Brendan Benson tells Simon Harper about his uphill struggle for recognition...
Brendan Benson is a very unlucky man. Forced to re-record his 1996 debut album One Mississippi, it was then a further six years before its follow-up Lapalco was released, due to contractual disputes with his record label.
"It was not a happy time for me," he sighs. This propensity for setbacks seems to strike again, just three days before the Detroit-based songsmith embarks on a UK tour, when his home, which doubles as a recording studio, is broken into.
Having weathered the ensuing chaos, Benson is currently on tour to support his latest album, The Alternative to Love. A spectacularly sprightly collection of wistful power-pop, FM rock and echoes of 60s girl groups, it is a defiantly self-assured record, swaggering with a sense of new-found optimism, and one that Brendan Benson was happy to make.
"The circumstances surrounding this record were a lot better. It was kind of a walk in the park. The others, there was all sorts of controversy. I actually think One Mississippi is [better]. In fact, I strive to get back to that place in me when I wrote songs for no one but myself.
"Just having made a couple of albums now, it's hard to stay pure, and not be cynical. I'm just happy to have a bigger body of work, and I get more excited about that. Three records under my belt. And still going . . . to me, that's more of an accomplishment to be proud of than to compare them."
A hugely enjoyable album, The Alternative to Love has sparked comparisons with song-writing greats such as Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, something that Benson finds "untrue but flattering".
"I don't think you can be a musician and not be a fan of them," adds Benson, who is also an avid fan of David Bowie. Certainly, much of the music he listens to himself seems to belong to a bygone era, citing classic rock and pop as influences on his own craft.
Aside from such radio-friendly staples, Benson also expresses a fascination with the debut album by French duo Nouvelle Vague, which features new wave and post-punk classics performed in a bossa nova style. "That's blowing my mind; I can't believe how great that is," he gushes.
It's easy to suspect that Brendan Benson has more than a passing admiration for legendary producer Phil Spector, and a track called The Pledge from his new album is an astoundingly authentic stab at the much-vaunted Wall of Sound style of production that Spector popularised in the 1960s.
"I wasn't thinking of that at all in the beginning, but I think I just played the drums to it and thought, 'Well, obviously this is Be My Baby. I like it, but do I keep it or should I change it up?' I decided that it works so well - I think that's one of the greatest songs ever recorded, so I thought it could be a kind of a tip of the hat to that."
The Michigan native has clearly come a long way since the early part of his career, which was beset by problems, and he could have been forgiven for thinking that it was never going to happen for him. "I didn't know if I wanted to do it - play music any more, or put records out like that. It just seemed hopeless," says Benson, who was forced to remake his debut album, that was originally recorded with fellow power-pop visionary Jason Falkner.
"But then I met Isaac at Star Time and he put out Lapalco, and was just very supportive and encouraging. He put me on the road and in many ways restored my faith, in myself and in music. Music was fun again, and the business part of it was more realistic. The expectation wasn't so high."
An increase in self-confidence and rediscovery of his passion for music led to a change in fortune, although one of the biggest factors in Brendan Benson's success has been the patronage of Beck, the Flaming Lips and most notably the White Stripes' Jack White - all of which detracts from how extremely talented Benson is in his own right.
The attention focusing on his friendship with Jack White has already begun to intensify, as the two musicians have collaborated on an album that may be out before the end of the year.
Annoyingly for the 35-year-old songwriter, it is already generating more publicity than his own record, despite not having been released yet.
"Yeah, that's really frustrating," he admits.
"Luckily, it's really just in England. They've got a thing for Jack White. It's just one territory out of many, but you feel like, 'Well, enough already'."
Being friends with the White Stripes also means that he's often been lumped in with the garage rock "scene" in Detroit, despite being musically different from such acts.
"I feel part of a community there. I know everyone, and everyone's friends. Garage rock is actually not a huge thing in Detroit any more - for a second, it was. I think it's a family, I don't think it's really a scene. A scene infers exclusivity and one kind of image, which I don't think is true about Detroit."
Brendan Benson has an exhausting schedule planned for the rest of the year, and before the Benson/White album is released he has numerous touring duties to complete with his backing band, the Stiff Tissues.
Consequently, it might be some time before he's back in the studio working on new material.
"I'm enjoying touring more and more these days. I think the band that I'm in right now is killer. Touring is a pleasure, but it used to be a drag for me. I have started the next record but I probably won't get to it for quite a while.
"I'm going to tour this record; and then the record I've made with Jack - we'll probably do some touring on that. At some point I'll make another record. Busy, busy, busy."
* Brendan Benson plays the Carling Academy, Birmingham, tonight. Tickets: 0870 771 2000