Halifax, Canada-based folk musician Ben Caplan is stopping in Boston on his first American tour to play a show at T.T. the Bear’s Place on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Caplan’s raspy vocals dominate but complement the smooth instrumentals of his backing band, The Casual Smokers. With Caplan on guitar and piano alternatively, and his rotating cast of bandmates playing everything from upright bass to horns, drums and eastern-European-inspired strings, his sound is full and rugged.
“The US has sort of long intimidated me,” Caplan said. “It is a big country, and there is so much going on musically, so I figured that I would go to Europe first, and I ended up building a really loyal fan base there. Now, I figured that it was time to get over my fear and see what the US is all about, and I am really excited about it.”
Like many musicians, Caplan, now 28, started out in a garage rock band in high school. Folk music was always a part of his life, however, from the time he got his first record player and acoustic guitar when he was 13 years old.
“I remember getting my first Bob Dylan LP, as cliché as that is, and having my mind totally blown,” Caplan said. “[Folk music] was always a big part of my identity. In fact, at the same time as my high school garage band, I had a folk duo.”
Later, he began writing songs. In 2011, he put out his first album, “In The Time Of Great Remembering.” As he put it, Caplan has “been pretending to be a professional musician ever since.”
As a musician, Caplan focuses mainly on playing live shows, both with his band and solo. Most of his tours have been in Europe, particularly the Netherlands, but also Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland and the U.K.
He has been on the road almost constantly since the release of his first album, because he sees it as his best chance to make it as a musician in this day and age.
“Recording is kind of terrifying for me, and I love it and I am learning so much by doing it, but getting up on stage feels intuitive and exciting and getting into the studio is like entering into someone else’s realm,” Caplan said. “They are both an integral part of what I do, but I just love getting up on stage, and even though it is hard to be on tour for so much of the year, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While he frequently does solo tours, when Caplan writes songs he always thinks about how they will sound with the whole band.
“Usually, with most of my songs, the words and music end up coming at around the same time and then they end up informing each other,” he said of his songwriting process. “As for my recording process, [it] is also relatively hard to nail down because I am still a relatively new artist. I wouldn’t say I have like a dialed-in technique that I like to use.”
However, Caplan’s newest record, “Birds with Broken Wings,” which has yet to be released, has served as a lesson in working in the studio. He has been working with several arrangers, including Fred Wesley, who did arrangements for James Brown, and over twenty musicians, including string and horn players and Moldovan and Roma folk musicians.
The whole production has involved a lot more studio time than his first record did.
“We aren’t going for a radio sound, that is for sure,” Caplan said. “But the first album … was almost like a live-off-the-floor kind of approach, and with the second album, we definitely played with the space of what [an album] can be as a studio project. We were not so worried about what the live arrangement was going to be.”
Caplan’s main focus for the next few months is going to be getting “Birds with Broken Wings” released and touring to promote it, but his ever-creative mind is already dreaming of the next project.
“I am already starting to write some new songs for album No. 3,” Caplan said. “It is probably a little too early to tell what the shape, vibe and aesthetic of the third album will be, but it will unfold as we go, I am sure.”