By Willow Grier
BeatRoute is proud to premiere the lyric video of the first single from Calgary hip-hop artist Transit’s upcoming album Occupy Tall Trees. “Red Light Therapist” features the pop stylings of Strathmore-based vocalist Kirstyn Johnson, and was inspired by a conversation Transit a.k.a. Daniel Bennett had with a stripper after a show during Canadian Music Week in Toronto. The woman described to Bennett how sometimes, when people come to see her at work, they just want to talk and don’t even ask her to take her clothes off. In the song, Bennett draws comparisons between receiving counsel from a psychiatrist and talking problems out with a stripper, suggesting that ultimately, it’s basically the same.
CALGARY — A conversation that revolved around heart-to-hearts with strippers, divorce, Trailer Park Boys, liquor and weed were not expected from Calgary’s clean-cut hip-hop darling Transit. Daniel Bennett has been making music as Transit since 2005. His first release Insufficient Funds followed five years later in September 2010. While the umbrella of Christian hip hop might have pigeonholed some, Transit found success both with Christian and mainstream audiences, winning awards and gaining respect as a wordsmith with audiences all over Canada and the world.
Now, moving into 2015, Transit is poised to make some of the biggest moves of his career, with his largest tour yet supporting Minneapolis legends Doomtree, and a new album dubbed Occupy Tall Trees, which he describes as his “best work to date.” This new material also happens to be the darkest and most honest. BeatRoute sat down with Transit to talk about the future of his music and the turbulent moments that changed everything.
While talking to Bennett, it becomes quickly evident that he is the kind of person who knows how to work hard for what he wants. After moving to Calgary in 2007, a transition he describes as “what made [him] a man,” Transit began to build a strong following in the city. His second album 22 (2011) included crowd favourite “Calgary” featuring Calgary singer-songwriter icon Jann Arden, with cameos in the video from many local celebrities. “I’m So Indie“ was an amusing satire on hipster culture. Aside from musical endeavours, Bennett established himself as a youth mentor working with the Boys and Girls Club, encouraging young people to make music. After marrying his girlfriend in 2013, it seemed like things were lining up pretty smoothly. However, within a year of the marriage, it became apparent things were going downhill. With Bennett and his wife both touring and working on musical projects, it became impossible for them to spend time together. The two decided to split in June of 2014, in order to prevent animosity.
“Things just didn’t work. I was at the lowest point I had ever been, because I had this new life and marriage, and to just lose it…I was in a really dark place,” says Bennett candidly. “I didn’t want to hide that from my fans, because the reason I even got into music was to be vulnerable and relatable. I had to really get introspective and decide what I wanted to do. Another happy go lucky Calgary anthem… or, [I could] actually talk about what I was going through.”
It was at that point that Bennett wrote “Tan-lines,” a track he describes as a “favourite” from his forthcoming release, and something that “took all summer to write.” The song describes the feelings that Bennett had when he took off his wedding ring for the first time and noticed a tan line. As he muses in the chorus, “There used to be a ring, but now there is a tan line, a constant reminder of my past crimes.”
The song proves to be the beginning of his lay-everything-bare approach on Occupy Tall Trees.
Featuring six new songs alongside tracks from previous albums that he feels best represents him as an artist, Occupy Tall Trees was engineered as an essential Transit collection. The standout track and the first single is called “Red Light Therapist,” and was inspired by a conversation Bennett had with a stripper after a show for Canadian Music Week in Toronto. She described to Bennett how sometimes, when people come to see her at work, they just want to talk, and don’t even ask her to take her clothes off. In the song, Bennett draws comparisons between receiving counsel from a psychiatrist, talking problems out with a stripper and how it’s all basically the same.
“When the hour is done, it’s pay up and get out.”
Although the song was written in feverish state of no sleep, with no beat, on the drive home from Toronto, it proves to be a mature and intriguing insight into human nature and the methods we use to cope. In a similar vein, Transit takes a more personal approach in his song “34:18” (a reference to the Psalm,) where he addresses questioning his faith and coming to terms with a new mentality.
“Even though I didn’t lose my faith in God, I wasn’t in the mood to fake anything or sugar-coat anything. I wanted to be so real with it,” reveals Bennett. He is specifically referring to the chorus, “I just wish that I believe, but all I really want is some liquor and some weed.”
So where does this leave Transit in regards to a large portion of his fan base being Christian? Well, Bennett states that for the first time in his career, he is not afraid to lose fans if it means being honest. Instead of gingerly avoiding what is really going on, he has decided that being vulnerable and being true to his art is what comes first, even if that means things taking a slightly darker turn. As C.S. Lewis said, “Holy Places are dark places. Holy wisdom is not thin and clear like water, but thick and dark like blood.”
It’s not all ominous and brooding for the future of Transit’s hip hop, however. The title of the album Occupy Tall Trees actually originated in a moment when Bennett decided it was time to leave darkness behind and appreciate the little things. A play on the Occupy Wall Street movement and inspired by a host of other injustices and quarrels Bennett found himself becoming obsessed with, Occupy Tall Trees refers to a movement for people to find their own peace. While not forgetting injustices in the world, it is important to unplug and relish the simple pleasures, like hiking, or barbecuing with friends. Another more light-hearted track on the forthcoming album is called “Lahey,” inspired by the cantankerous but dastardly loveable Trailer Park Supervisor from Canadian favourite Trailer Park Boys. The track also features Sims (a founding member of Doomtree) and is sure to be a future crowd favourite.
Overall, through chaos and calm, Transit proves to be a force to be reckoned with. With releases from Death Cab for Cutie, Lupe Fiasco, The Decemberists and more taking inspiration from discomfort and disillusionment, Transit will not be alone in the theme of turning weakness into strength. If this album is a testament to anything, it’s that sometimes a demolition is what we need to rebuild something better and stronger.
Catch Transit’s album release show for Occupy Tall Trees at Dickens on February 27th or on his American tour this March with Doomtree. Occupy Tall Trees is released officially on February 24 on iTunes, Spotify and http://www.transithiphop.com.AB, Alberta, Daniel Bennett, Dickens, Occupy Tall Trees, Red Light Therapist, Transit