Martone: The album Clean, is deeply personal, and courageous. If there was an album that was worthy of critical acclaim, and all that comes along with it, like the Grammys, American Music Awards, MTV Awards etcetera Clean is it. Mainly, because of its honesty stripped down, and raw emotions of one of the human conditions that have in one way or another affected us all through family members and friends that are/have going through addiction. Benjamin, I would like to thank you for taking part in this interview with IRMIXRadio.net. My first question is, how and where did you find the courage to do this album?
Benjamin Lerner: My two passions in life have always been words and music. I started out playing classical piano and writing poetry and then branched out to hip hop later on. After years of worsening drug addiction and failed attempts at rehab, I finally committed to getting clean on June 13th, 2016. When I left rehab, I was more focused on my recovery than anything else – including music. After I spent a few years building my life back up from rock bottom, I realized that I didn’t want to hide in the shadows anymore. It was time for me to find my creative voice again. Music became the platform that allowed me to tell my story. I like to think that every recovering addict has a story to tell.
Martone: You have shared a lot of personal experiences on this project, and what I appreciated most was that I was able to listen to you and hear every single syllable without drum machines and special effects over-powering your music, and you have even referenced that in the song Scars. Would I be wrong with saying that you wanted your message to be received clearly and that being the reason why you opted out of
the big music production that way?
Benjamin Lerner: When I first started making music in recovery, I made the decision to put the piano at the front and center. I had rapped over traditional old school hip-hop and modern trap production in the past, but I didn’t think that it was the right musical accompaniment for the mood of the album. I think the piano is an amazing instrument
because it has the ability to express a range of moods. I think it’s always important to align the texture and feel of the music to the content of the lyrics. I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to blend the music and the words together in a complementary fashion to tell my story. People forget that the piano is a percussive instrument. This album showcases that aspect.
Martone: Did you have any worries about being so vulnerable on this album?
Benjamin Lerner: Not at all. Long before I released CLEAN, one of the first rappers I ever worked with within the music industry was Project Pat. One of his trademark phrases is “Real recognize real.” To me, that means that if you are authentic and honest in the way that you express yourself through your art, other people who have been through similar struggles will immediately relate to it. I wanted to make an album that would connect with people who have experienced addiction from every perspective – the family members, the treatment workers, and the addicts themselves. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.
Martone: Please tell me and our readers, what the writing process was like for you on
this project. How long did it take for you from start to finish to where you were satisfied with the outcome and then you said, I am going to release it?
Benjamin Lerner: I wrote and recorded a demo track of my first full-fledged piano rap in May of 2018 at a studio in Washington DC, but I didn’t release it. In November 2018, I met Dr. Joshua Sherman during a trip to Vermont. After we spent some time together and discussed our creative visions, we started working on the album together at Old Mill Road Recording over the course of the following year. We released the album in February 2020. Working with Dr. Sherman gave me confidence and clarity to build a cohesive project. He produced the album, but he also acted as an artistic collaborator. Whenever I would create a new chord progression or write a new rap, we would sit down and talk about how the songs fit on the album. He came up with some brilliant ideas for how to tell my story and structure the project, and his honest feedback really helped to motivate me to create my best work.
Martone: Out of all of the songs on the Clean album, which is your favorite, and why?
Benjamin Lerner: It honestly fluctuates depending on my mood. The hip-hop side of me wants to say that “Liquid Fentanyl” is my favorite due to the punchlines and flow patterns, but I have to keep it real and say that my current favorite song to perform is “Never Let It Go.” There’s just something about it that perfectly captures the feeling of my first true spiritual breakthrough after I got sober. The classical waltz structure and the slow-building chord progression is my favorite musical moment on the album.
Martone: I know about your family legacy when it comes to music. If this is something that you feel comfortable sharing, please tell our readers a little bit about your family’s musical legacy.
Benjamin Lerner: I come from a family of writers and musicians. My great grandfather, Irving Berlin, was a celebrated American composer and songwriter. He wrote such iconic songs as “God Bless America”, “White Christmas”, and “Blue Skies.” My mother and father were both professional writers and journalists. It’s where I got my love for words and music.
Martone: Did you ever experience any pressure to achieve because of that family legacy?
Benjamin Lerner: Growing up, I always felt a sense of inherent pressure to live up to the expectations of others. I address it on the opening track of my album, CLEAN. The song is called, “Performer.” It’s never easy to shake off the mental and spiritual constraints of your past doubts and insecurities. Part of me still wants to go out of my way to prove myself to everyone, but I like to think a bigger part is starting to just enjoy the process of making music and all of the transcendental moments that come with it.
Martone: Over the last few years, what have you learned what you might consider the most important thing about yourself when it comes to your music?
Benjamin Lerner: I’ve learned that the only true limits are the ones I set for myself. Every challenge I encounter in my life – both creatively and otherwise – is just another opportunity for reinvention.
Martone: In this season of thanksgiving and reflection, what would you say, that you are most thankful for?
Benjamin Lerner: I am thankful for many things: my family, my loved ones, my sobriety fellowship, and the amazing people I work with at Old Mill Road Recording, to name a few. More than anything, though, I am grateful to be alive, sober, and able to dedicate my life to speaking out about addiction and recovery.
Martone: What advice would you give to those that are seeking a career in the music business?
Benjamin Lerner: I would tell them that the most important qualities in music are authenticity and originality. As long as you’re telling honest stories in a unique way that captures the spirit of your creative passion, you can rest assured that your music will always communicate truth at its essence.
Martone: Do you have any more plans to do live streaming from your home future? If so, where can our readers see/view these streams?
Benjamin Lerner: I haven’t planned any live streams yet, but I’m certainly open to it! I’ve seen a lot of people do some incredible performances through streaming platforms. If anyone wants to see live recordings of me playing some of my favorite songs from the
album, they should definitely check out the live performance videos of “Liquid Fentanyl” and “Scars”, as well as a live performance of a short song that I wrote about COVID-19 and the Opioid epidemic. They are all available at BenjaminLerner.com/music
Martone: Where can our readers find out more about you and your music and the causes that you support or are part of?
Benjamin Lerner: Anyone interested in learning more about me should first go and stream or purchase the album CLEAN by Benjamin Lerner. It’s available for purchase and streaming on all major platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music. After that, they should check out BenjaminLerner.com. My weekly sobriety columns (published in the Vermont News Guide) are there, as well as links to my music videos, my interviews and TV appearances, and so much more.
Martone: What are some final thoughts that you would like to share with our readers
about you, life, or just anything at all that you wish to share?
Benjamin Lerner: I’ll leave you with the secret that has kept me alive and sober for the past four and a half years – which also happens to be the last three lines of my weekly recovery column:
Keep moving forward.
Run towards the truth.
Don’t quit before the miracle happens.
Martone: Benjamin, thank you so much for joining me today. I enjoyed finding out more about you. I do hope that you will come back as soon as the station launches on March 1, 2021, you have an open invitation.
Benjamin Lerner: Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to it.