Hard-living, hard-times, lost years: the “Glory” of the Lost Dog Street Band

January 25, 2022
Tim Newby

Lost Dog Street Band - photo: Justin Dye

“They turned me away because I was unclean / So I kicked down the doors of the Grand Ole Opry,” sings Benjamin Tod on “Until I Recoup (Glory I),” the opening track on the Lost Dog Street Band’s latest album ”Glory.”  Tod spits the line with venom, born from years of hard-living and hard-times. The song, while defiant and a big middle finger to the status quo, is also a statement of purpose, Tod’s declaration that no matter what he and the Lost Dog Street Band will be heard and accepted, albeit on their own terms and by their own rules. 

The declaration and song speaks of the unique history of the band that found Tod and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Ashley Mae, living on the street, crisscrossing the country as they hopped trains. The couple busked for money and meals, existing on less than $300 a month. 

Tod says those years on the road helped create the band’s sound and identity, explaining, “It influences everything. My time growing up in desolate isolation wandering this country shaped my mind and identity. 

Photo: Justin Dye

”I have experienced a type of desperation that I believe is necessary to honestly create this type of music and hold this type of identity,” he continues. ”I do not take it lightly. I lived what other people making money pretend to have lived.”

Tod and Mae christened themselves the Lost Dog Street Band and released their first album, ”Sick Pup,” in 2011. The band’s line-up was centered around the tight musical bond of Tod’s guitar and Mae’s fiddle and featured a rotating cast of musicians before solidifying as a trio with the addition of Jeff Loops in 2019. 

The band began to release albums and Tod discovered who he was as musician, saying he was guided by outlaws like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle – songwriters who craft compelling, honest, meditations on life. Clark’s influence and inspiration proved particularly important to Tod.

“Guy Clark is the mark I aim for in every way, really,” Tod explains. ”The way he conducted himself in business, the way he saw the world, the way he crafted songs. The yin and yang of songwriting to me is genius and grit. He used both with perfection. He is the standard and my personal cardinal north.” 

Over the ensuing years the band has released four more albums that were powered by Tod’s own genius and grit. The band’s latest album, ”Glory,” is extremely honest and vulnerable, and speaks truth with its tales of addiction and recovery while an underlying theme of redemption runs throughout it. Tod’s blunt and frank lyrics regarding his years of addiction and struggle to find sobriety are what he calls, “a logical glimpse of climbing out of hell.” 

Musically the sparse arrangements of simple, acoustic guitar picking and haunting fiddle lines create a desperate atmosphere of long nights and lonely days, colored with a subtle, hopeful outlook. This is never more true than on “Fighting Like Hell to be Free,” on which Tod sings of addiction struggles, “I’ve spent my last dime on a high for a moment of relief / But one thing is for certain I have never known a strength inside of me / More bound and determined than to kill my every will of livin’ clean,” before adding an optimistic plea, “I’m weary and wasted I’m guilty of chasin’ some lie that will satisfy grief / But tomorrow at dawn I’m fightin’ like hell to be free.”

Tod says he has no specific process for writing and finds inspiration everyday in everything around him, sometimes from the simple act of just humming a melody. When inspiration strikes he says he “rushes for a pen and paper to write the line and graph the chord progression and time signature.”

Photo: Cass Blair

Despite finding inspiration everywhere, Tod is still most inspired by his time living on the street at the edge of desperation with tomorrow never a certainty, an experience many other songwriters cannot compare to. He explains, “So much of what is produced nowadays is not ‘Art’ in any real sense. Real art is created by people devoted to being ‘living art.’ I am not going to pretend that I am living art anymore but I was for many years, sunup to sun down.  I really think the world is starved for it.” 

Tod reminisces about those lost, troubled years he spent living on the streets on “Until I Recoup (Glory I)” when he sings, “They say it ain’t easy I know that’s the truth / That hard livin’ crown looks foolish on you / No, I ain’t leavin’ until I recoup / The glory I pissed away in my youth.” As he addresses those troubled times on the new album, Tod hopes the heart and honesty of ”Glory” is seen for the true art it is and inspires other independent artists to cut their own trail in the music world.

”Glory,” like the band’s other albums, was born from a batch of songs Tod had finished over a long stretch of time that evolved out of his loose writing style, and those songs developed a cohesion and theme. “Some of the songs on this record were written six years ago, and others were written a week before recording,” explains Tod. “I have never sat down and said, ‘I am going to write a group of songs for X purpose.’ I write songs individually and they each have a different path and identity.”

Like his approach to writing, Tod’s approach to recording is similarly stripped down to its most basic core. He eschews what he calls “fancy recording studios,” preferring a more intimate setting, recording ”Glory” at Black Matter Mastering with long-time friend Dan Emery with everyone involved crowded in one small room, creating a highly personal environment for the band to record their highly personal songs.

Photo: Melissa Payne

Despite the stripped down environment, ”Glory” is a beautifully crafted album, with every pull of the fiddle bow, quiver in Tod’s voice, or gentle strum on his guitar having its perfectly defined place to live.  “It is the cleanest Lost Dog record we’ve ever created,” says Tod.  “We put much more time in production and mixing with this album. Conceptually it is a maverick like all the albums I make, but what stands out to me is just the maturity. I can feel the age of my mind through this album.”

Nowhere is this maturity shown more true then on the barren beauty of “Jalisco Bloom,” and the contemplative “End With You.” “End With You” in particular reflects the growth and maturity of Tod and the band with his gentle rumination on he and Mae’s relationship. It is a relationship that has been there since the beginning and the relationship that still powers the band and their music to this day. 

“‘End With You’ just turned out magical,” says Tod. “We really hit the nail on the head with that track.  Ashley’s vocal parts are perfect. The song from the first strike just makes me so proud of everyone who put their hearts into this album. It is a really special thing to have people you know and love all contribute to something so personal.

”It’s even more special when they are competent and their contributions make what you’ve created exponentially better,” Tod exclaims. ”I guess most people don’t work with people they are deeply connected to within the music industry. I wouldn’t do it without them.”

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