After Garrin Benfield separated from his boyfriend of ten years, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter transferred his feelings into a few new songs. Those new songs lead to more songs and then to a full album, his second, titled Nowhere is Brighter, featuring legendary guitarist and singer Boz Scaggs, and bassist Hutch Hutchinson.
“Typically, I write about things that are happening in my relationships, happening between me and one other person,” he says. “And a lot of the times when I write something really good, I’m usually really pissed off or in a really bad mood.”
On September 26, Benfield is scheduled to perform his emotion-packed songs at Don Hills in the south Village with his star-studded band—Rob Arthur on keyboard, Steve Conte on electric guitar, Tony Shanahan on bass, Rich Pagano on drums and Claudia Mussen singing background vocals.
Benfield, 29, is the youngest of nine siblings. He started singing publicly at the age of 10, performing at variety shows and camp. At 12, one of his older brothers taught him how to play guitar, and at 17 he wrote his first song, which was actually an abstract poem he wrote and adapted to music.
“Now I write songs people can relate to,” he says. “That wasn’t necessarily a concern of mine back when I first started. Now, I’m a pretty firm believer that if I don’t have something to say, and I don’t have something a listener can latch onto in the song, then I shouldn’t write it.”
Benfield says that his tastes in music have also changd over the years. “I used to be into the Grateful Dead,” he says. “So, I did the jam-band thing. We would improvise for hours and hours. Then I was in a band that was doing more funk kind of stuff. Now I’m interested in more acoustic-based rock and pop and blues. My music now is more centered around the acoustic guitar, and the songs are more concise.”
Originally from Westchester County, NY, Benfield moved to San Francisco in 1995. “I wanted to tap into San Francisco’s musical legacy. I wanted to be around where it all came from.”
His college band followed him to the West Coast, but for the past three years, Benfield has been performing as a solo artist, a gay one. Benfield came out when he was 18, but he doesn’t want to be a pegged as a “gay musician.”
“I don’t present myself as ‘Hi, I’m the musician who’s gay,’” he says. “I just wish my sexuality didn’t enter into the picture at all because I don’t want to get pigeonholed as a gay musician.
I think what I’m doing is much broader than that.” —P.T.