The Bengsons take love, life, and music on the road with 'Hundred Days'
AB The more we've unpacked what was initially just an enormous feeling of life and dread in one package, the more we've discovered how ordinary that is. I'd say that's been my primary comfort. In that moment I felt like, "I am struck by lighting. I am going to die." My experience of life is no longer separate from my experience of death. I'm finding that that is true for so many people.
Any big love, not necessarily for a spouse, but for a child or for a parent, can have that same effect of making life an emergency and making death feel near. But also, in living with that breath in my throat for long enough, I've started to be able to soften into that and say, "OK, so now we make a sandwich." I mean, how do we live in an ordinary way in the face of this thing that feels so enormous? Why is it all we're thinking about all the time? I don't know. I guess that's why we ended up writing all those songs about it.
SFBG And that led you out on the road. How did five years of traveling, your day-to-day life on the road, actually come about?
SB We were living in an apartment in Brooklyn, and I had one year left on my teaching contract. We were playing in our band and working on the show. At the end of my school year, I still had the whole summer [paid]. At the same time, our very dear friend David was going back to South Africa, so he said, "You can stay in my house for the summer." So we had these two months when we'd still have money from my teaching gig and we'd have a place to live. So we went and lived in the Berkshires for a couple of months, finished a show and set up tour dates, and left from there. We thought maybe we'd go back—maybe I could go back to teaching, if things didn't work.
AB I never felt that. [Shaun laughs.]
SFBG It felt right to leave?
SB It felt really good. It felt like such a relief.
AB It felt honest. It felt right. True to the way I think and what I am. It meant our life became, you know, gas money and Taco Bell, but it also became playing a lot of shows, doing a lot of service work in different places and learning a lot through that. We got to be students again in that sense, by putting ourselves in situations that were intensely uncomfortable over and over again, and writing music about them. It was a little songwriting boot camp of our own design. And we were getting to know each other's styles and how we would write. I also feel, like, thank god we were married. I don't know how you could be a musician and not marry a musician.
SFBG You hit the road five years ago and haven't turned back. Was there a point early on where you hesitated? Were there any gigs that made you think again?
AB The first crappy gig I remember being really educational — and making me want to do it more even, though it was painful — was when we were at this biker bar...
SB Oh, yeah, this was in the Valley outside of Los Angeles. What was it called? Something like—it's not Topanga. Tujunga? Is that place?
AB Fact-check all of this, we're totally full of crap. [Fact check: Sunland-Tujunga sits in northeastern Los Angeles.] But we were playing this bar. Everybody was angry looking, a lot of shaved heads. I was [looking around the room, thinking], "What is going on with you?" Scared. So we got up and we played all the songs that we had written to date that were the most ferocious and aggressive and loud — and then we were kind of running out of those. So at the very end of the night we played this one song. It's actually about a woman we knew well, whose daughter had passed away, and her struggling with that. And we sang for her and about that, in the moment sort of ready to get booed.