Ask Benji Hughes about one of his favorite performances in Wilmington, and likely the letters “UFO” will escape his witty tongue. Three or so years ago, Hughes and his band—Peter Gray, Stacey Leazer and David Kim—were playing Carolina Beach’s Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar when a bright green light illuminated the night sky. It looked like a saucer of mythic proportions. Everyone at the show oohed and ahhed as the band stopped mid-song to ogle the mystery.
Later that night, upon my return home, a Google search revealed it was a NASA launch out of Virginia. Regardless, the magic of the experience, of the night, sticks with anyone who was there—including Hughes himself, who looks forward to Wilmington summer tours annually. “I (and a pier full of people at the Tiki Bar) saw a bona fide U.F.O.!” he still exclaims. “Maybe we are not alone when it comes to a passion for summer drinks or peel-and-eat shrimp.”
Hailed for his 2008 release “A Love Extreme” (New West Records), Benji Hughes is no stranger to the Port City. His shows always come with a bombast of summer lovin’: Hughes to the ladies and music-lovers for his soulful balladry. It’s revealed through a ‘70s crooner tonality and backed by a kaleidoscopic trail of spunky rock, mired in audacious ambient sounds and downright infallible hooks from an amazing band.
Hughes has been perpetually working on new albums since “A Love Extreme” was released. He’s penned music for Hollywood, including shows like “How I Met Your Mother” and the movie “Walk Hard.” Plus, he’s churned out radio and TV jingles (Captain Morgan, Acura, GE, Verizon), and was featured on Jeff Bridges’ 2011 country album. Just in the spring, he released a four-track EP, “Appetizer,” an appropriate name for the three albums he is slated to release in 2014.
“I love appetizers—especially potato skins and cheese sticks,” the lead man quips. “I have been working on several records for years. I will be making some of those available extremely soon.”
We interviewed Hughes to preface the encore birthday party he’s playing in Wilmington this week with The Love Language.
encore (e): Tell me what’s new with Benji Hughes.
Benji Hughes (BH): I’ve been working out a lot—just in time for summer. I am not on steroids. Right now.
e: You’re really a funny storyteller. Where do you think this comes from?
BJ: Thank you, thank you very much! Somebody I’m related to got on Ancestry.net and says I’m related to Morrisey. It’s really laughable.
e: What can people expect from your Wilmington show? New shenanigans and music—more music than “Appetizer,” perhaps?
BJ: We are playing a Carolina Beach show on the pier at Ocean Bar and Tiki Grill on Thursday the 17th. Then two downtown shows (a Bourgie Nights show on the 18th and the encore party on the 19th). Each show will be different. They always are. We don’t have a set show we do—we vibe it.
e: You’ve toured a bit recently; what’s it been like on the road?
BJ: Audiences have always been cool. I hope that never changes. We always have a good time because we are cool.
e: Can we expect any collabs between you and The Love Language on Saturday?
BJ: I’m looking forward to hanging out with The Love Language again. Last time was a good time! Who knows what is to be?
e: So at the opening of your concerts, you always show the video of the little baton twirler from the ‘80s. Tell me who is she? Where is she today? Know anything about her?
BJ: I think that was Nicole Kidman. She’s doing just fine, I believe. She’s married to Keith Urban, and I’m sure some of his love songs are about her.
e: Looks like you signed on for Utopiafest in Texas in September; will you be doing yoga and disc golf? You’re not turning yuppy on us, are you?
BJ: Only thing I’m turning is … on.