Grooving to the stars

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Benn Jordan

Benn Jordan plays the bass guitar while his dog Lucy walks around his home studio Thursday, (Rob Hart/Chicago Tribune / September 26, 2013)

Q: You played the Grainger theater last year too. How and when did that first opportunity to play there come about?

A: I think it was last October. They were asking me for a while to do Adler After Dark (the institution's nighttime event series). And just lately I'm kind of "meh" about shows, you know? And then finally I just got to talking to them about doing one on the big screen. It was basically them being, "You should do Adler After Dark," and me being, "Eh. Yawn. I would rather do the big screen if I'm going to be bringing my gear to the Adler."

Q: What did you learn from that?

A: The first thing I walked away from that show with was a bunch of tour dates coming up that I canceled because I thought, "Why? Why do I want to sit in front of a bar and stand in front of a can light and call that entertainment after playing at the Adler?" That was a bad side effect of it. And that's why I went and designed the Treefield thing. I was like, I need to bring something more to the table if I'm playing a show.

Q: So it kind of spoiled you?

A: In a way, yeah. It motivated me to make things more entertaining for the audience.

Q: I go to a lot of live music. It's striking how little innovation there is.

A: You know, it's that. In a lot of ways, I'm always kind of angry when I go to shows, and I'm always thinking that. But at the same time, it's really striking how little innovation there is in what's available for musicians. You really have the option of, like, a projector of an LED light or like a laser, or you can spend, literally, $350,000 to go the step beyond that. There's just a huge gap between the guy who plays music for fun, and, like, U2. Those are your two options.

Q: There's no middle class there, either.

A: Yeah, there isn't. Yeah. It's funny, when I was researching all this stuff, I was like, "I'm not spending $80,000 on a computer that has a projector port on it." I ended up using my know-how and taking stuff apart and building my own.

Q: So give me the 60-second biography.

A: Of me?

Q: No, of Douglas MacArthur. I'm not actually timing this.

A: I was raised on the South Side of Chicago. I lived with my grandparents, and I pretty much just always wanted to be a musician. When I was 5 or something my grandfather bought me a little toy guitar at a fair in Wisconsin, and from that point on I was just like, that's all I want to do.

Q: Did you have aptitude right away?

A: I don't think I was "talented." I don't think anybody can just pick up an instrument and play it. I just think some people are really determined and psychotic. That happened with guitar. Instead of hanging out and playing football with my friends, things like that, instead of having friends, I had guitar. I sort of did that throughout grammar school. In high school I got a little more serious. By high school (Marist), I was already recording and multitracking and things like that.

Q: Were you in bands and such, or in the school band?

A: I have no formal training. I was in a bunch of different rock bands, usually with 18- or 19-year-old kids. I was almost always the lead guitarist. In one I was a singer and lead guitarist. That's what got me started producing music. I loved guitar, drums, singing, and the other guys weren't really motivated, and I kind of realized I can play the drums better than the drummer, I think, and I can play the bass better than the bassist. So why am I just not doing this at home?

Q: What's the most memorable — for good or bad — name of a band you were in?

A: I had one, the name was 96 Octane. We just saw like 93 octane at a gas station, I think, and decided to call it 96. Maybe it was 1996, I don't know. That was a pretty terrible one. And, um, for some reason, I released an album as Christpuncher. It was just kind of abrasive electronic music. I still at one point will release another album as Acidwolf.

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