Take Your Time: An Interview With Ben Mauro

Ben Mauro. The name might ring a bell to those in the know about guitarists, but if it doesn't we're about to change that, and for good reason.

Ben is a currently the go-to guitarist for Lionel Richie and his tour. But he's a lot more than that. He's also a songwriter, singer, and artist in his own right, and that's what I'm hoping to showcase in this interview. 

I had the privilege of studying under one of Toronto's finest session guitarists. I learned early on in my guitar "career" that there is much hard work that goes into becoming one of the most sought after hired guns in the industry. I also learned that these musicians are often the most talented people in a studio or on a stage, not necessarily the "guitar heroes" that are glamorized on the front covers of magazines. That's why when I come across talent, I feel it is my duty to share it with the rock'n'roll community here at Playing With Chaos. Ben has a new EP out, titled "Take Your Time", and it showcases what he's capable of. 

Ben Mauro has the chops to play alongside Don Felder (The Eagles), and to be the anchor in tours with Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, and John Fogerty. Those are big names that require big talent to carry their songs night after night. Here's what Ben Mauro had to tell us as we caught up with him before he heads back out on tour with Lionel Richie.

Playing With Chaos (PWC) What first inspired you to play guitar and who are some of your influences?

Ben Mauro (BM): Probably the very first one would have been Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. My cousins gave me those giant posters from the 70’s that covered my whole wall – I had three walls covered with Jimmy Page. Plus I heard kids in school that could play "Stairway to Heaven" and I remember thinking, “Man, I want to be able to do that!” The other wall in my room had a poster of Jimi Hendrix, so I have to say he was a big inspiration. But I’ve always been a huge fan of Warren Haynes from the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule. My favorite rock guitar player is Zakk Wylde. But it was Led Zeppelin that made me want to pick up an electric guitar. 

PWC: You've played with a wide variety of artists from various genres. How important do you think it is for a young musician who is just starting out to be versatile in the current market? 

BM: It is SUPER important. Being a working musician and surviving means that you have to play a lot of styles. You never know what kind of job might come up, so really one of the most important things a young musician can learn is how to play a lot of different styles. Even if you don’t particularly like a certain style, you should still learn it. Be versatile – the pros that I see working all the time are the ones that can play authentically in a lot of different styles. 

PWC: Your new EP "Take Your Time" was recently released. What inspired the tracks on the EP and how did you go about fitting in writing a new EP into your busy schedule? 

BM: There is one song on the new EP that was inspired by a trip with my family. We take a family vacation every year to Alexandria Bay up in the 1000 Islands area of New York by the border with Canada. My dad said something to me when we came in from a day of fishing and I said, “That’s a country song. Somebody needs to write that.” So I sat down and wrote “Down By The River.” Other songs are inspired by little bits and pieces of what happen to me in my life or people that I know. Sometimes I make things up – but mostly I use what is around me. My main job is playing with Lionel, but when he is taking time off we are free to do our own thing. That’s when I can really work on my music. I pretty much spend 100% of my time doing my thing – when we’re on a break from Lionel. The last couple of years I’ve been working really hard on this EP and I’m getting really close to releasing a full length CD of my original music. 

PWC: We are guitar nerds here at Playing With Chaos! What do your live/studio rigs consist of? 

BM: Gibson electric guitarsTaylor acoustic guitarsD’Addario strings, Dunlop pedals and picks, and Mesa Boogie amps.I use Levy’s Leathers straps – which is a company based in Canada. I also use an Ibanez tube screamer, a Zakk Wylde Wah Wah pedal, and an OCD distortion pedal.

PWC: The current rock scene is vibrant but absent from mainstream radio. How would you describe the current state of the music industry and how have you seen it transform? 

BM: The one thing that I’m seeing more and more is that indie artists especially can get their music out there. With social media and all that is available to us, artists really have a chance of getting their music heard worldwide mostly by yourself. You don’t need a huge record company backing you – but you still need some kind of support, whether it is financial or some sort of publicity to get the music more mainstream. Plus, so many people have home studios these days that it makes it even easier – which is a positive thing. I was able to do my EP in small studios and set ups in people’s garages so I didn’t have to spend a ton of money on a big studio. That saves on some expense. More people hearing the music is a good thing. 

PWC: You've toured with several national and international acts. You're currently on tour with Lionel Richie. What career advice would you give to someone who is getting started in the industry and wants to become a touring and/or session musician? What sorts of things must be in place in order for you to be successful? 

BM: The most important thing is to have paid your dues and have a lot of experience with your instrument. A big part of working for an artist is learning their songs, but a lot of times they have new parts and different arrangements. So you have to be really, really 
good at learning songs quickly. Sometimes you only have 2 days to learn a whole show, so a background playing in cover bands and learning songs by ear comes in handy. Part of the reason I got to tour with Kelly Clarkson on the first American Idol tour was because I was able to learn all of the songs quickly and Randy Jackson heard about me from other professionals. Networking is very important. Auditions are mostly word of mouth. Someone you know has to recommend you. It doesn’t always come down to who is the best, but who is working the most and hustling so people know your name. You need to be seen and have a network of professionals that can recommend you. A big part of that is also getting yourself to a big city. The majority of auditions for working musicians happen in 
LA or NYC or even Nashville. If you live in a small town, that takes your chances of being seen down even more. Another thing people should know about is that this industry is image based. Having a cool look doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money, just look like you are making an effort and care about your appearance. Have a cool vibe going. You don’t have to look like a model or anything, just have a “look”. It matters. Oh, and it helps if you are easy to get along with. People shouldn’t mind being stuck on a bus with you for three months at a time. (Laughs) 

PWC: What are your plans after the Lionel Richie tour? 

BM: As soon as I’m done with Lionel’s tour, I’m going to finish my own full length CD. I’ve only got 4 more songs to do and then it’s done. Then I’m going to book a big CD release party in my hometown of Syracuse. We just did a big party for the EP there and it was such an amazing trip. I have to go back to do the full length CD there, too.

Be sure to check out Ben's new EP. You can get all the info, an extensive resume, and fan club information on his website. We haven't been wrong yet here at Playing With Chaos, so when I say "pay attention to this artist now", I mean it. Ben will be a household name and if you want to be able to say "I knew that", pick up his EP now. Don't say I didn't warn you.