Stacey Bennett is the busiest musician in Northeast Florida. It’s hard to objectively quantify such a statement, but consider the facts: In just the last 18 months, she and her band have toured the nation, played South By Southwest, sold out the Blue Jay Listening Room, secured airplay for the 2016 album on 140 college radio stations, said goodbye to two band members, added a retired Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra concertmaster to the lineup, and planned a (literal) marathon of a new songwriting experiment. And still, Bennett says she’s in “a kind of a lull-writing, tearing up the paper, rewriting.”
Folio Weekly: So a lull for Stacey Bennett means a standing Friday evening slot at Seachasers Lounge through June, a regular lunchtime gig at Hemming Park, a spot on the bill at Songbook Jax’s upcoming female singer-songwriter showcase at Blue Jay … how do you it?
Stacey Bennett: I’m finally getting the hang of not being told what to do-or having so little time to do it in-but I’ve found [I] still have to make a schedule for all the different projects I have going on. The stakes are higher. It’s so much more personal. When I worked my last job, I did the best I could every day, and then I went home. Being a musician isn’t a 40-hour-a-week job. If you see me at the gym, I’m writing lyrics while on the elliptical. This is a matter of success or failure. There’s only person who can contribute to that-and that’s me.
Speaking of running, what can you tell us about your next project?
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’m a runner. It’s how I relax. I recently signed up for my first marathon, and I’m doing it by myself, so I thought, “Why don’t I do something comparable to a marathon with songwriting?” My plan is to write 33 songs in 33 days-a song every day, no matter if it’s terrible or awful. I’m going to keep an online journal about the process and my mentality: Am I writing from isolation, mania or happiness? I want to document the experience of a writer.
Have your recent solo shows at Seachasers been good practice for that solitary endeavor?
I’ve never been one to play cover music, but I’m taking different songs that are not the typical ones you’d hear at a sportsbar and making them my own. Locally, I mostly play in my Murray Hill/Riverside/Downtown comfort zone. So playing at Seachasers in Jax Beach for a totally different crowd-not the artsy crowd-has given me new insight into how I play music. Every song I test out, I’m watching everybody’s eyes. And taking everything very personally.
Which is how you treat Folk Is People, a big band but decidedly your band. Have the recent departures and additions affected you personally?
Our fiddle player left for Nashville and she’s doing very well. Bob Judalena is leaving for Tallahassee to get his master’s degree in fine arts. I’m very happy for them. As for the new members, you never know how they’re going to jibe on tour. You want somebody who understands the concept of a band being run as you would any other business. You have a responsibility to conduct yourself in a professional manner, and it has been difficult to find people in Jacksonville who have that same vision. This isn’t a party band. That said, getting Philip Pan, the retired concertmaster for Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and our new drummer Robbie Knox, in the band has been phenomenal. We really lucked out with these guys.
You mention touring. What did Folk Is People’s 2017 trip around America teach you about the modern music industry?
It gave me a lot of insight into the reason why not everybody is a musician and not everybody goes on tour. It’s one of the most complicated endeavors as a DIY band. You’re trying to sell yourself to music rooms and bars-and they’re trying to sell alcohol. They don’t care how good of an act you are-they want to know how many people will come to your shows. Or how many Facebook friends and Instagram followers you have. It’s frustrating; two years ago, I was this pie-eyed kid excited about having so much time to do what I want to do. Now, I’m a little more pessimistic. I’m writing press releases, stalking people on social media, and telling people how good we are. You have to form relationships to have a competitive advantage as a band. I didn’t expect to be doing that when I started playing music.
How valuable, then, are local listening rooms like Blue Jay to the evolution of a DIY musician’s career?
Blue Jay Listening Room is a gem. I didn’t know what it was at first; Cara Burky actually contacted me and said, “Hey, I think you’d like to play here.” I looked into it and thought, “Wow-what a concept.” When she told me she was going to sell tickets for $20, I thought no one would come. I did a lot of hard work promoting our first show and it still made my heart gallop. Then we had 100 people willing to pay $20, sit down, and be present as we played our songs. That was really cool. Jason Honeycutt is doing a lot Downtown to get more people into The Elbow, which leads to more people willing to pay us to play music-not asking us, “How many tickets can you sell?” So many musicians rely on these gigs. I rely on these gigs. Playing music isn’t a hobby. And even if it is a hobby for some people, it’s a very expensive one.