There isn't a voice in Canadian like music like Ben Caplan. The deep, gravel-voiced leader of Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers is a captivating talent, writing intelligent, interesting songs and delivering them with an intense passion and formidable talent. His songs are at once modern and timeless, covering love and life, good and evil, light and dark with eloquent nimbleness. I caught up with the mysterious man from the Maritimes as he and The Casual Smokers prepare to embark on a 33-date North American tour that sees the band go coast to coast across the Great White North and dipping down over the border to help ease the minds of our southern neighbours during troubling times.
1. Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
I do. It was a tape, I bought Pink Floyd's Relics.
Wow, that's not usually the first Pink Floyd record people pick up.
<laughs> It was a weird one, yeah. I had an older brother who was really into Pink Floyd. I wanted to make him think I was cool by finding a tape that he didn't have.
And did it work?
I don't know. Probably not. But I got into it.
2. Speaking as an older brother, you're right, it probably didn't. When is the last time you did something for the first time?
Probably last week, but I can't tell you what it is.
A secret project?! Oooh la la.
Haha. I'll tell you what, here's another one...I went to the Banff Centre for the first time about a month ago to do some work on a theatre project that I'm building. I'm working with actors and musicians on a theatre project I'm writing and I've never done that before. That was a big first for me. I think there's eight of us in total – four musicians, two actors, a director and another writer. It's been an interesting project.
3. What's your most positive memory of a high school or elementary school teacher?
I had lots of good memories, so it's hard to pick one definitive one. I had a grade 12 economics teacher recommend a book to me that he thought would make interesting brain candy for me. It had a profound impact on me, reading that book.
What book was it?
It was Voltaire's Bastards by John Ralston Saul. He did a beautiful job of contextualizing the history of thinking about thinking. That wound up being an intellectual focus of mine for most of my time in university and continues to be something that I spend a lot of time thinking about.
4. If you could spend a day with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
Living or dead, hmmmm, I'm feeling pretty antisocial right now. <laughs> How about Paul Simon? I'd love to hang out with Paul Simon for a day.
What would you do with Paul Simon?
Write some tunes.
Of course. What else there to do with Paul Simon?
I suppose you could just sit around and bask in his loveliness.
I could do that too, but I like getting stuff done.
5. Have you ever seen a ghost or felt a ghost-like presence?
Once. I was in a house in La Paz, Bolivia, walking to the bathroom at night and saw a ghastly image of an old woman walking through the halls.
Did anyone around the house have a story about it? Did you ask anyone about it?
Yeah. A lot of other people had seen her in previous years. And who knows. Who knows if I really saw her or it was just the power of suggestion, but whatever, it was a really powerful experience.
6. The guest question this round comes from Vancouver rapper Immerze...If you could collaborate with three artists, any media, who would you want to collaborate with?
Hmmm. <long pause> I don't know anybody's name right now. There are so many names and I'm bad with names, as well. I'm sure if I sat down and gave it some thought there'd be a lot of painters, musicians and filmmakers I'd wanna have a party with.
Okay, then let's go back another round and I'll give you a past guest question to give you a break from names. This comes from singer/producer Gibbz...If you had an all-black wardrobe but a white cat, would you keep and love the cat and deal with the ramification to your wardrobe or would you get the cat out of your life?
Oh man, that's a tough one. I'd like to keep the cat, but I'm too busy touring to take care of a cat. I'd probably have to ditch the cat to keep up with my touring lifestyle. It wouldn't be because of my clothes but because I have no time for a cat.