Allen Benatar : Interview 53
Allen Benatar is a Los Angeles-based drummer who has worked with Olivia Panacci, Pretty Ricky, Symphony of Malice, Julien/Addison Parker, City of Treason, and countless other artists; and also an actor who has been featured in TV shows like Brooklyn 99, Criminal Minds, Deep Undercover, Hello Ladies, as well as many commercials.
Allen and I met at LAX airport one morning. He was in front of me in line and had two drumsticks poking out of his luggage. I was compelled to ask about his drumming, we exchanged info, and linked up about a month later at his rehearsal space in L.A. We talked about regret, his life-long struggle with depression, his fear of helicopters circling above him in a swimming pool, his starting point with drums, and of course he answered Five Questions. Meet Allen.
What’s one thing in your life that you wish you could change?
Not really. I don’t like to say I wish I could this or that, or look backwards. But something that’s been a struggle is that I’ve suffered with depression my whole life. I don’t know if I’d want to change it though, because it makes me who I am. It gives me that crazy edge which I think I need musically. And I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t met one musician that’s not absolutely fucking nuts in some way. We all have issues.
Me: What do you do to combat those issues when they come up?
Allen: Therapy. Music. Being around people. Sometimes not being around people. Pets. There’s a lot of stuff to do. I stay away from recreational drugs. I don’t really tap into that because that can make it worse.
I think depression would be the thing that I’d be better off without, but like I said, I don’t think I’d be better. It’s part of who I am.
What's your greatest fear?
Being in a swimming pool and a helicopter being overhead with a spotlight pointing down on me. It’s happened to me. I’ve been in a pool out here. Only in Cali because we have those crazy fucking choppers. I didn’t understand before I got here, but when they fly overhead and I’m alone. I don’t know what it is, but it’s something with helicopters. It’s the weirdest thing. I fucking freeze. Especially with those spotlights, it’s scary.
Me: It is! They can be intimidating. I was on the roof of my old building once and there was crazy stuff happening in the sky. There were like three or four helicopters circling and there was another dude up there and we were like, “What the hell is this?!” It was weird. But then I was like, “Well, now I can’t go outside on the street because who knows what’s going on there.”
Allen: For me, it’s different. It’s that light. It’s intimidating. It’s the unknown also. I used to be terrified of the dark.
Me: As a child? How did you get over it?
Allen: I don’t know. I cried and I had nightmares. I don’t know if I got over it. Maybe I am still afraid. I think that’s my biggest fear.
Me: You talk about the fear of the unknown. How does that show up in your life?
Allen: I don’t want to say aliens because that’s kind of…
Me: Like supernatural stuff?
Allen: Yes. Or being alone in those situations. At least having someone else there with me would be good.
This sounds weird, but being on top of a mountain and being close to the sky—I guess the night sky is scary to me.
Me: Have you had a moment when that’s been apparent?
Allen: Just the pool. Maybe because it’s dark and unknown.
How do you approach collaboration?
My whole life, growing up, I’m used to being on the road touring, playing shows. And that’s what I live for, the live experience. I love recording, I love playing with a band, but live is what I live for. But now, doing the whole L.A. thing, it’s changed a bit. I’ve played with bands, but nothing serious. So now I resort to technology and the internet, sharing music, going back and forth, video, YouTube, social media. It’s really interesting. I’m sure you know too, growing up, we didn’t have any of that.
Me: I’ve never really done the online process to a large extent.
Allen: I feel like in-person is the best. I love that interaction.
Me: Do you have anyone here or back home [New York] who’s a significant writing partner?
Allen: Not writing. It’s been more just me writing on the drums. Just because I have to. I’m not playing live at the moment. I’m looking for a new band and I’m going back and forth with that, but until that happens, this is what I’m doing. But doing covers is fun. I never really liked doing covers, but with the whole YouTube thing, it’s pretty cool.
Me: Is that helpful for you as a player? Having an obligation? You mentioned people are starting to ask you for things.
Allen: Yes. That’s cool. And I need that push. Otherwise depression kicks in. So that definitely helps.
My buddy has a solo album and I’ll help him with that, so if there are no vocals on it, there are no vocals. But we’ll do it and go from there.
How do you define being “in love”?
I’ve only been in love once, I think.
Me: What did it look like?
Allen: It looked like eternity. Just comfort. Infinity. Can’t explain it. Just being. I was younger though. I was in love when I was 18. I’m not serious with women right now. Now’s my time for me still. So my friends will be like, “I think I’m in love!” And I’ll be like, “Nah, nah, nah, nah.” There’s no thinking when it comes to love. You either are or you aren’t. Even if it’s 99.99%. No, it’s not going to work. You have to get to know people, of course. But when people get married and they’re like, “Oh, I’m not sure.” Or they have kids and it’s the same. It blows my mind. And then they cheat on their partner. That’s insane. I’ve seen it all. I think that also deters me from meeting someone. Like I’ve lost that trust.
Me: Was that “in love” relationship—how did that end?
Allen: It’s weird because I think I still speak to every girl I’ve ever dated in my life. And some people aren’t cool with that, they’re like, “How do you do that?” I’m like, “How do you not do that?” You share that moment, you share that time.
And then being in love with music, entertainment.
Me: So why drums?
Allen: I started in school. There was a snare drum and a cymbal and one of those big orchestra drums. I was fascinated. I couldn’t wait to get up there. And one day [my teacher] finally called me up there and it was just free-styling, or whatever, and I was hooked. I played for a few plays and they aired on the local network. I still have it on tape. My mom, for my birthday a few years ago, converted all those videos to DVD.
I have to watch those things with someone else because it upsets me.
Me: Why does it upset you?
Allen: I don’t know. Some of it’s awesome, but it’s just weird to me.
This goes against something I said before about not looking back, but when I do look back at those tapes, I miss it. I wish I could still be there to live that moment. You know when you smell a certain scent and it reminds you of a certain time? It takes you back. And that fucks with my head. I want to go back. I think it’s the fact that I can’t go back that bothers me. I just don’t want to watch it all alone.
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
What I would miss the most is the feeling of curiosity about what happens when you die. I’m not really scared of dying. I haven’t had a near-death experience. I have the normal fear, but I think there’s a better place. I’d like to think my [recently departed] white cat is flying around with wings. If you think there’s nothing, then that’s really sad. Anything that ends is kind of sad. Anything. I don’t like ending things, really. And knowing that that’s it. That used to terrify me when I was younger.
Me: Like, “I’m dead. Underground.”
Allen: Yes. Because if you really go down the rabbit hole and think about it, it’s scary as fuck.
Thanks for depressing me! [Laughter]