Benji Hughes took eight years to release “Songs in the Key of Animals,” the followup to his whimsical 25-track debut in 2008, “A Love Extreme.”
But don’t worry about the plucky Charlotte, N.C. self-starter. He found plenty of ways to put food on the table in the interim. He acted (in the film “Gentlemen Broncos”), recorded soundtrack music with Jennifer Lawrence (for “The House Down the Street”), and cut “LILILIL,” a children’s concept disc about a space princess and her two subservient robots, Coco and Squeak.
But mainly, he’s been working in advertising.
The versatile Hughes – who plays The City this week – has composed or helped complete a vast portfolio of TV and radio commercials, for companies like GE, Acura, Verizon, Olive Garden and Honey Nut Cheerios.
His biggest claim to fame is the jingle he penned for Captain Morgan Rum, “Got a Little Captain In You?,” which features his husky speaking voice in the final mix.
“I play on all kinds of stuff, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to pick up a few assignments here and there,” he says. “And every time I get one it’s so awesome, because I love taking a shot at all these different kinds of music.”
While visiting Los Angeles around the time of “Extreme,” Hughes had dinner with jingle writer Mary Wood, who owned New York’s Frisbie studio and had a keen ear for potential collaborators. She gave Hughes his first job — a razor ad — which he promptly botched. “They wanted a manly kind of thing, but I had my own ideas and went with this James Bond-ish vibe with a girl singer,” he says, chuckling at his own naivety. Proudly, he sent it in. Then? Crickets. He didn’t hear from his benefactor for years.
Wood got back in touch after Hughes proved himself with Captain Morgan, and the relationship flourished, then became symbiotic. She allowed him full access to Frisbie, where he now spends one week of every month, tinkering so busily with his own music that he self-released four albums two years ago, including an early skeletal version of “Animals.” With fun fauna fables such as “Zebra” and “Peacockin’ Party,” it cements Hughes’ eccentric lounge-singer-with-Captain-Beefheart-aspirations sound.
Hughes was recording at Frisbie when Hurricane Sandy hit; he stayed for five days, without power, guarding the facility with a bullhorn, fire extinguisher, and an assortment of kitchen knives. He also sleeps there. “There are so many sweet couches, so I’ll crash in the studio itself, with all its control panels and lights,” he says. “It feels like the year 3050, and I’m chilling in some module, out in space.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Jan. 29
Tickets: $17 to $20
Contact: (415) 522-0333, www.slimspresents.com