To listen to Benjamin Tod’s music is to hear pain, suffering, and redemption through the lens of someone who’s lived it. Whether he’s with Lost Dog Street Band or solo, his songwriting remains raw, personal, and earnest.
Benjamin Tod sharpened his skills and formed his perspective through years of hard living, train-hopping, and busking. Currently, he and Lost Dog Street Band command a nationwide audience of dedicated fans who are drawn to the vulnerability and authenticity of the songs he writes and sings. He and his wife, collaborator, and bandmate Ashley Mae have built their audience from the ground up without the help of the industry at large.
Recently, I spoke to Benjamin Tod about Muhlenberg Music Mission, a nonprofit he helped to start. While I had him on the line, we talked a little about his upcoming solo album, the impact of his music, and more.
Benjamin Tod Talks About His Upcoming Solo Album
While talking about the spring benefit show for Muhlenberg Music Mission, Benjamin Tod mentioned his upcoming solo album. At this time, he doesn’t have a release date but said the title will be Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing. Then, he talked a little about what we could expect from the record.
“I guess the concept is kind of what the title portrays – Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing,” he said. “Some of the songs I wrote ten years ago, some of the songs I wrote five, some of them I wrote right before recording. But, for one reason or another, whether they were too personal, or too harsh, or too painful, I stopped singing them or didn’t want to sing as soon as I wrote them.”
Benjamin Tod revealed that these songs come out of him fairly often. “Sometimes, songwriting is pretty strictly therapeutic and as soon as it gets out of my head, it’s not something I want to experience all the time,” he explained. Shining a light on how painful the songs on the album will be, he said. “I have a tune on there that I wrote right after I had to put down my dog. So, it felt incredible to get that out but it’s not something that I necessarily wanted to re-experience.”
The Importance of Exploring Pain Through Songs
Benjamin Tod explained why he decided to do an album like Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing. “I think things like that are important because we all experience feelings that terrify us and I think it’s important to face them instead of running from them. So, I guess that’s my intention with the album.”
Anyone familiar with Tod’s music –either solo or with Lost Dog – knows that he’s no stranger to digging into pain when he writes. Specifically, Benjamin writes often of the suffering that comes with addiction. As a result, his music – especially songs like “Using Again” “Sorry for the Things” and “I Will Rise” – are incredibly popular with recovering addicts and alcoholics. Through his lyrics, they find a measure of solace with stories they feel they could’ve written.
About that, Benjamin Tod said, “I’m very proud of that and I’m very thankful that my music can do that. That’s the exact intention that I write it with. That’s the absolute standard, as an artist, for your music to be received with the intention that you intended.”
Benjamin Tod’s Throat Tattoo
I’ve heard conflicting stories about the meaning of Benjamin Tod’s throat tattoo which reads “11030” in reverse. So, while I had him on the line, I had to ask. After having a good laugh, Tod shared the story behind the ink with me.
“I used to lie and say it was my inmate number at Montana State Prison because I have been to a general population prison in Glendive, Montana,” he said. Laughing a little more, he recalled, “Tony from Gems on VHS believed that for years. I told him and he would go around correcting people because other people had figured out what it was.”
Then, getting a little more serious, he shared the true story.
“Nicolas Ridout had 11030 tattooed on his wrist. It’s an ode to him but it’s the hobo zip code. So, if you put a line through the 11 to make an H and put a line down the 3 it spells hobo. That is generally what it stands for,” he said.
Beyond being an homage to his late friend and fellow songwriter, Benjamin Tod explained his connection to the tattoo. “Being a train rider for years, I was obsessed with hobo symbols and yeg symbols. Some of the old symbols that used to be tagged and written around train yards and on rail cars and under bridges and on hop-out spots and in hobo jungles. It’s its own language. There are hundreds of different symbols that mean anything from ‘the food bank’s over here’ to ‘the cop in this town is an a*shole, don’t stay here long.’ I have quite a few tramp or hobo symbols that I’ve collected on my body. I guess that’s just one of them.”