Benjamin Dakota Rogers lives in a barn apartment on his family’s farm in small town Canada. It’s right nearby his brother’s blacksmith studio. His style of music and the era many of his lyrics take place in sound like they’d be right at home in a barn near a blacksmith. That’s part of why I was shocked to learn that Rogers chose most of the tracks for his album based on how well they did on TikTok.
“A lot of the songs on the record, as weird as this sounds, I whittled down on TikTok,” said Rogers. “I did this experiment last year where I posted every day on TikTok and it’s been really great for my career and really informative on writing songs. If that one went viral, people want to hear that one or people are connecting with that.”
That’s how he opted to include a cover of “Blackjack County Chain” on his album, a song that was once banned from the radio out of fear that it would encourage violence against police. It’s a well-chosen cover because it fits the theme and era the album strives for and shows just how closely Rogers’ originals resemble folk music of old.
By and large, TikTok got it right. Rogers’ voice sounds like a slightly unhinged Amos Lee and the stories populating his album are often violent, dark, and dramatic. It’s a real throwback to a time when mainstream folk music sounded a lot more like this.
“I think the first folk songs were written in more violent times, so people were writing what they knew,” Rogers said. “I think now people who write those things are influenced by those stories. I think violent stories are easily contained within a three minute song.”
“Charlie Boy” is one of the strongest examples. Charlie murders a groom on his wedding day after being lied to by his bride and despite those around him trying to calm his temper. It’s tragic to see what a little manipulation does to what seems like a relatively simple man. It’s also another example of how Rogers places only men in the crosshairs of his characters.
“The conflict in the stories, especially for the era that I’m writing in, works better with two guys fighting,” Rogers explained, noting that many of his stories take place between 1850 and 1920.
For all the old-time energy Paint Horse gives off, and for all that TikTok contributed to the selection of the music, it’s one song that breaks both those rules that comes out sounding the strongest. “Arlo” tells the story of a widowed truck driver doing his best to stay afloat after his farm went under. The ‘cancerous’ growth of suburban development is something Rogers can relate to.
“I spend a lot of night outside and I was noticing that you could see the glow from lights from subdivisions coming up over the trees on our property,” Rogers said of his farm.
Though TikTok crowds didn’t go wild for the sad tale, Rogers included it because of the way he felt playing it.
“It’s the only song that didn’t have TikTok success, but I think that people who aren’t on TikTok might connect with it,” Rogers said, explaining that songs like Arlo are easier to play live because he feels them in his gut.
I’d have to agree with his gut. Arlo may not fit perfectly with the rest of the album, but a top notch sad song that hopelessly rages against the way things have become is timeless in a way few other songs can be.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Benjamin Dakota Rogers and the songs we discussed, starting with Charlie Boy, which leads to an inevitable tragic ending. The interview begins afterward. 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 http://www.WUSB.fm and https://www.benjamindakotarogers.com for more.