Ben Labat and the Happy Devil released two albums in 2010, A Face for Radio and Soapbox Anthems. The category-defying Raceland-based band, a group that writes and records songs that recall everything from Tom Petty to Bruce Springsteen to reggae and Motown, already has a third album, The Revival, scheduled for release next month.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Labat, drummer Dave Arcement, bassist David Guidry and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Martin independently record and produce their music. They’ve invested time and resources into learning the musicianship and acquiring the recording gear necessary to make professional-level recordings. They needn’t spend money on a studio, studio musicians or a producer.
Labat has done music the other way. He made a national impression as a member of The Terms, the Baton Rouge band he formed while he was attending LSU.
The Terms released an album well-received by critics, Small Town Computer Crash, in 2005. Greg Ladanyi, a Grammy winner whose credits included Jackson Brown, Don Henley, Warren Zevon, Toto and Fleetwood Mac, produced the project at his TidalWave Sound studio in Los Angeles and Capitol Studios in Hollywood.
As promising as The Terms’ future looked, three members of the group were injured in a devastating 2006 auto accident in Monroe. Their album had recently gotten its national release. Luckily, Labat and a fifth member of the band were traveling behind their bandmates in another vehicle. They were uninjured.
“I thought I was going to do music full-time but then that happened,” Labat said last week. “It was like, ‘Wow, it can all be pulled right out from underneath you. I better have a backup plan.’ ”
Labat moved past The Terms’ misfortune, opting to work with Ladanyi again, this time as a solo artist. In September 2009, Ladanyi, on tour in Greece with Anna Vissi, an artist signed to his record label, fell 13 feet from a stage and died.
“I’m not a pessimist,” Labat said, “but that had some serious effect on the way I approach the music business and life in general.”
Labat nearly left music after each tragic accident.
“If an artist throws all his eggs in one basket and it doesn’t work out, it can leave a really bad taste,” he said. “But I took time off and it worked.”
Labat spent a year in New York, trying his hand at writing songs with co-writers. It didn’t work out.
“I have friends who write for major publishers,” he said. “They’ve got a quota. Publishers need so many songs from them. They have to write in a format. Songs can’t be longer than three minutes. They thought writing songs would be fun but it’s not fun anymore.”
Returning to Raceland in 2009, Labat co-founded Ben Labat and the Happy Devil band. He later taught physics and biology in Central Lafourche High School. But teaching wasn’t for him either.
Music, even if he’s not doing it full-time, and writing songs are for him.
“Part of me likes it that way,” he said. “That way it doesn’t get tainted by someone telling you that you have to have so many hits. Luckily, I still have a songwriter’s mind. I listen for interesting things in people’s conversations. I have an ear out for that all the time and a notebook handy. So I don’t have to slave for four or five hours to get a song down. I can do it relatively quickly and have a relatively normal life.”
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