KT & MARCO
JEWELRY DESIGNER & MUSICIAN
New York City to Woodstock, New York
KT and Marco Benevento both knew that eventually they would find their way out of New York City. Marco, a successful touring musician, realized he had finally made it to a level in his career where he didn’t need to live in a city to survive. Instead of coming back from months on the road to the chaos and confinements of NYC, he could come back to a quiet place, with lots of space, where he could spend time with his wife and two daughters, Ruby and Ila. It took the couple three years of house hunting, with their baby girls in tow, before they finally found their perfect place in the country. In three years, these two industrious people have transformed their homestead into a place that feels uniquely them. Their first order of business was to renovate a small cabin on their property and turn it into Marco’s music studio. This space would be the envy of any musician working out of a tiny practice space in the city. The studio is Marco’s constant source of inspiration and is packed to the gills with his incredible collection of vintage gear and keyboards. Sitting in his studio working, he sometimes loses all track of time, so he has had to force himself to leave for breaks to walk the goats, play with his kids or sit by the pond. After hurricane Irene, KT and Marco lumbered the fallen trees on their property and have used that wood to make bridges for their pond, aesthetic sound proofing for Marco’s studio and hardwood flooring for their living room. An old touring van that is no longer road worthy has been transformed into the hay storage van for their two Nigerian goats. Their next order of business is turning their basement into KT’s metalworking studio, as before becoming a full-time mom she was a jewelry maker in NYC and is itching to get back to designing. This resourceful couple has fully embraced the ability to spread out and be creative in the physical space and mind space that the country allows them. KT and Marco’s journey proves that touring musicians don’t need to be shackled to the city to survive, leaving the city behind might just be the best medicine. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Space. We felt like we needed more space and we had two kids so space in a Brooklyn apartment was challenging and also I collect keyboards and instruments so the living room was filling up with a lot of stuff. Also, time, we had been in Brooklyn for ten years and we needed a change in our environment. Realizing that my occupation as a touring musician was a real occupation and my life of touring really allowed me to live anywhere. We thought let’s get out of here and get some space and I can come home from tour to a house instead of an apartment and home to a smaller town. But I was at the point where I wasn’t using the city as a means to earn my living so, although it was a tour stop, you can’t play the same city a ton because you over saturate that market and people just know that you are everywhere. I was not using NY as a place to play all the time so I realized that we could really live anywhere.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Finding a house that we liked. We looked all over the Hudson Valley, rural Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. We basically searched a 100-mile radius from his parents in New Jersey and relative proximity to the city. For three years we looked at houses because we had kids so we could only cruise up to the country maybe once a month, so that is not a lot of houses to look at over the course of a year, or even two, or three. I remember doing the drives from the city with the crying babies and putting the babies in the realtor’s car. That was the hardest part, we knew that if we found something we liked it would be a no-brainer to commit to it. There are two kinds of people, people who move to the city and think and know they eventually want to get out of there and then there are the lifers, and we are on a magical island where there is everything. Our friends who bought our place in Brooklyn from us are the people that are staying for good, they love it, they don’t mind the lack of space or it didn’t affect them as much. We just couldn’t handle the amount of people everywhere, the footsteps above your head every morning and night and all the issues with living in the city in general. We always knew we were going to get out of there at some point.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Marco: I remember first moving here and thinking we don’t know anyone here, when are we going to have our posse together? I was honestly surprised at how quickly we formed our group of friends here, but then again with kids and schools and parents it was a lot easier. But still it was fast, I remember coming home from tour and KT would have dinner parties lined up every night with different people, and I was like whoa we have all these friends. And there are lots of musicians here.
KT: I was going to say the exact same thing. The most surprising thing is that a community just formed, more so than in Brooklyn out of the friends that I already had for a long time. In the country there are less people so you are more inclined to put yourself out there and make friends.
The other surprise is that owning a property with a lot of land, it is surprising the amount of time that can be consumed to achieve that utopic vision you had in your head. Hand in hand with that too are the expenses that go into that maintenance and upkeep. You think that moving to the country will be cheaper, and possibly it could be, but if you own a house and land, it costs a lot to keep animals and mill your own wood and do the things you envisioned as part of that journey. But it is where you live and you have to get it running well. But for instance, your gas bill in the city might be $50 and out here, in the winter, it can be like $500 for two months, it is crazy. Even electric you can have a big bill in the winter. The quality of life though is so much better, it evens out, having a big garden you eat out of and easily being able to park your car. I love having the space to have people come over, to have my equipment and for the kids to be able to run around.
What do you miss the most about the city?
KT: Walking to get things done. That is honestly the only thing. The post office, the grocery store, the dry cleaner, the park, all of it you could walk to. You do a lot more driving in the country.
MARCO: The variety and amount of people you see in a day. In the city there are just enormous amounts of people and it is cool to see that. I like the electricity and energy of the city. If I go to New Orleans, Los Angeles or New York, I get charged up because everything is always moving.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Marco: No way. I have seen the other side. No way. It is just too good here.
KT: If endless money and power corrupted us and we were billionaires and could afford a lot of space, a living space, a green space, a helicopter pad to get out of the city quickly, but that might be the only way I would consider returning.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
KT: How much it is like a dream. I wake and am amazed this is my life, totally amazed. I get to live here on this beautiful land, in this great community and wonderful house with my husband, Marco, and our two amazing kids and I get to be their mom and that is my main job at the moment. So it is pretty much a dream life.
Marco: Yeah, I second that.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Yes. Do it! It is not as scary as people make it out to be. It is funny that people toy with it and say they are going to get out of the city and then they change their mind. If you are thinking about it, you should check it out. I remember talking to some of my musician friends who moved when I was still living in the city and I told them that I was considering moving and they were like “Yeah, you gotta do it!” “It’s the best!” “I remember being in your shoes and thinking about it and it was so worth it!” so that was really reassuring that fellow musician friends who were used to doing the city thing were totally able to make the transition to the country and were saying it was awesome.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Just food, music and people, and all things combined.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Marco: Having this studio space and being in this space is incredible, surrounded by all these keyboards and instruments that I have collected over the years, being able to create at any hour of the night. I get inspired just by being in this room: easily, quickly and frequently. But the deeper inspirations are being around my kids and seeing the way they respond to things I say and music that I play for them and being blow away by their response or their thought process. All the nature, the animals, going on a walk with the goats, because I am here all the time, working on music because I can and I love doing it, but I need the distractions and walks and hanging with my family to recharge. If KT and the girls weren’t here, it would be dangerous; I would just be in here all the time and never stop working. You need that hour break where you just go for a walk in the woods, when you have a break here in the country from working it is the most refreshing and rewarding break because you are immediately surrounded by huge trees and the animals and the air, it is great. That one-hour completing resets me. The sounds here are amazing too. The owls, the coyotes, I have even set up a mic outside to record them. A pack of coyotes, roosters. I also find a lot of inspiration with my friends music, Super Human Happiness, Chris Maxwell.
KT: Just life really, life is really inspiring. Doing the dishes, just looking out the window, is a great time. The sink has a wonderful view of the pond, the trees, and the sky, as opposed to our cinderblock courtyard in New York. You spend a lot of time at your sink, in your life, way more than you would ever imagine. There are a lot of great things I have seen outside that window.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
Marco: I think I said earlier that I was pretty productive in Brooklyn but just having this designated space outside of the house has allowed me to work a lot later and it all adds up to a very productive year. Not that I felt particularly stifled musically in Brooklyn, I feel more juiced up here.
KT: The work that I did in Brooklyn was so different. In NYC I made jewelry and waited tables but now I am a full time mom. Ever since I moved here he says that I don’t yell at him every day. My kids are also older so my mothering has changed as the kids get older. Here it is better because I like to make stuff out of metal and I can finally set up saws. That question would really apply to my mothering but since that is so dynamic it is hard to say if the country has changed my style at all. I mean, I sleep better now. It is less stressful. I have animals now, and bees, it is simpler now even though it is more work. We are making syrup from our trees, milling our wood, building bridges for our pond, just doing as much as we can do, we do. We have the ability and space to test things out and make stuff. Having tools and the space. Right now we are planning and sanding wood for our living room and it is all from trees that fell in the hurricane Irene. We have taken on way more, we are not hiring people to do things, and we are figuring it out ourselves.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
A bit of a different life in the city with the kids being younger. We would drive the kids to school. When we had babies, we just stayed home all the time.
Here, we still take the kids to school but then we have the whole day here free and it doesn’t take as long to go to the market and the post office for you have more time to a lot of other things. I don’t feel so crammed and rushed. It takes a long time to go anywhere and do anything and here it is really nice that you have time to go hiking, walking, taking care of the animals, the children, he takes care of music and I take care of family stuff. A big part of our family time is listening to records. We do that as a family. They pick records and we play them and they will want to listen to a record when they take a bath so we will take the player in there. Our kids have their own record player too, so that is a part of our routine. After school we will hang out and I will play music with them and sing songs and then we will have dinner and play some dinner games. We just have more time for being a family and more space-time wise. If KT wanted to go outside for a minute, I can be more productive here.
In the city I couldn’t even think about working out of our apartment after 8pm because the kids were sleeping but here I can just play drums at 2am. That was a big part about Brooklyn, getting a practice space, you would have to share them with other musicians and if you did get one yourself it would cost as much as an apartment, it was crazy. And then your cool stuff isn’t at your house, which was a big problem. It was a big problem for any musician in NYC.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Marco: Yes, I am in heaven over here. I have this studio space and also our awesome house and then I am three miles from Levon Helm's barn and there is a community of musicians here that are amazing. When they are not on tour and I'm home from tour we will play together and play community benefits, and you are like “wow, I am playing with John Medeski and Donald Fagan." People really let their guard down and are just excited that you live in the same community and play music.
KT: I just really love my bed. There are two big skylights above our bed so we can see stars and also sometimes the moonlight shines down and you are laying in the square of moonlight to fall asleep and that is so wonderful and inspiring and great and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
KT: It is not boring. Woodstock is a town that has a theatre, art galleries and a population of city people that come on the weekends. There are always lots of cultural things to do here.
Marco: It is not clueless or dumb or backwoods. There are lots of people living here doing interesting things. Also, you can meet friends quickly. The silence and quiet isn’t scary, it is really nice and realaxing. In New York you go to the bar, that is what you do, most people from 21-50 go to a bar. When you live in the country you don’t go to a bar, you have friends over and hang out. I like having a simple life, it is fun and fulfilling.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
KT: To create something like Marco’s studio for my jewelry work. I am totally 100% satisfied with being a mom, but I need some studio space of my own where all my stuff is just laid out.
Marco: I am going to make another record; creatively that is what I will be doing. A lot of gigs and a lot of touring and maybe get some peacocks.