RR Interview: Ben Shive

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So the most celebrated album around here lately is easily The Ill-Tempered Klavier. Yet besides the beautiful music, you won’t find much information available about the thoughtful artist behind the release. Thus, we can think of no better artist to reveal next in our Rabbit Room Interview Series than Ben Shive himself.

Matt: Do you remember when you first met Andrew Peterson?

Ben: I came to Belmont University in 1999 and Rich Mullins had died, but I was really in love with his music. I wanted to do something in that vein. At the time, I wasn’t writing at all and I had no aspirations to do so. I actually still don’t have that in mind for my entire career. I really wanted to be like Beeker, just a right-hand man. So I had my eyes open and, through an old acquaintance, I met a guy who was Andrew’s roommate in college. He said, ‘This guy is gonna be the next Rich Mullins.’ I hadn’t heard his music, but I just thought I would be looking out for it.

I knew that Carried Along was coming out and I bought it when it came out and thought it was great. I was in a class at Belmont on arranging and I had to write an arrangement for an orchestra, so I did “Faith To Be Strong” and it was recorded, which I sent to Andrew as my sales pitch for myself. So then he liked it, or I guess he did, and he needed some strings written for “Behold The Lamb of God” because it was in its third year and he wanted to do a show in Nashville – a bigger show. So he got me to write some strings and I spent the time I should have been writing my senior recital writing his strings. Then that show in Nashville was a few days after graduation and that’s when Andrew asked me to play with him. It was perfectly timed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Matt: So did you find your acquaintance to be correct – was Andrew the next Rich?

Ben: Oh, I won’t do that to him. I think he wants to be understood in that same vein by people, but he’s not comfortable with the comparison. I definitely think he’s not Rich Mullins but I think his writing is doing for people what Rich’s writing did for them. I think what’s beautiful about Christian music is that it really can change people’s lives if it’s done right and I think Andrew’s music does that for people. You know, the church just needs great art. It really does. And Andrew is one of the ones leading the charge.

RR: Do you feel fortunate to have fallen into this group that you’re largely surrounded by?

Ben: Oh, man. Every day. Absolutely. If I could have scripted my career back in high school when I was in love with music, this is what I would have written. You work with people who are really thoughtful about their faith and who are doggedly trying to write great music. So yeah, I’m so fortunate to feel at home with that group of people.

RR: Many of the artists you’re involved with could be thrown into an ‘underappreciated’ category – that their music really deserves to be heard by the masses or on a greater level. What is the expectation for you as you put your own debut out there?

Ben: Hmmm… first of all, we’ve had that kind of attitude a lot – that underappreciated thing. But after a while, it gets old to feel and talk that way. Not to speak for Andrew, but I think over the last few years, we’ve just moved to feel thankful for the people who listen to and like our music at all. Maybe there’s a bit of that feeling, but that’s also so arrogant. You know, ‘We deserve to be appreciated.’ So I think we just need to be thankful and not take that for granted – the people who like our music.

As far as my own record goes, I love my record and I’m proud of it but I’m just thankful that any would like it. I guess my hopes are just that the response would be good enough that it could justify me making more records. When I set out to do this and writing these first songs, I was really writing just for myself, as a hobby for kicks because I just enjoyed it. No offense, but I didn’t make it so that it could be heard by the world. There was just a part of me that needed to make a record. I love records. I’m a collector and I loved the idea of making my own music.

So it’s a wonderful feeling now to have other people hear it and it’s a pleasant surprise. But I don’t need it. I don’t know that I have a longing for a career as an artist to become my big pursuit. I have the production thing going, which allows me to be at home with my family. It’s really been a good life, so in my mind, a good template for what I want is what has happened for Daniel Lanois. People love his production and really appreciate him. And then he puts a record every few years and the people who enjoy his records, it’s a real treat to look forward to. But I don’t think he feels tied to making it as an artist. He continues to b