BLUEFIELD, Va. — A Bluefield College student’s dream got one step closer to reality on March 1 when he released his first studio album, “Looking for a Fire.”
Benjamin Mays is a junior at Bluefield College, majoring in history. According to a press release, Mays attended Virginia Western Community College until he transferred to Bluefield College in the fall of 2018.
Since switching colleges, Mays said in a press release that admissions counselor Will Workman has taught him a lot and helped him realize his passion for music. “We jammed together one day, and that lit more of a fire underneath me,” Mays said. “He is a really talented musician and made me realize how good it is to share the love of music.”
Mays has had a passion for music since he was a child. He started playing trumpet and violin when he was in the sixth grade. By the time he was in ninth grade, he was writing music and playing guitar. He now plays seven instruments including trumpet, violin, guitar, harmonica and banjo.
The road to releasing his first studio album began when Mays won the Lyrics on the Lake (LOTL) Songwriting Festival in Roanoke, his hometown. The songwriting festival began in 2012 as a fundraising event and has become the largest songwriter’s festival on the east coast.
“I won everything,” Mays said in a press release. “WDBJ7 did a news story about it and that got me some exposure. Some guy approached me and was like, ‘Listen, I really like what you’re doing so do you have anything that we could present to record labels so we can get a foot in the door?’ I told him I did not have anything professional and he offered to pay for it, so he has paid for pretty much anything.”
The man who approached Mays was James Alexander, a talent scout from Nashville, Tenn. The two ended up talking for a couple of hours that evening and that is how “Looking for a Fire” was born.
“This is a big deal that someone was willing to put down over a thousand dollars for me to be able to do this, for someone to believe in you like that,” Mays said. “You just need that one person to pay attention to you.”
Mays rehearsed for his album with his band for two weeks and “cut” the record in the studio in just one day. Featured musicians on Mays’ album are Ryan Hunt on the piano, Peyton Gentry on the drums and Dylan Walsh on the bass. The songs on the record vary from music Mays has been writing for years, to brand new songs.
“It is called looking for a fire,” Mays said. “The second song on the album is called ‘Alone on a Mountaintop.’ It is a metaphor and it is literal because in the old days people were hired to look out at the mountains to make sure the valleys were not on fire. There is the literal meaning but it also a metaphor: you are searching for that thing in your life that makes you want to search for bigger and better things. It is a lonely feeling of searching.”
Mays said his musical influences include Bob Dylan, The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers. He calls his sound “Americana Country.”
“I feel like it is an avenue that you would not be able to tell people or articulate without putting into music,” Mays said. “There are emotions that come up in music that don’t when you are talking to people.”
Mays said while he does not want to be labeled as a “Christian Rock Artist” his music does contain biblical undertones.
“I think spirituality is something that everyone can connect with and even if you do not believe in god you can connect with the concept,” Mays said. “I think everyone can identify with wrestling with something bigger than us.”
Mays plans to move to Nashville when he graduates from college in 2020. He has had some local success so far. He said he is not looking to be the biggest pop star but hopes to make a living through his music. Mays said he just wants people to hear his music. He added that performing live is one of his favorite parts of his chosen career path.
“I would say that is the bread and butter. I love writing music and thinking to myself, this is a good song, and playing to a live audience and sometimes it will connect with them,” Mays said. “It just all comes together and hits every mark it needs.”
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