Locally Grown: Ben Gertner

Interviews with South Dakotans finding success outside their college major by Kyle Hallberg. 

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Whether it be a small downtown bakery, or the local Bagel Boy, Ben Gertner has always found a sense of belonging in front of a calm crowd that just want to jam to his music. Originally from Sioux Falls, Gertner is currently pursuing his degrees in Media Studies and English at the University of Sioux Falls. Excelling in a completely different area, Gertner has drifted from life as a solo artist, a backup guitarist to a co-lyricist in a band – all the while double majoring and working a part time job.

Old friends from high school, Gertner and I sat down for coffee to talk about his time the very obvious changes that had taken place since our senior year at Lincoln High School. Between shows outside of Woodgrain Brewing Company and a recording session, Gertner fills us in on this late Sunday afternoon interview.

Kyle Hallberg: Hello hello, long time no see. Please tell me everything you’ve been up to in the music world of Ben Gertner.

BG: Hello! So much is going on. I have this solo project, which is just Ben Gertner. It used to be Stringed Soul, but I found it kind of weird going to shows and saying ‘my name is Stringed Soul,’ so I had always introduced myself as Ben anyway. The thing with having a name like Stringed Soul is that I was expected to always play strings and sometimes I like to include different sounds in my music – and I also found it was more personal to just have my name. That is my favorite way to play my music. Then this last summer I joined a three-person band called The Disarmed. They asked me to join them after their first album, as a rhythm guitarist, to create a fuller sound. As we grew as a band, we all started to contribute more to the writing process. We are actually very close to finishing another album.

That’s exciting!

BG: Yeah, I’m singing on a few tracks, which is awesome. We’ve been on the down-low for a lot of shows, due to our new album being recorded.

Speaking of recording, when we were in high school, I remember you recording songs in your bedroom. Do you manage to fit the entire band and their instruments in there with you?

BG: Well, not really. One of the band member’s dad is the owner of Cathouse Studio, so we are recording our album there. The process is much longer than my bedroom sessions, which makes it feel so much more real. It is so meticulous and drawn out, but the quality is incredible. It’s really cool to see a professional approach the technology and software so swiftly.

So we have talked about a couple of different projects you’ve worked on, and the recording process, but what about the names? How do you come up with band names that are witty and original?

BG: Well, actually, one of my favorite things to do is find names within everyday conversations. I have always been fascinated by the little things people say. I will randomly start writing down what people say, especially my girlfriend. She will be talking and I will blurt out ‘band name!’ Some examples of what she says are ‘nap-mouth, hood fort, raccoon therapy, couch purse.’

Very creative. It seems as though your English degree may play into your music career.

I actually have a tattoo that is symbolic of the first EP I ever recorded. It is the picture of a ship, reflective of the verse ‘We may sail to other water, my dear / Just promise you won’t be afraid.’ It’s kind of symbolic of how I am going to pursue music and not be afraid to try new things.

How do you balance music and school? Have you found any difficulty?

BG: Yeah, I remember a specific time when I had a huge assignment to do, and I still needed to record a new song that I wanted to release at a show the next night. I remember spending all afternoon and night in a practice room at USF, recording until I was hoarse and my fingers were bleeding. I remember getting back to my dorm at 1 a.m., which is when I started my homework. Even though it sucked, to me, that was a better feeling than not doing my music and completing my assignment and going to bed. I think it is definitely really hard to balance everything because school does not lend itself to the creative process.

I understand that. I sometimes think it is more frustrating to not be able to act on inspiration, than it is to not have any.

BG: I get that. I mean, education is very important, but I know that school does not always offer me what I need to succeed in music. I see the same thing happen with my friends whom are art majors. On the other hand, school offers a social experience, which is where I pull my inspiration from. In classes, I am always writing lyrics on the side of my notebook – so school is in no way a distraction for music – and music is never a distraction in school because it’s more of a priority to me.

Is the time commitment of school ever frustrating to you?

BG: Not really. I have noticed that having scheduled school time and work shifts, it allows me to sit on my new songs longer than I previously would have. Some songs I love and feel the need to record, are put on hold due to school. Then, when I come back to them, I realize they aren’t what I thought they were, and I’m grateful to have waited and saved that potential recording time and money.

That’s a really great way to look at it. With such a positive attitude, there must be some great things coming up…

BG: Absolutelty. You can definitely expect some fun and new things from me in the very near future, solo and group. 

Learn more at Ben’s website.

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