Ben Hermann stuffs his pipe, his new vice, with natural tobacco.
His dog, a German shepherd named Sussa, lies down on the sidewalk beside us outside Baked Café on a rare, dry, summer Sunday afternoon.
“I got her from the pound, I’ve had her since New Year’s, not long after she’d been dropped off there.” Like his owner’s music, Sussa is quiet, unassuming, but draws my attention anyway.
He speaks slowly and thoughtfully, as if unaccustomed to the attention: “I love playing Whitewater Wednesday. I do, I really love it. It’s totally fun and I’ve played with a bunch of different people, people travelling through town that I wouldn’t normally have gotten a chance to play with.
“I write my own songs,” he says, leaning back in his chair and lighting his pipe. “All the songs you’ve heard me sing on Wednesday nights are all my own tunes. They’re about various subjects, from love to social issues.
“They’re all over the map. I think my strongest subjects are social issues, protest-type deals, like how the media portrays woman or men, what large corporations are doing to people.”
When I ask about his influences, he thinks hard, scratching Sussa’s ears. “My influences, instrumentally, I’d have to say Stevie Wonder and Coldplay. I used to say Dave Matthews. I especially like jazz, like Pat Metheny. I grew up on Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd.
“Definitely my songwriting is influenced by Joni Mitchell.”
“What about Iron and Wine?” I ask, noting the similarities between Hermann’s and Sam Beam’s vocal styles and beards.
“I’ve never heard that,” he says, a bit surprised. “I think a friend played him a lot. I’ll have to listen to it again. People have told me I sound like Jeff Buckley, but I think he’s way more talented than I am.”
A native of North Bay, Ontario, Hermann moved to Whitehorse with his now-ex-girlfriend. “I wanted to go someplace with feeling of being outside of Canada, but is actually still in Canada. I was working for a friend who lived in Whitehorse and Dawson. He said that everything was available in the Yukon, all the amenities, just like BC. So it seemed like a good place to go.”
Since then, Hermann has played Whitewater Wednesday at Flipper’s Pub and Brave New Words at Baked Café and gotten hired as the new drummer for The Sophisticated Cave Men, Rick Sward’s bluegrass-reggae-swing band. “Rick is crazy,” he smiles, and sips his latte, “but he has a huge, amazing collection of awesome music. He’s awesome on guitar.”
Hermann appreciates the opportunity to get back to drumming, his other musical talent, and is grateful for the opportunity Sward is giving him. “He’s helping get my drums from Ontario where I’ve had them in storage. It’s his way of making sure I’ll play for him next summer. He really wants to make sure I’ll play for him. They’re his insurance.” He smiles again, “Or hostages.”
He fills up his pipe again as I’m getting ready to leave and sums himself up like this: “Mostly I try to be myself and not sound like other people. Then I’m afraid I won’t fit in. It’s hard to think originally and fit in. But you just have to let go and go with it.”
Five things you should know about Ben Hermann:
1. He loves to sew and work with leather and other materials. He makes his own journals.
2. He’s planning to pull a disappearing act, but he’s gigging around Whitehorse until then.
3. He loves solitude (see number 2).
4. He will probably be wearing the same pair of pants for the next year (see 2 and 3).
5. I think he should either watch Into the Wild or stop watching Into the Wild (see 2, 3 and 4).