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Ben Laatsch: Trip out west creates Magic

By Sean Smith

Fort Wayne Reader


When it came time for singer-songwriter Ben Laatsch to get some of his songs recorded for a demo, he chose to work with his friend James Musselman a.k.a. Longsleeves. Sure, Laatsch could have had his pick of numerous studios here in the Fort Wayne area, but he made the decision to work with Musselman for a variety of reasons.

First of all, there's the fact that Musselman lives out in California. San Diego to be exact. Musselman used to live in Fort Wayne and after he made the journey to the left coast, Laatsch and he stayed in touch. "James said, 'When it gets crappy out there in the winter, you should come out here where it's nice,'" recalls Laatsch.

Then there's the fact that Musselman is a trusted friend. Laatsch realized he would be comfortable recording his songs around someone he knew. "Having someone that is a friend and knows who you are and where you're coming from artistically opens you up to suggestion a little more," Laatsch points out, "If you go record in a studio setting and someone suggests something, you have a harder time trusting them."

And finally, there's the matter of recording equipment. It turns out that Musselman has some very primitive software and that made for some interesting challenges and, ultimately, a very different record. "It almost turned out for the better considering how old school things were. It was recorded on a computer that the keys were falling off of," confesses Laatsch, before suggesting, "Whether you have expensive stuff or not, the most important thing to have is a really creative outlook."

That creative outlook resulted in Ben Laatsch and The Magical Suitcase, an E.P. that honestly could not have been made anywhere else. All of those factors lead to this one of a kind recording.

Given that Laatsch was only in San Diego for approximately a month, he had to make the most of his time. So, instead of writing, recording and mixing 10 or more songs, it was decided that Musselman and he would keep it limited to 5 songs and really explore the limits of them. Laatsch says, "I'm glad we did that because I'm happy with how it turned out."
The friendship between the two was strengthened as well. Laatsch says he figured out a few things during the sessions. "The best thing I learned was letting go and letting the songs come about naturally and not being offended when your friend says, 'You could do that better.'"

Ultimately, it may be the ways and means of recording the songs that played the biggest part in the finished product. "James had to work, so while he was working I would lay down vocals and do things I could do on my own. When he got back, he would work on mixing and producing. We didn't have expensive monitor equipment, so we'd listen to it on the headphones, burn off each demo track, drive around in his car so we could hear what it sounded like on the stereo and then go back to mix things. It was a lot of fun."

Some songs resulted from being recorded on such old equipment. Literally. "We used an 800 megahertz iBook. We would have computer crashes left and right. One of the songs cuts off and ends with a glitch. It stutters off. That was the best take of a slide guitar part, but at the end the computer just shut down. That's what that sound is. I nailed it, so James looped it. He made it work. If I was in a $1000 a day studio, you wouldn't get that." What Laatsch got is a 5 track E.P. that will satisfy fans of Grizzly Bear, Holopaw or Iron & Wine.

So far, Laatsch has continued to play a steady series of shows in order to promote the release. "I've just been playing 'Random Coffeehouse U.S.A.' for friends and family," he jokes, then adds, "I'm pretty grateful and I like playing the places I do. I like playing the Co-Op and doing house shows."

Lately, Laatsch has been busy making inroads with a collective of Midwest musicians and networking constantly for more and more shows outside of the state. "What's really exciting in the Midwest right now is the DIY scene. It sprang out of different digital networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook," explains Laatsch, "Basically, there's a network in the Midwest. There's a circuit of house venues and it's really crazy. It's as grassroots as you can get. I'm going to be in Kansas City soon and I love the music coming out of there."

Laatsch says that he sees the potential for something so much greater than what exists now. "Look at the Saddle Creek scene out in Omaha. If you take out an atlas and look at Omaha, it is in the middle of nowhere. Basically, it was a group of people that said, 'None of us are a big deal, but let's work together and make something happen.' To a smaller extent, that's what I feel this network of different people is doing."

To find out when and where Ben Laatsch is playing next, check out myspace.com/benlaatsch and be sure to pick up a copy of Ben Laatsch and The Magical Suitcase.

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