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The Thanksgiving Song with Ben Rector

“Cause we made it through, I do believe, the longest year in history….thank God that it’s Thanksgiving Day” It’s time to meet the incredible guy behind the heartwarming Thanksgiving song. Ben discusses his trademark humor and style which blends into his videos, music and live performances. He shares his thoughts about how music has the power to spark memories, and shares a few of his own. Ben also discusses what it’s like to welcome twin baby boys in a pandemic, his new Christmas record (so GOOD) and as an avid golfer, who his dream foursome would be on his dream course.

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Ben Rector: It’s difficult for me to give up control of things sometimes because like, I have a very specific idea about what I want to do and how I want to do it, which is great in some ways. But as things grow, I can’t really touch all of the things as much as I used to be able to. I have to be able to trust people and to be like, okay, I’m going to give you this direction and then trust that you’re going to do it.

And that’s it. I’m not double triple point double check. Um, and I think the setup of the team right now is really great because everybody seems passionate about it and they’re so talented and with it, and I feel like it’s enabled me to focus more on doing the things that I need to be doing and less on the things that are going to just like suck up my attention. Because at the end of the day, You know, every second that I spend stressing out about like, is the font just right on whatever, is time I can’t spend either doing my actual job or like being with my family. And so it’s been really wonderful to work with the people that I’m working with now.

Sarah Taylor: That is Ben Rector, and I am so excited to bring you a Thanksgiving themed episode of the Passion Meets Purpose podcast. Now, if you listen real close, you will realize this was recorded Thanksgiving of 2020.

Um, especially when Ben makes reference to his twins being under a year old, but really the conversation is timeless, which is why you get a second helping rerelease of the Passion Meets Purpose podcast. Ben Rector.

Ben Rector: We’ve got to spend a lot of, uh, I just ate some eggs and I have some musical chords got eggs on them. Just kind of all over the place right now. All right.

Sarah Taylor: Well, congratulations on the Thanksgiving song and in and owning an entire holidays songs catalog.

Ben Rector: You know, uh, I didn’t intend to do that, but when I realized that the opportunity was there, I was like, you know, I want everybody to just enjoy the song, no ulterior motives, but if I could become the Mariah Carey of Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t hate it.

That’s all I’m saying. And I don’t, I don’t know if that’s even a possibility, but it was funny to me because I was like, surely there is actually a bunch of Thanksgiving music, and then there really isn’t.

Sarah Taylor: The song, like so many of your songs has a nostalgia quality to it. Where does that come from?

Ben Rector: You know, what’s really interesting is, uh, I was riding with a couple friends of mine, um, the other day and they asked me that and I feel like I hadn’t really, I was not consciously and have not been consciously being like lets write nostalgic music. I think something about it is just that I like the aesthetic of nostalgic things. Like if you, like, anytime we make visual like assets or whatever, I always want to make them look like an old movie poster. And I like, like, you know, seventies, sixties, and seventies music. So I think some of it is that.

And then, um, I don’t, I don’t really know why the subject matter ends up being like that, but maybe that’s just like a, a soft spot for me or something that I tap into that.

Sarah Taylor: You’ve talked about how some of your musical influences are Sam Cook and Randy Newman, the Beatles… people have compared you to a modern day James Taylor.

Ben Rector: Wow. Very kind of them. I’ll take that.

Sarah Taylor: What do you do with that?

Ben Rector: I never, I feel like sometimes people get uptight about comparisons. And to me, like any good professional musician that someone compared me to I’d be like, oh, that’s great. Like, I mean, but especially, uh, any anybody like that, like James Taylor, that’s a huge compliment.

And so that’s super kind I have that makes me, makes me happy.

Sarah Taylor: Your career is also sort of a masterclass on how to grow a strong and loyal fanbase.

Ben Rector: Thanks so much. That’s very, that’s very kind of you.

Sarah Taylor: Was there ever a moment where you gave up?

Ben Rector: I am a pessimist by nature. Like I wish I wasn’t, but I have high expectations for my work, but low expectations for what will happen with it.

Um, and so I think I don’t in the, actually in the same co-write my friends are making kind of jokes about how like, as long as I’ve been doing music, I’ve been like, this can’t keep going. Like, I’m just, it’s gonna fall apart. Or like, I’m gonna run out of steam. And so, when I was like early twenties doing it, I vividly remember being like probably when I’m 30, like I’ll, I’ll be done with this,

cause I just can’t imagine doing it longer than that. So, I don’t know that there’s a specific moment where I was like, I think I’m going to quit. But I think in the back of my mind, I’ve always been like, is this really what I’m going to do as an adult? So. Yeah.

Sarah Taylor: You are a full-fledged adult status. Cause you’ve got a young daughter and twin boys that you and your wife, Hillary welcomed.

So. they’re how many months? Like three months?

Ben Rector: Yes. So, they’re like, they’re like four and a half ish, which is just, I mean, full on for sure. We’re like slowly coming out of the fog of, uh, that back into real life. But, um, they’ve been really wonderful babies, which I am super grateful for. Uh, but there, they’re wonderful.

Sarah Taylor: Okay. Your sense of humor is like, uh, it’s interwoven through your songs, your videos, your live shows. Who did you get your sense of humor?

Ben Rector: Oh, well that’s nice of you to say, uh, I don’t really know. I remember I didn’t pick up music until I was like in high school, really? Like that’s when I started doing it and being like, oh, I really like this, but before then I remember always, you know, wanting to make jokes or like try to make people laugh. So, uh, I don’t know really where that would’ve come from. I mean, my parents are funny people, but they’re not like ha ha funny. I don’t know. I was I’m the youngest child by a lot, so maybe that’s just like how to interact with people.

I don’t know, but I appreciate you saying that and noticing it. It’s nice.

Sarah Taylor: Have you noticed the link between musicians and humor? Like a lot of comedians sort of wish they were a rock star and a lot of rock stars kind of want to be comedians. What is that? Why is it so closely linked?

Ben Rector: I don’t know. I think on some level, those are both like, you know, you’re performing in both of those things. For me, honestly, probably on stage, my humor started as maybe like a defense mechanism.

Cause I was like, I have to try to like get people to pay attention and maybe if I say something funny, they’ll pay attention. I do think there’s a strong correlation. I think a lot of musicians that I like and respect are just smart talented people and that comes out in any way of them expressing themselves.

And I’m not putting myself in that category, but I think like those two things go hand in hand. Cause I feel like any high level, anything, like people usually write, like even, uh, you know, whether it’s comedian or musician, they’re just interesting people usually.

Sarah Taylor: Was there ever a time where you played at like straighter or stiffer or have you always just naturally?

Ben Rector: I don’t. I don’t, I’m not, I honestly that’s. That’s a good question. I don’t have really the card to play. That’s like cool guy, musician. Like I just, that’s not something that comes very naturally to me and I don’t think I would be very, uh, Magnetic if you made me try to be like super cool. That’s just, I’m not very good at that.

So, it’s probably been, uh, that’s my best interpretation of how to be in front of people. It’s like to be like that.

Sarah Taylor: You’re a big golfer. What is your dream foursome on your dream course?

Ben Rector: Wow. That’s a great question. I think it’s a difficult question because I would want to pick, you know, somebody super interesting, but I would also want them to be fun to be around.

And if the way, you know, If I was like, I want to play withTiger Woods, but he was like, not excited about playing, I’d be like, I don’t know, maybe not him. Um, I think that Bill Murray plays golf and just seems like a really interesting, funny guy. Huey Lewis is a good golfer and he’s like my idol. I think he’s incredible.

He’s like, Proper good at golf. And then after them, I probably want to bring just like one friend of mine just to like, have a good time with, so I wasn’t like, oh, Hey guys, what’s up. Um, and I would probably I’d play Cyprus, Cyprus Point, which is a really lovely course that is by, uh, the Pacific Ocean. And it is awesome. So that would be my dream for.

Sarah Taylor: Oh, that sounds good. I hear that bill Murray, like to get a hold of him. Have you heard that?

Ben Rector: Like you got to like call a answering machine or something like that? He’s dead. Totally. I feel like the lore around Bill Murray is just incredible. All the stories of like him doing crazy stuff. Just because he’s Bill Murray. Like he, I think he’d just be a hoot.

Sarah Taylor: That Huey Lewis and the News cassette. I wore that thing out in my mom’s VW rabbit. And what is it about Huey Lewis that you would want?

Ben Rector: I think so. My dad. Listened to Huey Lewis when I was growing up. And then I thought it was good. I wasn’t like into music on a deep level.

I just remember thinking like, oh, this is fine music, I guess. And when I was a teenager, I think I probably thought that, and like Steve Linwood were kind of dad music. Like it’s like, oh yeah, it’s cool. But kind of whatever. And now I’m just like, it’s the greatest music ever. It’s so good and accessible and creative.

I think part of it for me, the songs are great, but also his voice is just like, unbelievable. Just like super masculine, super like the tone of it is incredible, but he sings like he can seem really high. I just think he’s incredible. I think he’s one of the best voices of all time.

Sarah Taylor: How does music do that?

How do you articulate how, like, you know, you say Huey Lewis and all of a sudden I’m literally in my mom’s VW rabbit and I’m eight years old and it took that.

Ben Rector: Just so it’s, I think humans are hardwired to like, have an emotional connection towards it. And I don’t, I mean, probably just anything beautiful, like any kind of beautiful art, but I think music specifically, I don’t know what it is. It just has like, it’s like a profound effect on people,

Sarah Taylor: Will you pick a song or an artist and a place in, uh, a moment that does that in your book.

Ben Rector: Oh, I want to give a good answer to this. This is such a random answer. I don’t know why I come up with this. I remember listening to the Dave Matthews song crush, with, I don’t remember what brand of headphones they were.

They were like cheap silver headphones laying on my living room floor when I was like probably 16. I just remember being like, this is so cool. This is just like such good music. That’s a, that’s a super random one. I wish I could’ve come up with a less random one, but that one is what came to me.

Sarah Taylor: I love it. Another word that a lot of people use just to describe your music, you is friendly. And so I want to know who are some of your best friends?

Ben Rector: Um, my best friends, most of them are not musicians are just kind of like people. My best friend’s name is Blake. We went to college together. Him and his wife now live in Nashville.

He works at smile direct club, the retainer building service. I don’t know what to call that. Uh, he’s a brilliant guy. That’s, it’s a great product also. He doesn’t need the help. They’re like crushing it, but I used it. It’s awesome. Uh, Blake’s good friend of mine. Um, I keep up with some of my friends from college.

We all go every year on a trip to kind of keep in touch. Uh, we’ve done that for 12 years now. They’re all still close. I’m also like they’re friends of mine who were public people, but I’m not like, like, I know so-and-so kind of person. I’d say generally, most of the people that we’re really close to are just like in the same stage of life, we are. Not, you know, they’re smart kind people, but it’s not like here’s a list of my famous friends, you know.

Sarah Taylor: Your wife, Hillary. I know she must support you so much. What is one of the things about her that makes you a better man?

Ben Rector: Oh wow. She’s a great person and a great wife. Very brilliant. Smarter than I am for sure. Really kind, really selfless. I also appreciate that she is generally unimpressed by my job.

She’s not like, doesn’t think it’s cool. Isn’t trying to like cash in on any, whatever like cool status points that brings for being a public person. She’s just like, not really about that and doesn’t care, which I feel that it’s important to me. It would be very stressful if I were married to someone who thought it was really cool.

Cause I don’t want to like live in that way really. And so if someone was like, this is awesome, I’d be like, this is stressful. So I she’s super supportive, but she is as supportive as if I was like really into being an accountant or something. She’d be like, yeah, that’s what you do. So you’re made to do.

Sarah Taylor: And then she’d probably be like, how do you guys do the whole taking turns thing when you just want to sleep but you got two babies at the same time?

Ben Rector: Yeah. I mean, we’re trying to figure that out. Uh, I think we’re just trying to figure all of it out really. So how do you do it? I don’t know. Just a,

Sarah Taylor: there’s a saying that says the more personal it is, the more universal it is.

So many of your songs speak to that, like growing up love loss, it’s stuff that everyone can relate to. I’m thinking of, you know, lines from old friends and, um, the men who drive me places. Let’s talk about that song for a second. Where did that desire that you have to share the spotlight…

Ben Rector: I don’t know. And it’s honestly, wasn’t a super conscious thing.

I don’t think I was just really affected by talking to those couple of, I mean, it’s about to. Drivers and particularly like cab drivers in particular. But I have had that conversation with a bunch of people. I want to say, like, I was just so selfless that I just knew I had to do it, but I think really it was probably me more trying to just like, make sense of why I get to do a unique and rewarding job and other people don’t.

So. I don’t know. I mean, that was just the best attempt I had at like, processing that. And really, it was more about those guys just, I think like probably living in the 20 minutes that I was around them in a way that I was just like, man, you seem super full of joy and content. And I should be more of those things because I’m getting to do a unique job and you guys are not. Yeah.

Sarah Taylor: When you find yourself in that head space, and you talked about how you’re sort of a pessimist by nature, do you ever struggle to pull yourself kind of out of that place where you’re feeling all your feelings?

Ben Rector: Yeah. I mean, definitely been a songwriter/ artist. That’s, uh, it’s easy to dwell in your feelings for sure, but I mean, think it’s super helpful now.

I feel like having Jane and the boys puts everything in better light and perspective. So even when I’m stressed out about something or feel like I’m not doing a good job of whatever musical thing, it definitely has a better, uh, I have a better perspective on that now because it’s just like, well, this is, you know, it’s important cause it’s my job, but it’s not like the end all be all of it.

Sarah Taylor: I want to circle back to your Christmas record. I just want you to share a little, this, this is new for you and you love the Christmas season. And so I share just a little bit more about what it was like to, uh, choose what of these classic songs you were going to put on there and add your own take to it.

Ben Rector: Yeah, I think I’ve wanted to do a Christmas record for a few years and just haven’t really had the time or bandwidth to do it between touring and like recordings. But this year, when I figured out that the world was going to be kind of shut down, Indefinitely I was like, this is totally the year to do it, gathered my friends up and really picking the songs.

I just wanted to pick my favorite Christmas songs and I wanted it to be, I wanted it to be nostalgic and feel classic. And really after that, it was just the songs that I thought would be most fun to sing. I wanted to have a record that people could just put on while they’re doing anything in December and it feel familiar.

And the way that, I mean, like being Crosby or whatever makes you feel, um, and then putting my own spin on it, it was actually, uh, because there’s so many recordings of all those songs, cause they’re so great, it feels kind of expected that you would kind of do your take on it a little bit. But like I said, I didn’t, I didn’t want to like break the mold.

I wanted it to feel like a familiar and tapping kind of into the same, uh, feelings that you have when you hear across a Christmas song.

Sarah Taylor: It feels like you’re surrounded by such a great team. The people that help you with like the artistic direction, obviously the lyric video for the Thanksgiving song, it feels like you’ve found people, musicians, uh, as well, that kind of are in line with your general vibe.

You want to talk about your team?

Ben Rector: Yeah, I, I feel like, uh, I’m super grateful to work with the people that I’m working with now and have a different times and in different business relationships have worked with a bunch of different people, whether that’s like a manager or like, you know, a person I hired to do a video or bandmates or whatever. Um, and I think that it’s difficult for me to give up control of things sometimes because like, I have a very specific idea about what I want to do and how I want to do it. Which is great in some ways, but as things grow, I can’t really touch all of the things as much as I used to be able to, I have to be able to trust people and to be like, okay, I’m going to give you this direction and then trust that you’re going to do it.

And that’s it. I’m not double triple quintuple check. Um, and I think the setup of the team right now is really great because everybody seems passionate about it, and they’re so talented and with it, and I feel like it’s enabled me to focus more on doing the things that I need to be doing and less on the things that are going to just like suck up my attention because at the end of the day, You know, every second that I spend stressing out about like, is the font just right on whatever is time I can’t spend either doing my actual job or like being with my family. And so it’s been really wonderful to work with the people that I’m working with now.

Sarah Taylor: I feel like that’s such a great lead into my final question slash statement. There’s a question buried in here somewhere, but you said font, which reminded me that somebody funny commented on your Instagram about like, sorry about the lawsuit for the, you are special today place or the yeah.

And, um, I just thought yeah and your friends and your fans are so clever. They’re so smart. They’re all looking at. Easter eggs. You sometimes scroll through your social media, you laugh out loud, at just some random stranger and what they say?

Ben Rector: I love it. And honestly, It’s almost like, uh, this is probably a bad way to say it, but some of that stuff is almost like a sport to me.

And so like, I, a lot of times sometimes I’ll laugh, but sometimes I’ll be like, oh, that was good. That was like a good grab or a good whatever. Uh, but I think that, yeah, I agree. I’ve been impressed with how like witty and like, uh, thoughtful people that have listened to my music are, and I get such a kick out of seeing, uh, the responses to stuff, because I feel like generally it is an entertaining.

Sarah Taylor: Ben, thanks for your time today.

Ben Rector: Totally. Thank you.

Sarah Taylor: Are huge. Thanks to Ben Rector for such a great interview. Um, if you haven’t seen the lyric videos to all of his songs, go on a YouTube deep dive. And actually just start with the lyric video for the men who drive me places, which is what we referenced to. That was my first introduction to Ben. You, you see that song and you are instantly a fan of any other work that he does.

I want to give a very special thank you to Chris Houser for setting up this interview. And I really want to hear from you on who you’d like to hear next. We leave all of our contact info in the show notes. Thanks to producer extraordinaire, Scott Karow, for his wonderful work on the Passion Meets Purpose podcast. I will see you in two weeks.

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