Songwriter Interviews

Ben Romans of The Click Five

by Shawna Ortega

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Skinny pants. Matching jackets. Fabulous hair. Screaming female fans. Catchy tunes with great harmonies. You've stumbled over the fifth dimension in the time/space continuum, right?

More likely you've just discovered The Click Five.

If the definition of popular music is "an upbeat variety of rock music," these five guys have it nailed. They channel their inner pop-rock star with every breath. Forget the fan clubs, the eerily Beatles-esque CD covers, and the cheesy motion picture. This band deserves attention for the right reasons: thoughtfully intelligent lyrics, and melodies worthy of even the most discerning pop-rock ears.

Hugely successful in Asia and the U.S. east coast, TC5 (as their fans refer to them) isn't close to slowing down. With newly-minted lead singer Kyle Patrick and their third studio album on the way, maybe it's time for the rest of the world to investigate.

Keyboardist/songwriter Ben Romans agrees.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): Hi Ben. Can you tell me about the photo shoot that you guys just did?

Ben Romans: You know, we ended up just talking about what we were gonna do. We realized that we were all a bit tired from the night before, and still have the same outfits on, so we said, why don't we just talk about all the concepts and make sure everything's under control? But yeah, we're just trying to get all the stuff together for the record. We just finished recording, finished tracking last week, and we're just trying to get all that stuff together.

Songfacts: What is "tracking"? Is that like sequencing?

Ben: Tracking is just recording. It goes in phases. It's all about trying options, finding the best option, and then actually recording. And then we have a couple more songs to mix, get them mastered, and then we should be groovy. A couple of them are already mastered, and we're gonna go ahead and put a 7" vinyl out with two songs on it, it's coming up soon. It should be a fun little item for the fans.

Songfacts: A 7" vinyl, and you're gonna release that in the States?

Ben: I believe so. Some people are back into vinyl. I mean, even for the folks that don't have a record player, it has a downloadable cartridge in it, so if anything, it's just kind of an item to have.

Songfacts: Yeah, like a collector's thing.

Ben: We're putting out a thousand of them. It should be cool.

Songfacts: Sounds like it. Let's talk about your music. "My Girlfriend Forgot Me Last Christmas" made me laugh at just the title.

Ben: "Girlfriend Forgot Me On Christmas" was a fun situation. Things were moving kind of fast in the days back in 2005. And we had a day off after this long run in L.A. doing a whole lot of press and shows and just all kinds of mayhem. And I remember we wanted to do this Christmas album, we were listening to the Cars a lot. And Tim Kelly and I went to Santa Monica Beach and just hung out. And it was one of those awesome moments where you just kind of wrote the song on a day off on the beach. And it was a Christmas song. (laughing) It was sunny out.

It's kind of tongue-in-cheek song about getting everything you want except the one thing you'd rather have. It's the same concept of the Beatles with "money can't buy you love." There's always those materialistic things, but what you really want is that feeling.

Songfacts: Can you talk to me about "Pop Princess"?

Ben: "Pop Princess" was funny. At the time, I was seeing a girl. She was also an artist, a musician. So I kind of jokingly wrote it for her. That whole idea is about being starstruck over someone. It's not always about a musician, but in this case it kind of was. It's a reverse psychology, what happens at a show sometimes if you're very into a band, the stage crush kind of situation.

Songfacts: Didn't have anything to do with any kind of idolization of yours, though, did it?

Ben: No. No.

Songfacts: Okay. What is a "Headlight Disco"?

Ben: A headlight disco… That was a really fun song to write, because we wrote it more with keyboards instead of guitars for the most part. One good thing to do when you don't take yourself seriously is to push yourself to experiment, just put yourself in different places. I think sometimes it helps if you simplify stuff. In this case, we were just messing around with keyboards just to kind of not be pretentious about something. For a song like that, it's good to get out of your own comfort zone. And lyrically the whole "Headlight Disco" thing kind of came about from talking about writing a song just like you would do a video treatment. So it's just kind of the storyline, a very simple song, when someone is trying to get someone to come out and celebrate. Just picture a bunch of kids in the forest with their headphones, dancing. It's more of a cinematic kind of song.

Songfacts: You guys are kind of nuts, aren't you? (laughs) I've been watching a lot of youtube videos of you guys, and… (laughs) What's going on with these little films that you're doing? Your xXanderXx character, what are these things all about?

Ben: Oh, it comes from being very confused. (laughs) I don't know, it's just us goofing off. I think everybody in the band likes to stay creative in different ways, no matter what it is. That whole thing was we got done touring and I just wanted to do something ridiculous. But I think everybody in the band has a lot of creative outlets. I mean, our drummer is very creative with Web design, our guitar player and bass player are incredibly talented as players and producers. And Kyle's the same way. He's always up to something creative. I guess the most recent thing he did, he recorded these four songs in a cathedral, and it's a really cool project, because we just kind of did it ourselves. We had string players. I actually went down and checked it out and helped out a little bit. But basically when we're not completely doing something creative with the band, I think everybody always tries to find another creative outlet, just because it's kind of in our nature. In my case probably something a little more comedic. (laughs)

Songfacts: You're closet filmmakers.

Ben: A lot of times musically, or whatever it is.

Songfacts: Right. I watched the movie that you guys were in for your "5 Leo Rise," Taking 5. How fun was that?

Ben: (laughing) I don't know what happened. That movie - I don't remember anything, actually. I think we realized when we were done with it that we had no business being in a movie, and that we probably should go right back and rock and roll. So I think the next day we flew back to Boston and started making a record. (laughing) With all that said, it was an experience. I mean, I really did enjoy watching the craft of a film being put together. There's a lot of parallel things to making a record, and making an album. Everything's a process. With a film there's a script. With music there's a song. And it's just all a matter of production. There's a little more lines of a production with film, but all that said, believe it or not, it was kind of a defining moment. We got talked into doing it, and we really enjoyed the experience. But I think that we probably should be making records, (laughs) not doing movies.

Songfacts: Well, at least you got your acting jones out, though, right?

Ben: We got it out of our system.

Songfacts: Okay. Let's go to the song "Empty." That is really a beautiful song. Can you talk to me about how that came about?

Ben: Sure. Thank you. That was a song that actually came right before the record. And I remember it was one of those weird melody things. I have a studio in Boston and I kept hearing this melody, and I had to pull over when I was singing in the car. But fortunately I didn't forget it. And what's great about that song is that was one of the first writing sessions I did with Kyle. And already he was very, very big with the lyrics, and it was just really pleasant. We just sat down and kind of beat the song around until it became what it was.

But I enjoy the simplicity of the song. It's really hard to write simple; look at an author like Hemingway, just such a simple, simple writer. And I think that takes a lot of craft. I mean, being able to shape these common phrases into a collage that touches somebody somehow. So I really enjoyed that. At that point in the band I wanted to do something like that, a little more dramatic. And then production-wise, too, we got to be a little more experimental. It's very subtle, but we have drums, we have all kinds of interesting instruments with the arrangements and stuff. We enjoyed that, too.

Songfacts: Can you tell me a little bit more about the video? (see it here) You said it was filmed on a freezing cold day in Boston. Where in Boston?

Ben: I think a lot of the videos before were kind of concept videos, and we wanted to do one that went hand-in-hand with the song and captured more of the performance than anything. I remember we did the Boston Music Awards and we shot it the next day early, early in the morning. It was freezing. We were on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. It has this street mall in the middle of it, a lot of really pretty statues and all kinds of stuff like that. So we just kind of set up our stuff and went for it. We had two friends of ours that are really talented folks in L.A. They're a duo, and one of them's really good at editing, one of them's really good at directing. They've been working together for a while, so we invited them to come out and do it. And we just did it in two locations, and they did their thing, and I think they did a really nice job. But the band's always been into timeless things with the songs or film. So it was really nice to just feel that way about the way it looked, as well as the way it sounded. Let's put it this way, when I watch that video, I feel like I'm actually watching the guys I hang out with every day. That's a pretty good representation of the band.

Songfacts: So it shows your personalities pretty well?

Ben: Yeah, I thought so.

Songfacts: Cool. One more: "Jenny."

Ben: "Jenny" is pretty self-explanatory. A lot of people are like, "Okay, who's Jenny?" (laughing) It's more a representation of anyone being fickle. I mean, for heaven's sake, I've been that way before. So it's more a song about not being able to make a decision, about that moment that hangs in the middle of the air… is it gonna happen or is it not gonna happen? Everybody can relate to that, no matter what it is. It doesn't have to be a relationship, it can be anything. It can be career related. It's just about that moment of uncertainty, when you think you have something and you don't, or you don't have it and then you do.

But that was a fun song. That was written with some friends of mine in London, actually, a day off of the tour, which is really cool. There's something about London, there's such a rich history of rock and roll. It's not just songs, but really melodic type of songs. So just being there alone influenced the song. And Jez Ashurst, a friend of mine, is also writing on that song. He's in a band called Farah, it's a really great band. But they value the same thing, so we have a lot in common. It was a pleasure to be able to write with someone from a band that I respected, especially for the song craftsmanship.

Songfacts: Absolutely. What is your main contribution on a lot of these songs? Is it lyrics, composition, or does it just go back and forth?

Ben: I think it's a bit of both. I've always come from a musical place before anything else. I liked composition before I actually got into songwriting. But I think I've always found myself kind of caught in between. I still do. I love composition, but I've always wanted to listen to songs that people like. I always enjoyed secretly listening to the radio when I was supposed to be doing something else. But I think that also pushed me to be where I am. Those things that to me are kind of scrambled, on a parallel with the place I came from growing up. But I did make a really conscious effort to dive into the lyric world in college, just because I wanted to do something. I think I might have gotten a little burned out on the other side, the compositional side, and I just really wanted to kind of get myself a beat down. And especially with the new record that we're working on, it is very lyrically charged. A lot of it comes from the titles. We're all fans of anybody that can already grab your attention from an intriguing title. Tom Petty does it a lot. I mean, he'll write "Learning To Fly," and already you're kind of intrigued. And especially on this album, I would say we're trying to be as broad as we can. Because I think the more broad you can go, the more people you can relate to. And it's not an easy task.

Songfacts: Do you have a title for the new album?

Ben: We may have a title for the new album, but we're not quite sure yet. We never know until it's almost done. (laughs) And typically in the past it always kind of comes when we're done. It's funny, when the songs are actually sequenced and you try to reassure yourself, you're like, "Is that the title?" "Okay, yeah."

Songfacts: When is it due out?

Ben: We don't quite know yet. There's no due date this time. Last time there was like a huge deadline, and we were fighting to get to it, and we got to it, but it was pretty insane. And this time's a little bit different, because I think we made a little bit more of the album we wanted to make without a lot of the weird pressure. And then we're just going to find out the other details later when it's time to figure that out. Which is kind of nice, I mean, gift-wrap it up. And it's kind of like, "What? We don't know that. What? Oh, you mean the release date." But we will. We will soon. It's just a matter of finding out.

Songfacts: What has changed between the last one and this one that there's no pressure and no deadline on this one?

Ben: Well, we were working with Atlantic Records on the last record, and we had a really fierce deadline. We're not this record, and so we funded this one ourselves, and kind of made it ourselves, and we're pretty proud of it. And we'll find out if we're gonna have somebody put it out or whatever. But the great thing is whoever does put it out, it's kind of nice to have a product before the product has you. So it's like, "this is what it is. If we want to work together we can. If we don't, it's no big deal." (laughs) We just want people to really enjoy it.

Songfacts: So you've broken away from Atlantic, and does that mean that you guys have changed your style at all?

Ben: Some people would say yes. Just based on the last couple of shows, it's like, "Oh, so mature, so rock and roll" and whatever. And I think yes, it's a little more rock and roll. But I think the band is always, always, always going to keep favoring good song craftsmanship. I mean, all our favorite bands, Beatles, Stones, Tom Petty, the Cars, Electric Light Orchestra, they're all rock and roll bands. But the thing that always kept them is their ability to write timeless songs. People are still singing those songs. And it's a weird thing; it's easier to be trendy, it's easier to write something for the moment, and I think we've learned that a little bit from experience, too. But we do really value the idea of trying to write something a little more timeless. So I think we're always gonna strive for that. We all love catchiness, we love hooks, but I would say it's dressed a little more in rock and roll and a little more substance. And it ventures on the everyday album, it's just what every day is about. It's a lot about life, love, and loss. It's cool.

Here, Ben tells us how music can transcend language barriers to bring focus - and desperately welcomed assistance - to the plight of the most defenseless of human beings.
Songfacts: Any songs in particular that are coming up on the new one that you want to put a spotlight on?

Ben: Sure. I'll talk about the first four songs, just because they're mastered. And they're the first songs we recorded. There's one called, "I Quit! I Quit! I Quit!" And we really enjoy that song because there's a bit of irony to it. It's like, "I quit, but I'm not giving you up." And I find it ironic because a lot of times people are like, "Oh, you should have quit by now," but there's just something that keeps you hanging on, whatever it is.

The next one is called "Be In Love," and it's a really fun track. There is all kinds of shenanigans going on. They have some horns on that track, and congos, and bongos - a singalong song. But that song is more about a feeling than anything. Basically, the concept is everybody wants to be in love.

And one of my favorite songs of all time is "The Warmth Of The Sun." Brian Wilson wrote that on the night of JFK's assassination. And what's interesting - I think he really was writing indirectly about the assassination. And he wrote about the feelings. And I think when you really write about feelings, it transcends a little more.

There's one that Ethan wrote called "Don't Let Me Go." He started writing that when we were on tour in Asia, a long time ago. We started kicking it around. What was really powerful was we recently did a campaign in Southeast Asia to help fight human trafficking and exploitation. And that was for MTV Exit. So while we were over there, one of the most powerful things we got to do, we were playing a concert, we got to play Angkor Wat Temple in the jungle, all kinds of stuff that completely blew our minds. I think one of the most powerful things was we got to visit the Somaly Mam Foundation shelter, for sex trafficking victims, and it was really heavy. It's very easy to go to Cambodia, for example, for somebody to get a kid over to somebody else, and that's where they get sold into slavery. And that's basically what it is, a very severe form of modern slavery. So anyway, we hung out for a while with everybody and got to know their stories. We played some songs, but the one that really stuck out was "Don't Let Me Go." The song also talks about hanging on. One of most powerful lyrics is "you try to hide your scars, and all the while... don't let me go, don't turn away." So when that happened, they translated it, and it was just one of those moments, it was one of most powerful shows… because it wasn't even a show, it was just playing in a room. I'm such a fan of communication and songwriting, and of all the performances, that was a true moment where somehow it really communicated. Here we are in Cambodia with these victims… That was really powerful. That's what we think of when we play that song. And I think MTV Exit might do the video for the song this year. We'll see. They did Radiohead "All I Need" last year for the video. So just to even have them think about it, it's a real honor, because it's an amazing campaign.

Songfacts: Can you clarify for me, when you say "they translated," how do you mean? There were kids there that were doing sign language?

Ben: Well, it wasn't even a show, it was in a shelter. So it was just a lot of conversation, and we had a translator because a lot of the kids spoke Cambodian. They call it Khmer. And once we were done - and this is a really rare thing, this has never happened at a concert - they asked us, "can you say the lyrics and we'll translate it." And they did, and it was really powerful, because I think the kids really locked into it.

And then the other song - and then I'll quit babbling forever - is called "The Way It Goes." That was a really fun song, because it's just kind of about life and it's about second chances. And each next time is about learning from mistakes, and there's always a brighter place if you want it to be. It's about the way it goes; about life, love, and loss. So those are the first four songs, and we're really amped about them.

Songfacts: I wanted to bring up your Blogspot, the OneLove. Is that something that you want people to know about?

Ben: Sure. We have a lot of young fans, and there's an incredible amount of energy that's coming out of these kids. And so it's just kind of an experiment. If we can get maybe five to ten percent of that energy turned on to charity, it might be kind of cool to do that. So the idea is this blog, they're amped about music, they're amped about whatever it is. And so the bloggers choose the charity of their choice, something that is very close to them, and each time you click on their sponsors, some money goes toward the charity. And the other thing that we've been batting around is they've been doing a couple of songwriter shows. We did one in London and we did a couple in New York. And it's fun, because we try to make it a really unique night. It's kind of like a Nashville songwriter-in-the-round. And it was very fun, because it wasn't necessarily like Nashville writers. It was people you wouldn't necessarily think of as a singer/songwriter. I mean, it's more like myself and friends from indie bands in New York. It was just bringing those songs to a different new life by applying them in different new areas. And then we'll pick a charity for that night and we'll try to raise money for the cause. So it's a fun experiment. I don't know what's gonna happen, but it's been a pleasure trying to work on a project like that. It's fun watching the kids getting amped up about trying to get on with a charity and trying to get on to new music and all that kind of stuff, so it's gonna be a cool next few years to see where it goes.

Songfacts: Excellent. You obviously have a big place in your heart for kids.

Ben: They're the ones with the energy. (laughs) They're the ones that make it happen.

Ben talked to us from the back seat of his ride on March 6, 2009.

Learn about the plight of human trafficking victims - and how you can help - at www.somaly.org

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