During his tour across Texas to promote his new biopic “Blaze” on late singer/songwriter Blaze Foley, first-time actor and musician Ben Dickey made a stop in San Antonio last week for an acoustic concert and a special screening of the film.
I caught up with Dickey in downtown San Antonio to wax philosophical and talk about what turns him on as a musician and why he’s going to keep acting for as long as the industry will have him.
Where did you start your research when you landed the role of Blaze Foley? Does it start with the music?
I’ve known Blaze’s name for 20 years, but I learned a lot about his music. I spent a lot of time with it. I did go look around at some of the places he had lived. What I read about his time in Texas was that they were sort of on the run from his father. There were a lot of people in his life that were generous enough to offer up information about him.
Something I love that this film explores is the idea about where songs come from and how there are so many more we’re never going to hear. It’s really a sad thing to think about, isn’t it?
It confirms this notion of infinity. Somewhere you can hear those songs, in my opinion – somehow, someway. In some way, those songs are echoing through this multiverse that we’re supposedly living in. With [Blaze Foley], we missed out. It’s one of those wonderful, striking mysteries.
How do you feel when an artist passes away and then years later, someone opens up a filing cabinet and finds a trove of his or her work that they never finished or released? Is that something you welcome or would you rather that work stay buried?
There’s so much posthumous [Jimi] Hendrix stuff. I’m a huge Hendrix fan. There was a record that came out called Voodoo Soup. Somebody added things to it willy nilly to make it sound like a full band. Everyone that I’ve talked to who worked with Jimi said that he would not have wanted that. He would’ve been super bent out of shape about it. But then there’s the other part of you who thinks, “Well, maybe that’s what it would’ve sounded like – maybe.” I don’t know what the guidelines are, but I was sure happy when John Lennon’s demos came out.
As a songwriter, do you have your own trove of unfinished work that you have stored away that you may or may not ever get to again?
I have tons of stuff. I write constantly. Sometimes my partner, Beth, will go, “Whatever happened to [that song]?” I’ll go back to it and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great song.” The thing I’ve always wanted to be in this life is a musician that can work. I love being in a studio and being with musicians.
So, when you don’t finish a song, or you put it to the side for whatever reason, why do you do that?
Sometimes it’s just clear I’m having trouble with it. When good songs come, they come whole. On my first solo record, I released a song that I was fond of, but it was long and meandering and I didn’t know how to make it a song. When I was making that record after my band broke up, I was like, “Screw it. I’m going to work on it.” The producer was like, “It’s the only song on the record that doesn’t move with the rest of the album.” So, songs like that can get away from you. But you can also surprise yourself. Once I start thinking about a song too much, I lose perspective.
How has the process of making an album changed for you over the years?
Well, as soon as we finished shooting “Blaze,” I wrote like 40 songs for my new record and sent them to Charlie Sexton, who produced it. This was the first time in my life doing this. He was like, “These 10 songs are the record” and I was like, “OK.” I surrendered it over to him because he’s a master. The songs he picked were not the ones I would’ve picked, but this was an opportunity to make a record with someone I love and revere. We made a very interesting record. It forced me to treat [the songs] differently and consider them differently. He was like, “Dude, you’re going to write 40 more and we’ll do this again.”
Blaze was a very philosophical musician. It’s evident in his lyrics. In today’s music industry, do you think a song has to say something meaningful to stay relevant?
I don’t know that it has to, but my ears perk up when it does. Now they can do an algorithm to create a country song. John Prine just put out his most recent record and it resonates with people I would probably enjoy visiting with. No offense to Katy Perry or anyone, but a new pop song that is an amalgam of beats and sequences that has been proven to turn on people on dance floors through a weird mathematical equation doesn’t do anything for me.
You’re currently promoting “Blaze” and you have another film called “The Kid” you’ve also completed. Is acting something you’re going to continue to do along with your music?
I had no idea I was going to be in [the film] business and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to maintain it. I want to keep working and discovering, so if I’m lucky enough to be put into that position, I’m open to it and ready for it. People keep asking me, “What if the movie part takes over?” It’s never going to diminish the fact that I love music. I really can’t tell you how stunned I still am to have this pivot in my life. I don’t want to screw it up. I’m knocking on wood, but I’m still rockin’ and rollin’ like I always have.