when people think that’s cool. I feel like what we celebrate is almost arbitrary, like celebrating people who are tall, and when I started talking to these drivers, I realized that they’re brilliant. They are fascinating people, so hardworking with such little incentive and no one is cheering for them. And they should.”
This theme of honoring the achievements of others is threaded throughout the album. “30,000,” revolves around the simple tale of the person sitting next to you on an airplane and our casual indifference to the fact that you are sharing space with someone without being close. There are entire richly woven tapestries of life within reach and we are wandering through the world missing the opportunities to interact and experience each other on a real level. If it seems as though Rector is preaching through his music that we all need to expand our horizons more and open our eyes to the world around us, he isn’t. He points the chastising finger back at himself almost exclusively, sharing in his songs the realization that he had missed recognizing something valuable in the world, like the unassuming taxi driver, and he doesn’t want us to make the same mistake. His music is a roadmap to discovering the joy of being less self-centered and more accepting that there is beauty in the world that we are ignoring. He wanted this new album to showcase the fact he is just an ordinary guy from Oklahoma and we should take note of other people in the world who are more impressive than him. “I feel like everybody would do well to observe that in their own life because I feel like people are always thinking about if they could make more money they’d be happier, if they could do this or that they would be happier but realistically you just have to find peace where you are and joy in ordinary things.”
His songs are about life. His songs are about people. His songs are about love. When asked which of his lyrics best describes what love is, he replied with one from “Forever Like That” off his album “The Walking In Between” released in 2013: “I’ll carry your burdens and be the wind at your back.” Because for Rector, love is about support and being there for someone—another lesson in simplistic joy. “If you love someone, that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he says. And as his fans would agree, this latest album is the continuation of the love affair we all have for this truth-spinning humble troubadour. His musical evolution is on target for greatness and although he doesn’t have a specific game plan for what the future holds, Rector wants to “strive for excellence and shine a light on things that are important.”
Ben Rector is the man driving us places with honesty and humility and we are all lucky enough to be his next fare.
Also check out Ben Rector’s latest album, “Brand New” which was released on August 28th.
Article: Hannah Soule