A haze of incense wafts through the door as you enter Newkirk Studios. It’s dimly lit and the Persian rugs that line the walls vibe “Magic Carpet Ride.” Instruments and amps of various pawnshop vintages are neatly unorganized—a chunky orange “Orange Amp” is against one wall, no doubt a coveted relic from rock’s bygone Humble Pie era. This is the psychedelic sketch pad of Surefire singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer Ben Rice; it’s a basement in the suburban-urban mash up of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn where homies and housewives live worlds apart on adjoining blocks - Definitely not Williamsburg.
Once inside, traces of the outside world slip away as if you’re somewhere between a Vegas casino and a pious musical haven. Only the faintest hints of sunlight make their way in here and clocks are not to be found – When high concentration is required, these things are just distractions. It’s here that Ben wrote, recorded, and produced Surefire’s self-titled debut. Confident he had a modern classic, Ben hunted down the golden ears of Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin) to share a little of his rock and roll magic. "I was impressed by Ben’s sincerity and demeanor in regards to his music,” Eddie explains, “He seemed to be very serious and concerned about the sonic direction of his music that he recorded. I subsequently listened to a series of mp3s and loved the musical direction of the band and thought it was innovative with a strong look back at the classic rock era.” Kramer came aboard inviting Ben Rice and co. out to Los Angeles where he helped provide the finishing production touches and mix the record.
Surefire pick up from that boom-boom swagger of UK rock from the late sixties and early seventies when high-energy kids influenced equally by the British Blues Boom and Beatle-mania penned the soundtrack to their youth. The album as a sonic pulpit was a new convention for more ambitious rock n’ roll discourse and artists crafted these long players as dramatic, interest-holding pieces with anthems, ballads, and playful mid-tempo numbers, sequencing tunes so the listening experience was filmic in scope. This is Surefire’s heritage. Surefire is an album-oriented record in the most traditional peaks-and-valleys sense with ass shakers (“The Mountain,” “She’s Golden”) balancing cigarette lighter wavers (“Sea Song,” “By My Side”).
In the vintage guitar world “new old stock” or “NOS” is a phrase that refers to classic instruments from highly collectible years that never have been sold; buying one is like the time machine effect as you’re purchasing a new 1959 Gibson Les Paul. At 22, Ben Rice is rock n’ roll NOS. When Ben was growing up, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan spun daily on his parent’s turntable. “When I finished first grade I got 3 tapes as a present – A Hard Days Night, ZoSo and Dark Side of The Moon—that was my musical education,” he confesses. But inspiration struck a little before he got those plastic rock n’ roll textbooks. “I wrote my first song just after I turned six. I had gotten a guitar for the holidays and learned my first two chords. I instantly turned that into a song,” he says laughing, “Dropping down my finger doing little augmented chords, minor 7s because I thought it sounded like The Beatles.”
As a teenager Ben divided his time between playing in bands and learning the art of recording. “My first job was working in a recording studio when I was 16; I was a runner or a ‘tea boy’ as Eddie [Kramer] calls it," Ben explains, "I’d make sure everyone had drinks, wrap cables and carry gear around… stuff like that." He wasn’t a tea boy long, a few years later he opened his own studio where he’s since produced The Mooney Suzuki, Reno Bo (bassist for Albert Hammond Jr./solo artist), Change The Station and a slew of other up and coming bands.
Parallel to his budding studio prowess Ben was garnering recognition as a promising teenage singer and songwriter, ultimately inking a deal with Lizard King/Warner Music Group. Though the opportunity held promise, Ben decided he needed to step back, sharpen his vision and make sure he was comfortable artistically—upon careful introspection he realized he needed a fresh start and a dedicated team. Calling upon his friend, the budding young guitarist Emiliano Ortiz, steady handed drummer Ben Spinrad and bassist Seth Bulkin, who he had met doing sessions; the new Surefire organically and effortlessly came together and the sound in Ben’s head became the sound before his ears. “Surefire is the best young, innovative band I’ve heard in years,” Eddie Kramer enthuses, “I do believe that Surefire has all of the right stuff to have a successful recording and live career.”