City Rain’s Ben Runyan ‘not Superman’

City Rain’s Ben Runyan discusses a new record and being yourself.

City Rain released its newest album “Songs for a High School Dance” last year. The band raised $4,000 for it from Kickstarter. | COURTESY Ben Runyan
City Rain released its newest album “Songs for a High School Dance” last year. The band raised $4,000 for it from Kickstarter. | COURTESY Ben Runyan

Much ado is being made about the recent announcement that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are shaking the dust off the Beatles’ catalogue and reuniting at the 56th iteration of the Grammys. 

Long touted as the premier award show in the music industry, recipients of the honor include audio luminaries ranging from Miles Davis to Jay-Z to Trent Reznor. City Rain’s Ben Runyan said he believes it’s only a matter of time before he joins them.

“In the next two years, I want to win a Grammy,” Runyan said. “I think I can do it.”

The last time we spoke, Runyan had just wrapped up shooting the music video for his single “Join the Human Race.” Since then, his brain child, City Rain, has been nominated for a tri-state indie music award, won a contest to get the music video for his signature track “The Optimist” to go into rotation on MTVU and raised $4,000 to fund a new record entitled “Songs for a High School Dance” via Kickstarter.

During our previous conversation, Runyan, a former Temple student, mentioned that he wanted to name his upcoming full-length “Songs for a High School Dance.” This time around, the name is set in stone and scheduled for release in March.

“Thematically, it’s definitely referencing the feelings of when you leave high school,” Runyan said. “You’re 17 or 18 and you kind of have a sense of this world wide open and that anything’s possible. And the point is, after college especially, the optimist thing really takes a nosedive. And you realize you’ve entered an extremely cruel, harsh world, and that death doesn’t choose favorites and success doesn’t choose favorites and everyone’s on an equal playing field. And to that point, the album title is trying to reclaim a bit of that youthful fervor.”

Sonically, it’s at least partially influenced by one particular Jon Heder film.

“In ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ in the high school dance scene they’re playing Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young,’ and I’m a huge Alphaville fan and a huge Mario Gold fan, and that was just kind of like that cheesy epic ‘80s anthem,” Runyan said. “I wanted to have something along those lines that would fit in perfectly with a high school dance.”

Although City Rain has been around in various incarnations since 2010, it was last year when it started truly gaining steam.

A shimmering, reverb-laden endorsement of the “it’ll get better” mentality, “The Optimist,” as well as its accompanying music video, served as a jumping off point for the group. Runyan said he’s well aware of the fact that there’s a chance the song could be misinterpreted. However, under the veneer of unbridled optimism is a song that’s more about perseverance than blind, relentless giddiness.

“I think a lot of people initially scoffed at the whole optimism thing because they think it’s some sort of wool over the eyes, everything is great, puppies and kittens kind of thing,” Runyan said. “In reality, in 2011 when the s— really hit the fan, I checked myself into a hospital, I was pulling myself off of all the [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors], and all the psychoactive drugs I was on, and I lost my s—. I needed help.”

Post-medication, Runyan said he finds himself very capable. However, maintaining mental wellness is an active endeavor.

“I’ve been doing all of this without the help of anything,” Runyan said. “And that’s extremely hard. Some days I would love to be on medication.”

The fall and subsequent rise of Runyan has been a motif that has worked its way into much of the City Rain catalogue. “Songs for a High School Dance” is a record that will also explore this theme. But in a broader sense, the record aims to explore both ends of the spectrum of manic human emotion.

Stating that the first five tracks will be more “poppy,” Runyan said the latter half of the record is shaping up to be substantially darker and more experimental.

“I think that I’ve been trying to make music that’s just poppy enough to get noticed but not so poppy that it’s sacrificing my dignity,” Runyan said. “But as we get more well-known, and hopefully as things grow, I’d like to settle back into things that I really enjoy doing.”

“Songs for a High School Dance“ will be the first City Rain full-length recorded with bandmate Scott Cumpstone. And with the record, Runyan said he hopes to tread a bit of new musical ground.

With “Songs for a High School Dance,” Runyan said he believes he has created a record that will resonate with individuals who have had similar bouts of mental illness.

“I just realized as I got older, and I think that’s a part of getting into your late ‘20s and eventually into your ‘30s, is that you stop giving a f—,” Runyan said. “That’s really the crux of the point. You really stop putting up this front and you realize, ‘Oh, people actually do like me for me, and they’re not liking my projected image of myself.’ And that’s really it. I’ve just become comfortable in my own skin, and I’ve become comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey I’m not Superman,’ and that sometimes I need help.”

David Zisser can be reached at

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