Jason Kahn’s performances explore the physical and spiritual limits of breath, stretching the
voice to its breaking point. The disintegration of each vocal gesture leads to the next, creating a
structure where what remains with each evacuating breath creates a context for the entire piece. In partnership with Queer Sound Ithaca.
Benjamin Torrey, 26, sits in a rain-soaked chair under an umbrella in the backyard of The Westy. He’s wearing a black Pinkwash shirt and grey cut-offs. He’d wanted to go to a bar since he works from home and so “I’m not stuttering and talking about self-harm in front of college students eating bagels or whatever.” His steel blue eyes survey the area from behind his squared brown glasses. He asks if it’s ok if he smokes before pulling out a lighter wrapped in duct tape and a box of Natural American Spirits.
The night before, Torrey had been in Trumansburg shooting a music video for a friend who goes by the stage name Izzy True. Torrey had wanted to make music videos since transferring from Tompkins Community College to Ithaca College’s cinema and photography program. It’s been two years since he graduated and he’s been busy doing far more than just making videos for friends. Torrey is a videographer at the Ithaca Voice and a veteran volunteer at Ithaca Underground, a local non-for-profit organization and music community – shooting and editing video, creating art for posters and merchandise, and helping train new volunteers. He also performs under the name Benjaminto and puts together house shows with his roommate Krystal Cannon at their house, dubbed theTweehouse.
Matt Colgan, a friend from Ithaca College, describes Torrey as “a quiet guy, but… incredibly polite. He’d make a great dog.”
While many who know him now would agree, Torrey had a long journey to get here. Having battled depression and anxiety for most of his life, Torrey hadn’t planned to finish high school, let alone live past 18. He grew up in Lansing, a primarily white town not too far from Ithaca, with his two sisters, Jamaican mother, and Caucasian Michigan-born father. With even his cousins on his mom’s side seeing him and his sisters as “their white cousins,” Torrey had a hard time with his biracial identity growing up.
He’s also had a stutter since kindergarten and always been shy. Once middle school hit, things changed, he says – he became loud, obnoxious, and a “shitty bully.” Always feeling sad and scared, he avoided social activities. Stomachaches began to greet him the second he got to school. Being a good kid with good grades didn’t make up for his lack of interest and the monotonous work.
Sophomore year of high school, Torrey got a bad case of pneumonia, keeping him out of school for weeks. He was glad to be home, but eventually his parents urged him to go back, which frightened him. It’s common to interpret actions and memories negatively when suffering from anxiety and depression. When Torrey thought of his friends, whom he hadn’t talked to, he says he only remembered how mean he’d been and began hating himself. He tried returning a few times, but ultimately decided he couldn’t.
While his parents allowed him to drop out, his emotional state worsened. Without having any major obligations, he’d lie around all day listening to music, watching movies, or playing videogames. His parents tried to get him help, he says, but “I didn’t know what was going on with me and I didn’t trust the people I was talking to.”
Everything changed when his sister asked for a guitar for Christmas one year. Torrey taught himself to play the instrument during the day while home alone.
“Working on things felt like a really healthy outlet,” he says.
Having fallen in love with indie band Neutral Milk Hotel, Torrey taught himself how to play every song off In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. For his older sister, commuting to college meant waking up each morning to Torrey screaming the songs’ lyrics.
His video game habit also turned out to be far more helpful than he initially thought.
“Sammus [Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, social justice and nerdcore rapper], Naps [Jason Calhoun, Torrey’s childhood best friend], and I all learned how to do multitrack recordings through MTV Music Generator,” he explains. Through using loops and layering tracks, the game taught him how to create songs. He also learned to play drums through Rock Band. “It’s not impressive to tell real musicians that,” Torrey says. “But it’s cool to be able to do that.”
In 2010, when he was 20, some friends he’d met on a message board about Elephant 6 – a music collective Torrey discovered through a music sampler on his family’s computer – invited to play Athen’s Pop Fest in Georgia. Performing in the “really supportive, safe environment” of someone’s backyard among friends, he felt comfortable and thought about hosting his own shows.
Most of the songs he’d written, and still writes, are about his battles with his mental health.
“Benjaminto is the sad essence that revolves around Benjamin Torrey, the mix between cute vocal melodies and witty slightly depressing lyrics,” says Colgan.
To Torrey, the things in life that scare him seem less scary when sung to pop music.
“I’ve always felt like after writing a song about like suicidal thoughts I’ve been having or [pushing friends away due to anxiety] – once I’m finished with it, I feel so much better,” Torrey says.
In 2010, Torrey also decided he was ready to go back to school. He started at Tompkins County Community College, where he found the professors to be encouraging and great resources. He also had the support of his first long-term girlfriend, which he’s still thankful for. After transferring to Ithaca College, Torrey quickly became friends with Tyler Coby, class of ’16, and Matt Colgan, class of ’17, who got Torrey involved in Ithaca Underground (IU). Before that, Torrey describes his anxiety as debilitating to the point where he couldn’t order food from a mall food court.
“I feel so much more invincible just knowing there’s so many cool people there [at IU],” he says. “If you’re not a dick, people will just love you; everyone is there to just be nice to you.”
But as much as Torrey talks about how IU helped him, he’s also helped them in a big way.
“While Benjamin continues to become busier in his own endeavors, he has made a lasting impact on our organization from our protocols, to our aesthetics,” says Bubba Crumrine, president of the IU Board. “And any time he is present in our meetings and events, there is always an extra level of passion, excitement, and inclusiveness added to the environment. He is one of the most loving and engaged people I know. His passion for music and the desire to help others learn, succeed, and be a part of something bigger than themselves is the embodiment of the Ithaca Underground mission.”
In 2015, a year after graduating, Torrey moved into an apartment with Krystal Cannon and immediately decided to start organizing shows. They started as if joking, only inviting a few friends; overtime the crowds became bigger and the bands more popular, turning their apartment into a more serious venue. They brought in bands Torrey had met through IU who typically play much larger venues, or as Torrey says, “bands that shouldn’t be in a tight space.”
As co-owner of a venue he lives in, Torrey explains how this both helps and sometimes worsens his anxiety. On one hand, he frequently jokes with his roommate, “We’re so anxious and lazy that it’s easier to have all our favorite artists play at our house.” On the other hand, he talks about the inability to escape from discomfort: “if you’re feeling panicky, you can’t really hide.”
Today, while not fully recovered from his demons, Torrey knows he’s getting there. The progress he’s made he credits to his family, music, and his community both at IU and Tweehouse. “[I] got better ‘cause I’m just lucky and had good resources, which is not the case for a lot of people.”
Ithaca Underground’s 2017 February Fundraising efforts kick-off today, with more fun ways to give!
Interested in giving a few dollars on a monthly basis, with to unlock perks like merch and unlimited show entry? Patreon is right for you!
Interested in donating a one-time gift as part of our February campaign to help keep shows all ages, low cost, and radically inclusive? GiveGab is right for you!
Do you have $5 that you’d like to give in return for Ithaca Underground: Vol. 3 digital compilation, featuring 30 new & unreleased tracks from Agnosia (featuring Sammus), Obody, Benjaminto, Anna Coogan, No-Comply, White Crime, Teencat, and more?
Donors and supporters can contribute or sign up to volunteer with IU year-round via our participate page as well, if that’s more your speed too.
Over the last decade, Ithaca Underground has grown from a hobby for DIY concerts to an ever-expanding, caring community of the talented, the inspired, and the weird. In addition to hundreds of live, all-ages music events, IU continues to provide learning and growth opportunities for volunteer artists, designers, photographers, videographers, grant writers, sound engineers, and marketeers.
Check out our 10th Anniversary celebration events at The Watershed, Cinemapolis, and The Haunt, February 16-18. More information here. Thank you all for your on-going support!
I recently caught up with Monki, the notorious noise artist, in anticipation of his upcoming performance at Big Day In, which takes place this Saturday at the Haunt. Upon sitting down with Monki, I became aware that he is actually incapable of communication. Thankfully fellow No Aliens member, Mad Brain, was present and willing to discuss: Monki, No Aliens, & their unique backstory.
Evan: Hey Mad Brain, could you explain how Monki came to be?
Mad Brain: Monki was actually once a wild monkey, abducted by scientist in order to test a new Gerber Baby Bath & Skin product. Unfortunately, due to lack of care his face was badly disfigured. Later, an uprising took place in the animal containment, which led to a fight between animals and humans. During this fight a device in the lab was activated, which coded Monki’s brain with a human scientist. After this, the animals escaped leaving Monki free to roam, fated to never find his past.
Evan: Why does Monki feel the need to create music?
Mad Brain: In his case, the music is a search to call on something that can’t be particularly seen. It’s primal, every noise and sound you hear in his music expresses his story. Even though his [Monki] level of intelligence is considered genius, he is still unable to communicate.
Evan: No Aliens, what exactly is it and can you tell me about the other group members?
Mad Brain: No Aliens is a three person collective comprised of Computer, Monki, and myself [Mad Brain]. Monki created Computer, similarly cursed with a high level of self-awareness, he is better able to cope due to his ability to communicate. Computer is also responsible for all production for No Aliens, his music specializes in trance & ambient loops. His inspiration includes Brian Eno, Miles Davis, and Soulja Boy.
Evan: I [Mad Brain] am the voice behind No Aliens; I’m responsible for the lyrics and expressions where Monki fails. Typically, when you hear rapping in our [No Aliens] music, that’s me. I was once a scientist, whose mind was fused with Monki, leading to a constant struggle for control of this body.
Evan: Has Ithaca Underground helped you find a sense of community?
Monki: For the time being, I suppose so, but the point of No Aliens is to never have one home.
Ithaca Underground is proud to present our 12th annual Big Day In. Featured artists on the Main Stage include: B. Dolan, Guerilla Toss, Japanese Breakfast, LVL UP, Eskimeaux, Sharpless, Izzy True, Sammus, Alter, Mr. McBean, Imperials, First Pet, Spazzare, & the Horses. Featured artists on the Deck Stage include: Benjaminto, Shull (formerly _____), Tender Cruncher, otodojo, KNEW, MONKI, Flocarious, Motorcyclez, Eternal Savages, & LC Jones. The show takes place this Saturday, from 12pm to 11:59pm, at the Haunt.
Friend of IU – 1980 Underground has a show this Saturday 11/26/2016 at Sacred Root Kava Bar! 139 West State Street (Entrance on Geneva), no cover, all ages.
Tonight, IU’s first all-ages event at The Dock, we celebrate the life of our friend Keenan Murphy. Summer People reunite for one night only. ERRS have debuted a new track, ‘Choir of ERRS’, written Jan 1st, 2016, in response to the news of Keenan’s passing. Lyrics are up, so we can all join in together.