After catching the spotlight playing bass and guitar for legendary hip-hoppers the Roots in the early 2000s, Ben Kenney has been holding down the low end for alt-rockers Incubus for the last 16 years. Additionally, he sings and plays all of the instruments on each of his slamming five solo albums, and, in short, is an all-around musical force of nature. Currently, he’s gearing up to hit the road with Incubus for a summer tour, and he’s working on yet another solo masterpiece. When he’s not busy with those, he’s either kicking it with his dog, Carl, or hitting the asphalt on his motorcycle. Luckily for us, he took a break from his busy schedule to answer our 10 questions.
1. What music have you been listening to lately?
I just came across the album Of Violence by the band Town Portal. It reminds me of some of the music I was exposed to in the late ’90s. It’s an instrumental trio, and they’re a little bit of Tortoise, a little bit of Shellac, and a whole bunch of their own thing.
2. What’s one element of your playing that you’ve been working on lately?
I need to work on improvising melodies. It’s the most challenging thing. I saw John Scofield live recently, and he always blows my mind with his ability to speak through melody. I would love to be able to create on the spot like that.
3. What’s the best concert you’ve ever attended?
“Best” is a hard title to award, but one of my favorites was Big Wreck at the North Star Bar in Philly. There were only 20 people there, but they ripped like they were headlining a sold-out arena. That was important for me to see, having been in bands that played to mostly empty rooms.
4. If you could have lunch with any bass player today, alive or dead, who would it be?
Frank Bello. He’s rad to talk to. He’s seen the music business completely change a dozen times. And he’s in Anthrax — by far my favorite of the Big Four.
5. If you could sub for a bass player in any band, who would it be?
Phil Lynott. If anyone wants to start a Thin Lizzy cover band, hit me up. I want to play those songs onstage so badly.
6. What was your first bass?
I learned to play on an Ibanez SoundGear 1000. Such a badass bass. It has EMGs and a very thin neck. I ended up stripping the trussrod on it.
7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about playing bass?
Turn down. When possible, let the PA do the heavy lifting. Bass frequencies can really cause a traffic jam in the mix. When it’s just the right volume, everything on earth is beautiful.
8. What the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during a gig?
I’ve played every wrong note there is twice, but beyond that, I haven’t had many embarrassing moments. I tripped and fell a few times, but that really isn’t embarrassing.
9. What are four items that you absolutely need to have on the road with you?
My Kindle, my camera, noise-cancelling headphones, and decent moisturizer. Anything beyond that is a luxury. Actually, all four of those things are luxuries, so there’s that.
10. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I would be frustrated somewhere. I don’t have the mind for anything else. Some might even argue that I don’t have the mind for music. I just know I feel best while traveling and playing shows, and I don’t ever want it to end.