It’s no secret that the last two years have been rather tumultuous. But music always brings people back together. With a brand new album out this summer, Toledo native and folk singer-songwriter Ben Stalets has returned from somewhat of a musical hiatus to let us know that when it comes down to it, everybody’s laughing.
On September 12th, the Bellwether at Toledo Spirits to will host the official release of Ben Stalets new album “Everybody’s Laughing,” available now through WistlePig Records.
Though not specifically genre-specific, Stalets’ music pays homage to the classic American sounds of the folk legends – John Prine, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan, just to name a few. These influences are abundantly heard on Stalets’ earlier albums as well as the new release.
A Day of Reckoning
Unlike his older works, though, the new album is much more of an introspective piece that dives into the underpinnings and complexities of human emotion to tell a more personal story. “I’m in the business of sad songs, more or less,” Stalets explained. “But this time around it’s more of a personal reckoning than before. I knew I was admitting a lot about myself with these songs – my mistakes and my tragedies.”
This album is “much more autobiographical,” said Stalets. “I know a lot of people hate admitting that – it opens people to criticism and reveals a lot about your life. But if you don’t use yourself as an example then it sounds like you’re becoming preachy, I think that because it was so autobiographical that it’s not preachy.”
According to Stalets, “The previous songs were as personal as I knew how to be, they were cryptic because I didn’t look into the abyss hard enough when I was writing them.”
Putting it all out there for everyone to judge leaves you in a vulnerable place. But Stalets explained that he knew he was doing the right thing for himself and his artistic maturity. “When I knew I was doing it right I was doing a songwriters round at 20 Front Street in Lake Orion, Michigan. I like to make people laugh between songs, and while I was on the stage I was able to make someone laugh and cry at the same time.”
“It felt incredibly validating,” he explains. “In a very specific moment in one of my songs, I was able to bring out both emotions in another person at the same time. Laughing and crying are involuntary emotions and if my song doesn’t make you do one of them it’s not serving its purpose.”
Making the Most of the Pandemic
Stalets and his bandmates began working on the album back in late 2019, with Detroit producer Bunky Hunt. As with everything else, the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 brought the production to a halt. “I can’t blame COVID completely for why we took longer than anticipated,” said Stalets. “We were finally in a really good place with it, and then we had to wait several months until it was safe to get back to it.”
In the early months of 2020, with mass restrictions and stay-at-home orders, Stalets and company made the most of it. “Considering everything, I’d say I was pretty fortunate,” said Stalets. “I was able to use that time to write a lot of music without having any FOMO. There was a lot of anxiety, but creatively it was great for me.”
Working with Toledo Streets
The release show at the Bellwether on September 12th also serves to raise awareness of Toledo Streets Newspaper – a local nonprofit that helps the homeless build a better life. “I started volunteering with them and I fell in love with them,” said Stalets. “I saw what they were doing for people experiencing homelessness and thought there’s nothing else out there comparable, and it’s all very apolitical.”
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