SEATTLE — It had been nearly six years since Macklemore welcomed an album of new music into the world. Time flies when you’re raising babies through a pandemic, launching a golfwear brand, becoming part owner of two local sports franchises, and fundraising for your music-focused youth mentorship program, The Residency.
But back in March, the hometown indie-rapper-turned-crossover-pop-star unleashed his third solo album, “BEN,” feting the characteristically rangy new music with a surprise Neumos show and record signing at Easy Street Records. Last month, Mack announced his first-ever show at Climate Pledge Arena, quickly adding a second (Dec. 21-22), nearly six years to the date since he last rocked the old KeyArena.
The new album features a number of Macklemore trademarks: big emotional climaxes with polished production and pop-savvy hooks, alongside classic head-nodders and lose-yourself dance cuts — all with the Seattle rap star’s time-sharpened lyricism.
We recently pulled the real-life Ben Haggerty away from his dad duties long enough to discuss shoving industry distractions to the side, his close Seattle collaborators and recording on Orcas Island.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How are you feeling about your first big show at Climate Pledge?
I feel like I’m still a kid living out my dreams. It’s amazing. The response for the presales have been absolutely astonishing to me. It’s just a confirmation of the love that this city has, and the way that people show up and support, whether it’s the teams that play at Climate Pledge, the Kraken, the Sounders, the Seahawks, the Mariners. There’s a real love, I think, in this city right now, and a willingness to support what’s coming out of our region, which is magic. I’m just blessed to be a part of that.
You put out that really heartfelt video when you announced the (first Climate Pledge Arena) show. Is there anything about the show(s), this album or just this period in your life that got you reflecting on your journey and your relationship with your hometown?
Yeah. I think I’ve been pushed into a transformation right now. It’s easy in an album cycle to get caught up in the rat race of, OK, we’ve gone through this pandemic, now everyone’s pulse is coming from TikTok, it’s the Wild West of the music industry with streaming and playlisting — how do we navigate in this space? And when the album came out, I just had this moment of peace. And it really wasn’t until I got over to Europe and got in front of the fans that I was reminded of why I do this. This has always been about a spiritual connection. This has always been bigger than myself, and as long as I’m a conduit, I’m gonna keep making it — not for the sake of plays, not for the sake of TikTok views. But for the sake of the therapeutic value for myself and for those that connect with the music. It’s going to reach who it’s supposed to reach. The rest is out of my control.
Throughout the album, especially on a song like “God’s Will,” it seems like you have a clear-eyed perspective of what you want out of music, your career and life in general. Is that a product of getting older, having more life experience or what got you there?
It’s a constant struggle, right? This isn’t a linear path. The making of “BEN” was really a return to the origin, getting back to music for the music’s sake. The reflection on, “What do I value”; we would be in the studio and there’d be moments like, “OK, this sounds like a TikTok song, this song could pop! We could get this popping rapper at the moment and this thing could go!” And it’s like, that’s never been my formula. That’s somebody else’s formula. No shade to their story or what works for them, but even in my greatest success, without the foundation, without that grounding, I can’t enjoy it. I don’t find fulfillment in it. What I do find fulfillment in is being in a room with people that I love. I enjoy the song-making process. My job is to quiet the mind, to open the heart and let the messages seep through me. We have a finite amount of time — what do you want to leave this Earth with?
You recorded this over five-day trips to the San Juan Islands.
Can you tell me about those sessions, the environment and how that shaped your head space and the end result?
We recorded it up on Orcas Island. It was probably four to five people at a time. There was something about getting outside of my basement and getting into nature. It’s tough for me to multitask on the dad front and also be creative downstairs with little footsteps above me coming in. I’d go play nine holes of golf in the morning, I’d listen to podcasts on the way that would influence my writing. I’d come back, eat a meal and we’d be in the studio for 12 hours — sometimes more and sometimes less — but really just using that internal compass to dictate what’s next. It’s so easy to get caught up in a place of fear when making an album or compare it to what’s on the radio, or what’s popping on social media, and again, it was, “Dude, you have to do this for the process. This is actually where the beauty is.”
(Producer) Budo you go (way) back with. Tyler Dopps you’ve been working with a lot. What is it you prefer about working with this tight-knit crew compared to cobbling together an album from a bunch of different producers from wherever?
There’s definitely a brotherhood there. Budo and I have been making music for over 20 years. Xperience has always been a part of my album-making process, particularly with melodies and hook-writing. Tyler Dopps as well, and we brought in Jordan Santana, who helped engineer, and he became a brother in this process. I think that there’s something about people really knowing you and really seeing you. And we did the L.A. thing. We went down and tried some songwriting with different bigger names and tried to get features. It just doesn’t work for me. There’s a level of truth and honesty that we have developed in making records. I have my fingerprints on most of the production on the album. They have their fingerprints on the delivery, or what words end up getting used, or what should be the hook or a pre-chorus or whatever. That’s a true collaboration. These aren’t just beats. These are sketches that we turn into paintings that we want to hang on the wall forever.
Charlieonnafriday, you’ve been really supportive of (him) and he’s done a few dates with you. How did he get on your radar and what was it that struck you about him?
I heard Charlie through Tyler Dopps and was immediately like, “Oh, this kid’s about to go.” He’s become a little brother. We just went out on our European run with him. I think it’s really important to give the next generation of folks from Seattle a stage and a platform to share their art. That’s what’s dope to me. Extremely talented, him and Vic (Daggs II), who are both on the album. Vic, I believe, was first or second year Residency alumni and someone that I’ve watched grow into someone that I just wanna bump in the car. And I know that when I want to bump it in the car, not because it’s a Residency alumni but just because the song slaps, that they have something.
That’s a relationship that’s very dear. Like, I need to make sure that I’m doing what I can with the bandwidth that I have to help him find himself, just like my OGs did for me and gave me a platform and guided me in the right direction. We all need that. I think that there’s this idea of mentorship as being someone that’s like above you, and that’s not the case at all. Vic and Charlie can do things that I’ll never be able to do. But there is this value of being able to share that space and be reminded of what it was like to be 20 or 25 years old and figuring out yourself.
Bumbershoot is coming back this year with new organizers, 50th year. Do you have any particularly fond memories either playing or being there as a fan?
We used to sneak into Bumbershoot every year. My mom knew we would sneak in, so she would buy me the four-day passes and I would sell the passes and then go sneak in (laughs). It was a weekend of the summer that I’d look forward to all year long. It was really the place that I first started watching other people perform — people like Vitamin D, Wordsayer, Samson (S), Tribal Music, Erika (White) from Jasiri (Media Group). These are local heroes to me that I studied and eventually became cool with. That was the previous generation that I got to look up to and really observe game. And, of course, you have the whales where all the teenagers would congregate, the drum circles, the hallucinogenics, the malt liquor, the fights, the breakthroughs, the struggle, the cops. It was a season of pure debauchery and beauty coinciding into one weekend of Seattle that I just loved.
You shot part of the “No Bad Days” video at Climate Pledge Arena. Of all the perks that come with being part owner of the Kraken, where do Zamboni privileges rank?
The Kraken have been amazing. Anything that we’ve wanted to do, they’ve accommodated. And it’s just a testament to, for me to be a part owner, it wasn’t just a deal for optics. It was a deal to actually get involved and to participate with a family and an organization that’s obviously grown into a playoff team. The eyes of the nation are on us now, we’re on everyone’s radar. To watch that ascension and to be a part of it is beautiful.