Getting chummy with Brendan Benson 

Singer-songwriter Brendan Benson isn’t exactly sure why he called his latest solo effort “My Old, Familiar Friend.” “The meaning changes, so I like to keep it sort of vague and elusive,” he says. It might refer to the brainy power pop that had become his signature before he joined the White Stripes’ Jack White’s spinoff combo The Raconteurs for two albums. Or, it could be his rustic new home in Nashville, Tenn., where he and his wife are expecting a baby in April.

So The Raconteurs were nominated for a Grammy, right?
Yeah! And we knew we weren’t going to win, but we all thought, “Let’s go anyhow, because it’ll be hilarious and a blast!” And we all wanted to do the red carpet, so we flew into L.A. and got dressed up. But then we got stuck in traffic and totally missed the red carpet.

You lived in the Bay Area for a while, right?
Yep, in Berkeley and Oakland from ’92 to 2000. And I didn’t want to leave, actually. I was with a woman and the relationship had run its course, but we were both from Michigan so as a last-ditch effort we moved home. And I felt like it was a mistake immediately, going back to Detroit. I was like, “Oh, man, where do I get a damned burrito around here?”

What did you learn from Jack White that helped your own recordings?
I learned a lot. One thing that’s boring is — and you don’t hear it on this record — how to make an album that you can pull off live. When I made “Familiar” with Gil Norton, I did everything and anything I wanted to do, and kept it all in the mix.

Is it true that you actually chop your own wood for your Nashville fireplace?
It’s the best. That’s one of those things in life that really does it for me — a fire in a fireplace. I’ve even built fires in the middle of summer.

Are songs composed hearthside?
You’d think so, but no. I write songs at the worst, most inopportune times, like when I’m in the car without paper or pen. Or when I’m out to dinner with friends. I actually left a dinner once to race home and get an idea down. I said, “I have to go to the bathroom, but I’ll be right back!”

Brendan Benson

The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $16
Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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