We recently sat down with Benji Rogers, the founder of PledgeMusic. PledgeMusic enables fans to share with artists the experience of creating music, whilst also raising funds for charity. Benji was engaged with music from an early age, and has an inspiring story to tell. Read about it in this interview.
At what age did you first pick up an instrument and which was it?
Voice is probably the first instrument I picked up, if that’s possible. As long as I can remember I sang in choirs, sang at school. I remember when my voice broke being heartbroken because it was not going to be able to hit all the high notes. I used to sing anything, Latin hymns you name it. Then I picked up drums early and was forced to take piano lessons which I hated at the time but now am really glad I did, then came the guitar. Voice is an odd instrument because you can’t see it, you can’t tune it, you just have to learn and intuit it. And so the first one was voice. And I sang anywhere possible, I sang walking down the street, sang in subway stations, sang at home.
What is your fondest memory associated with guitar?
When I was a baby my parents had one of those old stereos with speakers that pointed up. It was an all in one built in unit, and they used to put my crib on top of the speaker, turn the bass up, and play Donny Hathaway live, and Little Feat Dixie Chicken.
My earliest memories are of those two albums in a really strange surreal way. When I would hear them when I was older, I would be like, I know this music really well, to the depths of my soul. I know it. And Mississippi John Hurt records, same way, old folk blues player. And so my earliest memories are of that. Basically that type of music, whether it was southern California funk rock or Donny Hathaway soul or Mississippi John Hurt finger picking blues, that’s what I remember the most.
My first memory of being entranced by music was my father who was a guitarist in a band. He was playing in a show and I wouldn’t leave his side so I used to lean up against his microphone stand and fall asleep and I remember once waking up and the gig was still going on in front of me and there was the audience. I had fallen asleep leaning on my dad’s mic stand.
What can music do and what did it do for you?
I think that it’s one of the few mediums, because you are not actually seeing it you are experiencing it, that can transcend a whole lot of the limitations that other art forms are perceived to have. When you have your first heartbreak, you know what you were listening to at the time and you know what you listened to subsequently. I remember early in high school having my heart demolished by somebody and it was Toto’s “You Know I Won’t Hold You Back Now” on my yellow Sony Walkman played a 1000 times. The Cure’s “Mixed Up” was playing when I got my heart broken when I was 17. I think that its power is its healing salve. It’s immensely powerful, there is a song for every moment in life, I think that’s why youtube’s music thing has increased, has become so large, and Spotify too, because you create these playlists. I remember making mix tapes for people. It was your way of showing love. It was your way of showing how cool you were. What you listened to was an expression of who you were, as much as it was that inner thing.
What are you the most proud of?
My daughter is what I am most proud of. That was a weird one because I never intended to be a father so that was pretty amazing and now that I am a father I cannot imagine life without her. I didn’t know I had that in me. And the fact that all of the fears eroded the second it happened is pretty amazing. I am proud of being a dad.
What do you regret the most?
Very little. I don’t have much that I regret. It is all meant to be, there is nothing lingering, nothing at all. It is funny, if you had asked me that a year ago I may have had more, but coming to the realization that everything that unfolds is perfection. It is something I have been working on for a while and that sounds like a thing you would say but it is true, I don’t want to hold on to any regrets. If things were done differently then they wouldn’t have led me to where I am now. When inspiration strikes you grab it.
Who are your heroes?
Lowell George musically, I think Lowell George was a genius. There are a couple of every day heroes. I met someone in Jerusalem once who was pretty amazing guy. Named Chris. David Hawkins, he is a doctor and teacher that I really admire, I read his writings a lot, Dr. David Hawkins. My wife is also my hero. She is able to understand the type of person it takes to create a business like the one we have created, or to do the music for years with so little reward. You try to emulate your heroes and the best qualities in them.
How do you see that tying into what you do every day in what you do?
I think those that you admire and that which you admire in them informs your everyday life. And to pull the best of that out and to transform it into that which is livable is pretty amazing. I don’t know how I do it personally, it just kind of all happens. They represent ideals upon which you want to live your life and whether it is reading Marcus Aurelius or the teachings of compassionate Buddha or whatever it is, they are all heroes, you just kind of follow the best that you can.
So what lessons would you pass on to your younger self?
I wouldn’t. Every one was perfect. It was horrible and awkward and strange and agonizing at the time, but every part is in it’s fit place, William Blake said that. In his poem Jerusalem, he said: “Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place; the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the mild and gentle for the mild and gentle parts, and the prosaic for inferior parts; all are necessary to each other.” And so that thought that if I pass on a message to my younger self to say you should do something differently or it may not have led to this. The greatest heartache of my life led to the creation in one sense of PledgeMusic and the life I have today. And I think you have to hit that wall, you have to hit a barrier sometimes. To avoid those difficulties would be to rob your younger self of the karma of hitting that wall. Getting your heart broken makes you a better person in the long run. Hard to accept that at the time but you will inform your next relationship and do better. I couldn’t be a good husband without having screwed up for a long time. I have been married before, I have made many mistakes and now I am able to see around more corners when they come and I think with age comes a certain wisdom. It is not that you are smarter, it is just you have seen the scenarios play out. My younger self wouldn’t believe me if I said to him: you should stop drinking for example. My younger self would never have said: you should stop playing music for a few years and create a company. He just wouldn’t have done that, I know him, he was a bit of a clown. As I have gotten older it is hard not to see the perfection in each step that you take. So sitting there whining about lost love and writing horrible poems all led to the what I am doing now. I am reliant on what is created in my head to move things forward. I wouldn’t tell him anything. I would say carry on.
So along those lines, what was an important learning experience for you? If there is a story attached to it?
There’s been a lot of them. I think the one that informed where I am today the most is literally being at the point of poverty and despair to where something had to give, and there is a moment where you go: this will not work. The wall is just too strong or as Marcus Aurelius would say: “when what stands in the way becomes the way.” That’s how he phrased it so all of a sudden you are like okay, I can’t continue with this because it is not working. And all the forces of the universe seem to be conspiring against it not happening for you. So you either put your head down and you galvanize your strength, put your shoulders back, tuck your head in and pound at it, or you go “what is it trying to tell me?” And the moment of inspiration comes when you are literally out of options sometimes. The idea of Pledge rocketed in my head so I had to be at the lowest point to understand that. When you start to create something it is actually okay to be in that uncomfortable zone. You are guided by a vision and there will be thousands of mistakes but again they are not mistakes in the sense of it is the end of the world. You know, you’ll find a way to eat if it is your intention to do so. We can overcome these things.
I think the learning experience was this, that the path I was on was defined by a younger self who said: you are going to be a rock star, you are going to be famous, you are going to write the most incredible music, you are going to be revered for the rest of your life and on and on. And when I realized that was not the path I was on at that point, or at this point, to let go of it was okay. And that it didn’t define and embody my personality. I used to write songs about drinking and partying a lot, and I realized I was painting myself into a corner because my first show sober was terrifying because I am writing songs that are hymns to myself. And I listen to the songs now and go damn, they are pretty good songs but why didn’t I listen to them. So the transformations come when you realize the path you are on. It is not that it shouldn’t be hard, it is not meant to be easy, but that makes it worth so much more when you achieve those goals. When you make them tangible.
The lesson I have learned is that it is okay to stray from that path. If you told me five years ago, six years ago that I wasn’t going to be playing music full time I would have laughed at you. I spend more time on a computer now or in meetings with people I would have cut my left arm off to get my demo to and that is really strange. I don’t feel that I have lost anything by not being a musician anymore. I don’t think anything is missing because of that, because you create in other ways.
The will to create is strong. Whether it is creating a child or creating a new product or creating a magazine or a book or a film, it is strong. You wouldn’t do it just for the money, it’s not worth it. So I think realizing I could change my path was probably the biggest because when I did it, it felt quite liberating. It might happen again, you just never know. But that is the nature of things, they are in flux continuously. So as long as you are part of it and not resisting it, you are okay.
Do you think any of that has to do with the fact that you play music?
Yeah, you never know what is going to happen. I was terrified to be the best man at a wedding and give a freaking speech and yet I performed for years, sometimes drunk, sometimes sober, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I used to write random songs down on our set lists and figure out while playing what was going to come next. Or I’d let people vote. I used to make up 80’s covers. I didn’t know the songs, you just figure it out. The musician part of me is like, that’s its nature, you don’t know what will happen. It is beautiful, it is like you can’t tame it and the more you try and actually recreate note for note, the more the variances slip in and that is what makes it interesting so as an artist I was very rehearsed and disciplined, musically speaking. If I had a show I wouldn’t stay out late, I wouldn’t do X Y and Z, and rarely did I ever break those rules.
Being a musician you have to think on your feet, your toes, there is no way not to do that and that is a beautiful thing when it starts to flow within you. But you know, I would say a bit of music and a bit of philosophy never hurt anybody.
Thank you to Benji for meeting with us to share these incredible insights. To get involved with PledgeMusic and engage with artists currently creating new music, visit the website.