Welcoming Benjamin Wagner

New York City singer/songwriter Benjamin Wagner may be one of the music world’s best kept secrets.

Wagner has been writing, performing and recording music for more than 10 years and released his fourth major self-released album, “Crash Site,” in 2001.

He is also about to release “Summer’s Gone,” the second single from the album, which features several remixes and two new recordings, “Hollywood Arms,” and a cover of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home.”

To celebrate the CD’s release, Wagner is launching his first-ever solo acoustic tour September 23 — a six city tour trek that begins in New York and heads south, hitting Raleigh, Charlottesville, and Chapel Hill.

“I’m leaving my town and putting my money where my mouth is,” Wagner said.

“Crash Site” is a raw and honest, acoustically driven album, and Wagner’s reedy, passionate and world-weary vocals are earnest, yet hopeful.

The album is well produced with a full band, but it seems pure and untainted, often making it feel as though you’re overhearing him jamming alone in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment.

It’s difficult to categorize Wagner’s music, but his mellow pop/folk rock style has been compared to David Gray, Pete Yorn and Ryan Adams. Sometimes he rocks out with sing-along melodies, but most of the time he takes a more contemplative and melencholy approach.

“[My music is] decidedly inside. Remarkably uncool,” he wrote in his daily journal on his website (benjaminwagner.com). “At long last, I’ve settled into the fact that I write melodic little songs about relationships. That’s what I do. And that’s OK.”

Most of Wagner’s songs are about loss, but there’s almost always a thread of hopefulness throughout.

“I think that comes with growing up,” he said. “In junior high, it’s the end of the world when some kid makes fun of your pants. Now, when you experience pain, it’s like, ‘OK, that hurts, comma, but… What are you gonna’ do about it?”

The new single, “Summer’s Gone,” reflects that theme. Although describing the end of the carefree joy of summer and the decay of fall, the song is more about things that pass and figuring out what to do next with your life.

“Summer’s Gone” was originally set to be the lead single off of the album, but with the release date scheduled shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Wagner opted to release the timely title track, “Crash Site,” instead.

The song is about the catostophic wreckage of a plane crash that Wagner had nightmares about for years, which he later associated with the catostophic failure of his parent’s divorce when he was a child.

The song, written more than a year before September 11, gained new meaning after the attacks, so he pushed back the release of the album and instead put out a “Crash Site” CD single.

The CD featured remixes of the song with a modified ending that was more uplifting. The proceeds benefitted the United Way’s relief efforts.

Now that all of that’s behind him, Wagner is looking towards the future, but he isn’t ready to move on from Crash Site just yet. The “Summer’s Gone” CD single, Wagner says, serves as a bridge between Crash Site and his next album.

“I have 10 new songs and I could easily make a new album,” he said, “but I’m not ready to let go of Crash Site yet. I don’t think it’s run its course.”

Wagner has no official plans for his next album, but he is writing new material.

“Songs just come over me sometimes,” he said. “I was reading the paper on Sunday and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Uh oh, a song’s comin,’ and I grabbed my guitar and wrote ‘Us Around.'”

Wagner said most of his new songs were more future oriented than his older material.

“Crash Site kind of looked to the past,” he said. “The new stuff is more future-forward, more present. It’s what could be, not what was.”

The Collegian (Richmond, VA)

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