Local musician Ben Runyan grows up, conquering heartbreak and Philly
Ben Runyan knows three things for sure: his taste in music, his taste in clothes and his taste in brunch. Though he may look like a Williamsburg hipster, this image shrouds a truly pragmatic man aware of both his artistic sense and place within the system. Half of Philadelphia–based electro–pop duo City Rain, Runyan has lived and grown up in the city, cultivating the connections and skills needed to transform himself into a player in the Philly music scene.
Having grown up in and around Philly, Runyan has spent most of his days here, along with some tours between D.C. and NYC. He and band–mate Jarrett Zerrer met as acquaintances in middle school, became friends in high school and finally band–mates during their time at Temple. Founded soon after, City Rain grew out of the most classic of humble beginnings — heartbreak. After experiencing a breakup punctuated by moments of spiritual clarity, longing and LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great,” Runyan joined up with Zerrer (who was experiencing a similar situation at the time) and they produced City Rain’s first LP, “Running Man,” before taking the Philly indie scene by storm with an EP, “I’m Gone.”
Runyan worships 80s New Wave, and it shows in his music, which jumps in influence and sound anywhere from the Talking Heads to Underworld, yet features a similar jauntiness to Passion Pit’s latest, most buoyant melodies. Runyan attributes part of this taste to the car radio in the classic video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” itself an ode to the eternally unremembered 80s. Though Runyan doesn’t play instruments himself, he handles the synth and computer work, while Zerrer’s crisp guitar adds an extra layer of what Runyan calls a “Western twinge,” differentiating them from, well, all of the above, mixing skillful auto–tuning with traditional pop and electronics seamlessly.
Even with its distinct sound, City Rain has managed to evolve over the years, as has Runyan himself. From his musical roots grounded in heartbreak and turn–of–adulthood mysticism, Runyan and his music have grown. When City Rain was founded, he worked as a professional mover, a waiter and a bartender, having just graduated from Temple with a degree in Communications. While Runyan claims that being a “poor as fuck” starving artist was “kind of fun,” he admits that it’s easy to burn out on that lifestyle. So, Runyan managed to turn it around, netting himself a job at Apple that provides both cash and experience for his music. As such, City Rain’s latest EP, “Montage,” spotlights Runyan’s maturity and shifting values — rather than being mired in the post–breakup blues of “I’m Gone,” “Montage” takes greater joy in life, growing up audibly and visually, as Runyan intentionally cleans up his image for the various photo shoots necessary for the album’s publicity.
Surprisingly, Runyan’s jaded cynicism seems to have faded somewhat, leaving behind a cheerful, friendly man with his finger on the pulse of the local music community. Having played the game for so long, Runyan feels tired of the live–fast, die–young touring of yesteryear; the stress of loading, unloading and booking gigs has started to get to him. He yearns for the chance to start producing for other musicians, using his ever more–refined skills and even some techniques learned while at Apple. Runyan understands his own growth and skill set perfectly, and sincerely believes that “if it’s in you, it’ll find a way out,” though at the same time understands that “you can’t be out there pretending to care, you have to actually go out and get it.” Though Runyan may be aware of his advice’s cliché nature, he says it seriously, and believes it reigns true. Considering City Rain’s speedy rise in local prominence and quick cycle through self–image, it’s tempting to believe him.
Check out their Bandcamp page here.