POSTED ON MARCH 21, 2012:
Some Kind of Big Time
Tulsa native Ben Rector takes his soulful pop coast to coast
When Nashville based pop artist Ben Rector released his latest CD, Something Like This, on Sept. 13 last year, it immediately shot to the top of the iTunes singer-songwriter album charts. Ultimately, it settled in at No. 4 on the overall iTunes charts -- trumped only by the debut of Lady Antebellum's latest disc, Coldplay and Adele's juggernaut release, 21. The album also debuted at No. 41 on the Billboard Top 200 as Rector prepared to head out on a fall headlining run, dubbed the "Good Time Tour" behind the release of "Let the Good Times Roll" as the album's lead single.
All of this would be impressive enough if Rector was housed on a major (or even smaller imprint) record label. Consider the fact that he's released the album independently, however, and the feat is even more impressive. When considering the accomplishment, however, Tulsa can take pride in one more fact that is often forgotten or overlooked: Rector may currently be a Nashville resident, but he's a Tulsa native -- born and raised right here in the heart of Green Country.
In fact when catching up with Rector last week, I had to scroll back in my memory and verify that this is, in fact, the same Ben Rector that first emerged on the local music scene with high school band Euromart. "Wow, that was a while ago," Rector laughed, "but yeah, that was us."
When reflecting back, Rector shared that the band actually formed in order for a group of friends to have some fun and enter the annual Tulsa World/Satellite High School Battle of the Bands. Although the group didn't win with its initial performance ("A couple of my friends in a band called Xanadu actually won that year," he recalled.) it did immediately cement the band's reputation and the band continued to play around town and build a loyal following until its members graduated and disperse for school.
Although the band only played one more show as its members dispersed and went off to college, Rector continued to write and perform as he attended the University of Arkansas. During that time, the single "Conversation," from the self-titled EP that he released during his freshman year of college, won the Grand Prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Song Writing contest in 2006. Two full length albums followed as Rector played on weekends and during the summer while he attended school, eventually moving to Nashville after graduating to build upon his early success as a songwriter and performer.
When asked about the response to the release of his latest album, Something Like This, and its debut on the iTunes and Billboard charts, Rector admitted he was pleasantly surprised, but didn't expect to chart so well in his debut week.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the manner in which Rector's popularity has grown. "The first two records were released while I was in college," he said. "People bought them and I definitely grew, but they weren't properly released or toured behind, so Into the Morning was really my first release where I was playing full time and could really tour behind it."
Also interesting is the fact that Rector has built such a large and loyal following as a pure pop artist, not even dipping into the alt-rock, country or urban genres that are currently dominating the charts.
ERIC RYAN ANDERSON
"It's just a really unique time to make music," Rector said. "If you make music that people like and react to, then word gets out. There's no magic or scheming to it. The only thing I know to do is let fans know I'm releasing a record. There's no million dollar budget or huge videos. Any momentum is from people spreading the word of their own accord.
"It's just a unique time," he concluded. "If you release something that people get excited about, they spread it by word of mouth."
Of course, Rector my not have that million dollar budget as an independent artist, but he has put together a few videos which were shot in January at Blackwatch Studios. And the current buzz revolves around a cover he did of Whitney Houston's "I Want to Dance with Somebody," which has taken on a life of its own since Houston's untimely passing.
"It's so strange," Rector commented when discussing the song. "I knew I wanted to do a cover on this tour because it's fun when someone plays an unexpected cover. I've got a buddy that's an old tour manager and sent him an email asking 'Can you think of anything people would like?' he sent me a list and at the end, it said 'You could do 'I Want to Dance with Somebody.''"
"It was kind of a joke," he continued, "but I thought 'That's perfect!' it's an effortless pop song that everyone knows, but its old enough that people don't really realize what it is until you get to the chorus and then it's like 'Oh, yeah!'"
"I had an idea for an arrangement and in January I had a one-off shown in Shawnee at the college there, so I took the drummer and bassist with me to Blackwatch in Norman. We were there for three days and sot a couple of originals, 'I Want to Dance with Somebody' and 'Something in the Way' by James Taylor," he said.
"I really did it just to have some good YouTube content, because there is a lot of stuff out there, but you can only watch so many cell phone videos with poor quality and the sound dropping out," rector explained. "This was before the current tour and I know a lot of people would see me for the first time and would probably look me up, so I wanted to have some material out there with good video and sound quality."
Just as the video was completed and ready to be released, however, Houston unexpectedly passed away.
"It was so weird," Rector stated. "I was conflicted, because I didn't want to be perceived as opportunistic, but I also knew I'd still be playing the song on tour because we hadn't learned another song to take its place, so I held off and waited to release the video."
Eventually, Rector's manager and friends convinced him that he shouldn't shelve the video and not release it, so it's now available for streaming online, but the song is physically unavailable for purchase. "I decided against selling it, because I just don't feel right about it," Rector shared.
"It really was coincidence and unplanned," he assured me. "People may not want to believe it, but we shot that video back in January. There's no physical way we could have done it after she died because we were going out on tour as it happened."
Just as the video is creating a buzz online, Rector is reaching a broader audience in the live arena as well as the opening act for NeedToBreathe on the band's spring The Reckoning Tour. The tour takes Rector across the country and back over a two and a half month jaunt that he's taking in as a learning experience.
"It's such a cool opportunity, I'm really thankful to get to do it," Rector shared of the tour, which kicked off in Houston on Feb. 15. "NeedToBreathe is an unbelievable band and their live show is a spectacle with a lot of production. I haven't been on a tour of this scale before, so I'm taking it as a challenge. I kind of feel like its school for me again -- I'm watching and learning every night."
Although the two bands differ stylistically, the pairing has worked out incredibly well so far. Rector's celebrative and soulful piano pop complements NeedToBreathe's guitar based Southern rock, without either act stepping on each other's toes. Moreover, it's a great opportunity for Rector to be exposed to an even broader audience and continue to grow as an independent artist.
The Reckoning Tour arrives in Tulsa this Friday night, March 23, for a show at Brady Theater. NeedToBreathe already has a solid fan base in Tulsa, having sold out The Marquee and headlined Cain's Ballroom before opening for Kings of Leon in arenas (including BOK Center) last summer, making the Brady a perfect venue for its sprawling rock show.
The addition of Rector makes the show even more interesting for Tulsa as he hits the theater stage for the first time on a tour that could help propel him to the next level. Make sure and arrive early to see why this Tulsa native and pop songsmith is turning heads on a national level. Tickets are still available for $20 and $25 for the show which starts at 8pm.
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