You know magic when you see it, touch it, or hear it. You’ll instantly recognize the sensation on Ben Rector’s appropriately titled seventh full-length offering, Magic. The Oklahoma-born and Nashville-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist uncovers that feeling within 13 anthems equally rooted in whimsical nostalgia and excitement for the future.
By reminiscing and culling inspiration from classic eighties films and formative memories, he jumped ahead...
“It tied the seasons of my life together,” he explains. “There’s magic in reminiscing and nostalgia, there’s magic in the present, watching my daughter’s first few months of life, and magic in realizing that one day when I look back, these days will have the same shimmer of nostalgia that my childhood did.’
His ceaseless touring and prolific output paid off in a big way on the 2015 breakout, Brand New. Not only did it bow at #9 on the Billboard Top 200 but it yielded a massive hit in the form of the title track “Brand New.” Clocking 41 million-plus streams on Spotify, the single organically landed over 40 film and television placements, including a trailer for The Edge of Seventeen and a TV spot for Disney’s Moana. At radio, it went Top 5 Hot AC and AC and Top 30 Pop.
Along the way, Ben has independently accumulated consumption numbers of more than 495,000 albums and 5,300,000 tracks, becoming one of the top earning artists on TuneCore, the world’s leading digital music aggregator. TuneCore’s CEO Scott Ackerman calls this accomplishment “a testament to TuneCore’s fundamental mission of helping independent artists get their music heard by more people around the world. As one of our top earning artists, Ben has successfully leveraged TuneCore’s platform and services to reach a wider audience without sacrificing revenue or ownership.”
It’s been quite a journey to get here. Rector went from fronting Tulsa garage bands as a teen to splitting his college years between class at University of Arkansas and early tours. Following a series of independent releases, his quiet grind attracted one fan at a time as he staunchly remained independent. Audiences responded to that integrity. In 2013, The Walking In Between marked his first Top 20 debut on the Billboard Top 200. Among numerous accolades, he landed syncs in a Weight Watchers campaign starring Oprah and MLB World Series and Olympics primetime spots.
Upon returning home from the road in Fall 2016, he enjoyed a bit of a reprieve. The break offered a moment to look back and, at the same time, make a creative leap forward.
‘When I started writing again I anticipated a lot of songs about fatherhood and my daughter, but I realized I’d been so focused on running forward I hadn’t taken much time to look back. As the songs came out, it seemed fitting to match that lyrical theme with a sonic one in the studio. Something familiar and nostalgic but also hopefully fresh.’
Over the next year, Rector assembled what would become the album. He built a framework for the music by teaming with longtime collaborator Jeff Pardo [“Wherever You Are”] before sessions in Los Angeles with producer Tony Hoffer [Beck, Air, M83] and in Minneapolis alongside John Fields [Goo Goo Dolls, Jonas Brothers, Pink]. Colored by sweeping synths, lithe instrumentation, and evocative vocals, a wistful and wonderful widescreen sonic sensibility materialized. It comes to life on one of the first tracks to be released ahead of the full album, an ode to childhood pals titled “Old Friends.” Lush piano and electronic orchestration resound alongside Rector’s hypnotic delivery as he pleads, “Can you take me back when we were just kids?” Quite fittingly, he shot the music video in the garage of his parents’ home in Tulsa accompanied by “Euromart”—the band he fronted in high school comprised of some of his best “Old Friends.”
“I was talking to my mom on the phone, and she said, ‘You know what they say, you can’t make old friends’,” he smiles. “That was a cornerstone of the record for me. I was nostalgic about missing those buddies from back in the day. I also missed being 16. You’re dumb, but you don’t know it, you’re so full of life with nothing to lose. It’s a beautiful time.”
Elsewhere, shimmering synths and handclaps gas up the propulsive “Drive.” Rattling off cities across the U.S., he croons hypnotically. As something of a spiritual companion to “Old Friends,” the vivid intimacy of “Kids” recounts youthful bliss and urges to maintain the feeling in the present. Then, there’s “I Will Always Be Yours,” which pays homage to Rector’s love for Huey Lewis & The News and climaxes with a Top Gun-style guitar solo courtesy of the man behind the original—Steve Stevens. Everything culminates on the poignant dedication to his little girl, “Love Like This.”
“It really captures the way I feel about Jane,” he smiles. “It’s something I’ll look forward to singing every night I’m away.”
In the end, Magic lives up to its name for Rector.