Philly-centric producer, singer and songwriter Ben Vaughn has always seemed rooted in another time and dimension, but with an eye and ear toward summer’s swelter.
Whether on his own or through his Ben Vaughn Combo, he’s recorded humorous songs such as “Jerry Lewis in France” and beloved albums like ‘Rambler ’65’. As a composer and soundtrack scorer, Vaughn is behind sitcoms ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’ and ‘That 70s Show’, as well as films like ‘Psycho Beach Party’. And when he wasn’t recording his own music, his production work for New Hope’s psychedelic Ween, Memphis rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers and NYC pre-punk screamer Alan Vega made Vaughn the go-to guy for vintage tone.
Now, Vaughn — who has lived in California since 1998 — is back in Philly for a special show at Ardmore Music Hall on May 21. He recently released an all-vinyl, one-man-band-recorded new LP, ‘The World of Ben Vaughn’ – a musical adventure that sounds as fresh as tomorrow and as familiar as yesterday.
Metro’s A.D. Amorosi caught up with Vaughn to discuss his homecoming.
Amorosi: I like the added extra touch of releasing ‘The World of Ben Vaughn’ on vinyl, just as you did your first album back in 1986. Why did you go for 12 inches this time out, and how has the vibe of vinyl inspired this project?
Vaughn: When Record Store Day asked if I had anything to offer this year I said ‘yes’ right away even though I hadn’t finished recording yet. I love working with the idea of a Side A and Side B in mind. I’m a big fan of that “intermission.” I also love how vinyl sounds. It’s beautiful.
Amorosi: Why play everything yourself on the new album? I know you used to do this—play all your own instruments. What about this particular batch of songs said, ‘stay alone’?
Vaughn: When this batch of songs started coming to me, I thought I would book studio time and record them with other musicians. Then lockdown happened. Like all of us, I thought it wouldn’t last long, but as it continued, I decided to do some repairs on my home studio and start cutting the songs myself. It was a great experience. And liberating. I did get a little drunk with power, though. The first song on the album features a bass solo. I couldn’t resist.
Amorosi: Who did you make this album for beyond yourself? “Wayne Fontana Was Wrong” — you know that you, me and like six other people remember Wayne Fontana. That said, we are a devout bunch, and love its vibe.
Ben Vaughn: I was in a grocery store and Wayne’s “Game Of Love” came over the speakers and I thought, “That guy’s wrong. Love is definitely NOT a game.” Despite the obscure name-check, I knew an answer song needed to be written. By the time I got back home it was finished.
Amorosi: That said, I do know that Deer Tick covered your “Too Sensitive for This World” so that you’re not singing solely for 60s-centric pop obsessives. What is your take on developing millennial audiences?
Vaughn: I’m amused by it. When the Deer Tick guys located me, they were surprised I was still alive. I appeared with them recently in L.A. and got an enthusiastic response. Everyone in the audience sang along to “Too Sensitive.” It was a great experience.
Amorosi: You’re playing blues harmonica on this album, something you once did in biker bars in South Jersey. Where were you wailing the blues in Jersey back-in-the-day?
Vaughn: I can’t remember the name of the most hardcore biker bar, but it was deep in the woods somewhere near Berlin, New Jersey. I do remember a place called the Big Apple in Somerdale. That’s where I learned that if a biker demands you play the blues, you play the blues. And if he buys you a shot, you drink it. Immediately.
Amorosi: As someone mostly from Philly, say something sweet and sour about being here and moving on from here—what do you miss, and what have you barely had the opportunity to miss because people are always talking about it?
Vaughn: I love Philly and South Jersey. I grew up there and lived there for almost 40 years. I met a woman out here in the desert and something seemed familiar about her so I asked where she was from. “Clementon, New Jersey,” she said. I knew it! I asked what she missed most about the area and she said Panzarottis. That’s so South Jersey it might not even make sense to a Philadelphian. And I agreed with her. But the modern world makes it easier to live in exile like I do. I can listen to The Geator online. That keeps me sane.