Ben Lovett spent a decade assisting and promoting other artists’ projects.
“After a while,” he says, “I started to get the same response over and over again: ‘Ben, yep, this sounds great, it’s all great … but when are you going to release some of your shit so we can listen to that?’”
Lovett finally has the answer to that question. The first album by his solo act, called “Lovett,” debuts Wednesday, March 9. The album incorporates some 150 musical collaborators, including members of The Avett Brothers, The Mars Volta and Cursive (and about 100 music-camp kids who chime on the lead track, “The Fear”).
For Lovett, a 32-year-old Georgia native who’s putting down roots in Asheville (after stints in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York City), the timing feels right for releasing the three-year labor of love. He started working on the album, Highway Collection, in the summer of 2008, and recorded it at studios around the country. He did a few of the final tracks at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Recording, and has since rented a full-time studio room there.
The release is a milestone for Lovett, who got into the music biz recording local acts in Athens while studying at the University of Georgia in the late ‘90s. After that, he was based in Los Angeles, sharing a home and a production company with his friend Brian Burton — the musical megaforce better known as Danger Mouse.
For years, the pair had steady studio work, and meanwhile, Lovett’s film scores attracted attention and awards. But in 2008, the relentless pace of his career drove him to seek escape and renewal. “It was all coming at the expense of having a life, you know?” he says. “I was on the hamster wheel, just constantly running, so I felt I had to change things up.”
Lovett sold most of his musical gear and possessions, and decamped to a cabin near Highlands, N.C., with no phone, TV or Internet. After six months of unwinding, reading and writing songs at a casual clip, he headed to Europe to backpack around for a stretch. Near the end of that trip, as he crested a mountain peak in Spain, it hit him: “This album will be the next mountain I’ll climb. I have to do this.”
And so Lovett began a peripatetic period, writing and recording songs as he worked production jobs around the country and stayed in spare rooms, on couches and in various studios. “I didn’t really live anywhere for almost three years,” he says. “Everywhere I was at felt temporary.”
During a pass through Asheville, Lovett stayed at Bon Paul and Sharky’s hostel in West Asheville and was introduced to the Echo Mountain crew. He recorded a film score for MTV at the studio, and the closer he got to finishing his solo album, the more he was drawn in.
“The town had this gravity to it, and my orbit was drawing closer and closer to it wherever else I went,” he says. “Around the time of this new year, and knowing that this album was finally going to come out, I decided I needed somewhere to put my anchor down — and a drawer to put my socks in — after all this time running around.”
His socks secured in a West Asheville rental house, Lovett’s working “180 percent of every day” to support Highway Collection, he says. His touring band, with several members cherry-picked from Asheville acts, is playing a series of shows on the way to South by Southwest later this month. Meanwhile, Lovett is mounting a DIY publicity surge with the help of a PR rep and several friends in the film business.
“Every song on the album will have a video, and many of them will be like short films in and of themselves,” he explains. So far, he’s released two singles from the album — and turned the releases into bona fide music-video events.
The videos offer a good representation of the range in Lovett’s album, which is hard to quickly categorize. The first is for the “Eye of the Storm,” accompanies a spare, spooky and determined song that appears near the end of the album. The video — an otherworldly depiction of Lovett as captain of a steam-punk airship facing fatefully bad weather — was released on the web early last month and won fast attention and accolades, wracking up 150,000 views in a scant two weeks.
The second video was for “Heartattack,” a revved-up, horn-driven rock song that writhes through a Valentine’s Day-colored dance. Recorded on the quick at Echo Mountain, it, like “Eye of the Storm,” Lovett says, is exactly what he was shooting for (see the videos at lovettmusic.com). The third single, “The Fear,” will be released as a video sometime this week, he says.
“The only reason I started to do this was to get it done — all the way done,” Lovett says. The album clearly is, but he clearly isn’t.
— Jon Elliston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Lovett (with Ice Cream)
what: CD-release celebration (with free ice-cream sandwich provided to first 100 attendees)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, March 9 (8:30 p.m. Free. All-ages. thegreyeagle.com)