Posted in On Air

Laura Benitez Talks Politics, Denial, and Breakups via California Centuries

Politics and denial can both be helpful for mankind if used correctly. People can vote for representatives who promise competent and efficient government. Even denial has its purposes. Laura Benitez, who performs with a backing band called the Heartache and who penned their album California Centuries, explained that we make good use of denial every day. 

“It’s best that you don’t think of your chances of dying in a car accident as you’re driving down the road,” said Benitez. “It’s fine to know those things, but it’s not helpful.”

Unfortunately, politics and denial are not so helpful when they mix. In the incisive “Bad Things,” Benitez channels her pre-pandemic angst into a warning that those of us lucky enough to live in America still need to vigilant. The last verse describes a crisis in which doctors and lawyers flee an increasingly terrifying strongman.

“A lot of people have talked about it as me talking about a refugee crisis,” Benitez explained. “I’m not not talking about that, but what I meant to say is that the refugees are us. In this country, we have this idea that we’re wealthy and first world and we can rest assured that truly terrible things don’t happen here. But I don’t think we can, and the past few years have truly taught that to me in stark terms”

The thought isn’t comfortable for many of us. The other kind of denial that shows up on California Centuries is all about that notion of discomfort. Conversations about topics like race, guns, and police brutality are difficult for people invested in a right-wing world view and downright terrifying for those trying to maintain an unjust status quo for their own ends. So the conversations are deemed inappropriate. Pundits say it’s too soon after a mass shooting to talk about guns; governors say that children are too impressionable to read about the experiences of minority groups. “Gaslight (We Shouldn’t Talk About It)” takes on that attitude by pointing out the reason for interrupting those conversations is to prevent any empathizing from taking place.

“They know when the conversations happen, we come together and we find solutions for the most part,” Benitez said. “If we have the conversation, we’re going to realize that this isn’t the problem. The problem is the people in power. I think we forget how much power we have in organizing, in getting together. That is our superpower.”

There are some non-political standouts as well. In “Plaid Shirt,” Benitez uses a left-behind article of clothing as a profound and amusing way to example a breakup. It’s one thing to be left for another person, Benitez explained. 

“I think we all understand wanting to be with someone else,” Benitez said. “If you’re in a long term relationship, it’s not like you don’t have attractions to other people. We’re all human. That’s all normal. But if they are just a different person, it’s way weirder for sure.” 

But for someone to change, for that person to no longer exist, that’s not as easy to grasp. For this man to have failed to take this plaid shirt when he moved out meant that maybe his tastes had changed, or he was only putting on a sort of costume for his ex. Or maybe, it’s just that his new woman prefers to dress him another way. 

“It’s also just a little bit of country pettiness to be like ‘Oh you’re going to dress all differently now,’” Benitez said. “You gotta have that.”

To close the interview, I asked Benitez to name her favorite California country song. The Bakersfield sound seemed almost certain to make an appearance, but Benitez quite literally had the city show up in the title of the song. As someone who lives in an area with congested roads, I’m partial to CALICO the Band’s “The 405,” which uses the infamous traffic of Los Angeles as a metaphor for that one giant problem standing between a couple and their happiness. It seems like they live a few miles apart, but the distance between proves to be a lot more impressive when all those brake lights come into view.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Laura Benitez and the songs we discussed, starting with Bad Things, which also kicked off California Centuries. Our California country songs conclude the playlist. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more. Photo by Emily Sevin



I host Country Pocket on WUSB Stony Brook 90.1 FM. Content from the show will appear on

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