In 2012, Josh Benus faced a series of health challenges that left him fighting for his life. After a difficult recovery, the indie rock artist promised himself he would pursue music wholeheartedly. Since then, Benus has rebranded himself as ‘Glass Dove’ and even spent a week in the Smoky Mountains with producer Owen Biddle writing and recording music. Benus’ latest single, ‘Terrible Secrets’, is his addition to the conversation regarding privilege and inaction.
I took some time to chat with the Nashville-based, singer-songwriter about the thought-provoking track, ‘Terrible Secrets’, and the life-changing events that have led him where he is today.
Ariel Zedric: How did you choose your musical alter ego’s name, ‘Glass Dove’?
Josh Benus: The night I stumbled upon the name Glass Dove, I was out to dinner with Chris Kasper and Owen Biddle reciting a story I had learned about my grandmother years earlier. She used to work as an interior decorator in South Philadelphia; the dates are fuzzy but I think it was sometime in the 1960s. One of her repeat clients were members of a notorious South Philly, Italian crime syndicate. According to her recollection, her work relationship came to an end around the same time the family started being pursued by the FBI. As a thank you and in return for her silence, they gifted her a glass dove. It became apparent at that moment that the name revealed itself to us.
Tell me about the hardships that came in 2012 and how you overcame them.
In the spring of 2012, I was returning to Philadelphia from a tour of Utah and Colorado. At that time, sleep was a struggle for me and I knew the following morning I had to wake up early for an in-studio session at WXPN. After a sleepless night, I hauled myself over to the radio station and powered through, only to become very sick hours later.
My doctor prescribed me a course of antibiotics which were ultimately unresponsive. After a second and third opinion from my various health specialists, they all concluded that a tonsillectomy was the best course of action. I agreed to this and I notified my band and management that I would be unreachable for the foreseeable future until I was fully healed.
The initial surgery was relatively routine and minor. It’s a well-held belief that if you make it ten days through the healing process without complications, you’re in the clear. Excited to be approaching the finish line, about two hours into the morning of the tenth day, I had an arterial bleed in the back of my throat. What followed was a nightmarish 24-hour scenario trying to find a surgeon to cauterize the wound. When I finally received the help I needed, I was in bad shape. I laid on the operating table while the anesthesia kicked in, the last thing I remember were the shadows of about six surgeons huddled around me. In the morning, the doctors visited and with a warm smile informed me, I was “lucky to be alive.”
It was an arduous road to recovery, but I overcame it with the support of my family and a ton of rest. It took me two months in bed on a liquid diet & painkillers, then another few months for the inflammation from the scarring in my throat to reduce and feel normal again. I had lost a lot of weight and had to teach myself how to sing again.
If you could change the past, would you? Or do you believe you wouldn’t be the person you are today without that experience?
I think every experience that we encounter dictates exactly who we become. I’ve been able to draw on that experience all of the time, to remind myself not to take anything for granted.
You took a hiatus from music for a bit. What did you do instead?
I had just turned 30 and was going through some growing pains. I was fresh out of a band break up and on the cusp of ending a year-long relationship. I needed some structure and a real mental break from everything, so I decided to shift gears and work in a fine dining restaurant until I had some clarity.
During the break, did you always know you would return to writing music, or was it an unexpected reunion?
I didn’t have any tangible plans, I was lost and it was a dark time for me. Knowing that my coping mechanism was writing songs, returning to music was inevitable. I had so much to say and so many things to work out, but I felt rusty so I started setting up a ton of co-writes. When I had my first write with Liz Cooper, we wrote “Cigarette Sunset,” and it was so fluid, that I actually think that was the first moment that I felt excited about music again.
Talk about working with producer, Owen Biddle! What’s one thing he’s taught you that you don’t think you’d have learned otherwise?
The necessity of humor while working. You can make a general estimate about how much time you think you’ll need to make a record, and then multiply it by 100. It almost always takes longer than you initially anticipated. Things will go wrong, it’s going to take forever, and the only way to stay sane is to laugh your way through it. Owen’s really good at the jokes.
Biddle and you retreated to the Smoky Mountains for a week of only creating music. What impact did that total immersion have on the final product?
Removing ourselves from everyday distractions was paramount. It allowed us to be more efficient and creative. There’s no way we could’ve worked at the pace that we did otherwise. We had no wifi or cell phone service, and we walked away with almost a records worth of material in less than a week.
Can you recall the moment you decided to write “Terrible Secrets”? Is there any event in particular that inspired it, or was it more of a culmination of things?
Strangely, I didn’t decide to write it at all. It was one of those evenings where I was just toying around with a melodic idea, and suddenly you just have a fully written song. I’m a very politically minded person and like many Americans have been very concerned about the direction this country has been headed the past couple of years. It was definitely a culmination of things, in the sense that every single day now it seems there are new draconian policies and social injustices.
What has been one of the most memorable moments of the last five years?
The birth of my niece Sofia!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone undergoing hardships in their life, what would it be?
All of us will face vicissitudes and challenges at one point in our lives. Positive change only comes through awareness and realization that each of us needs to become change agents, for ourselves and for each other.
Featured image courtesy of Josh Benus