Q&A: Roxborough Rocker Ben Arnold

With a new album in circulation, a solid (and ever-growing) fan base and a few side projects and performances in the works, Ben Arnold has plenty to keep him going.

Photo by Jared Castaldi
Photo by Jared Castaldi

A shining example of stick-to-itiveness, Roxborough’s Ben Arnold is busier than he’s ever been. The gravel-throated singer/songwriter continues to work with an assortment of bands, including globe-trotting roots rockers US Rails, and he’s a regular in Hooters drummer David Uosikkinen’s “In the Pocket” collective. He’s also got a solid new solo album in circulation called Circle ’Round the Sun—his ninth. Here are the highlights of a rambling (but fun) interview with Arnold at the recently resurrected Binni & Flynn’s in Berwyn.

MLT: You’re originally from Pittsburgh. How did you end up in Roxborough?
BA: I moved there in 1989. It’s cheap and it’s safe in Roxborough. When I first moved there from South Philly, my car had been broken into three times in one month, and it was like, “I’m done.” But I’m still urban; I pay Philadelphia taxes. I’ve had many opportunities to move to New York or Los Angeles or Europe, but my life isn’t going to drastically change by moving.

MLT: You have a pretty solid fan base here on the Main Line.
BA: It all started in Manayunk and Center City. Then everybody grew up, got some change in their pocket and a kid on their back, and moved to the burbs. They all come out to the shows now; the last four or five years, the turnouts have been pretty great. Now that they’ve got a little older and a little more suburban, my audience wants to come to a show that’s at 7:30 or 8 o’clock at night and know they’re going to get home at 11:30.

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MLT: How do you manage to write so differently for other projects?
BA: It’s about point of view and emotional commitment to the songs. Circle ’Round the Sun is bare soul and bare bones. In US Rails (with Main Line native Scott Bricklin), I’m writing for a show. Everything is a lot darker and odder with  (bicoastal art-rock collective) Pistol for Ringo—a lot edgier.

MLT: Tell us about Circle ’Round the Sun
BA: My old friend, Shane Smith, had just finished doing the new Los Lobos record and was ensconced in this studio in L.A. He asked me what I was doing over Christmas—and the way I work, I really didn’t have a plan to make another record, but I told him I’d think about it. Then I ended up becoming very prolific and writing 30-some songs. So we went and camped out in L.A. for two weeks and recorded almost the whole record. It’s not Bach—it’s pretty straight-forward in its production. I can’t escape the fact that I come from a traditional school of songwriting.

MLT: Is there a central theme on the album?
BA: I lay myself open; it’s a little bloody. But I also wanted it to have a fun live sound—depressing songs that I gave a happy sound to.

MLT: By the time people read this, you’ll be touring Europe with US Rails—quite the world traveler.
BA: I really try to keep my reach as wide as possible. Otherwise, I’ll get stagnant. I do travel a lot, but I like coming home.

Ben Arnold performs May 11 at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville. Visit benarnold.com.

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