By Len Lear
The music industry is a fickle friend. The highs and lows are unpredictable, and there is always someone new nipping at your heels, ready to knock you off your perch. But it can be a great natural high while it lasts. Take, for example, City Rain, made up of Springfield Township High School graduates — Wyndmoor native Ben Runyan and Flourtown native Scott Cumpstone, both 30. They are the musical magicians behind City Rain, an electro-pop and buzz-worthy duo throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond for eight years until they went on indefinite hiatus as of May, 2016.
The duo’s hit single and video, “The Optimist,” had over 215,000 views on YouTube and was voted to be featured on MTV’s college-oriented channel, mtvU. For a while in 2014 the song was in rotation 30 to 50 times a week at over 750 colleges and universities. It was the lead song for their album, “Songs for a High School Dance.” Ben belts “There’s an optimist in me” during the chorus as synthesizers blare in the background. Scott’s lead-guitar solo lifts the song to pop-anthem status.
The music video opens with the Philadelphia skyline and a quote from Alan Watts, a philosopher from England best known for popularizing Eastern philosophy for the Western world. Ben and Scott stand center stage in a dimly lit room as lens flares light up each side of the screen. Meanwhile, there’s a narrative of Ben waking to embark on a search to find his inner optimist. The first two instrumental City Rain records, “Light Turned On” and “This I Will Remember,” were signed to Boltfish and Electronic Eel records, respectively.
Scott, who now lives in Fairmount, was also once a chef at the Top of the Hill Café. Scott once told us he loves the art of the pop song and how it comes together, without its being too “bubblegum.” Ben and Scott’s musical backgrounds merged when they found out they both loved the legendary rock band U2’s classic 1987 album, “The Joshua Tree.”
Ben, a former teacher at the Apple Store in Center City, is now an adjunct professor of Music Technology at both Drexel & Rowan Universities, does tutorials on how to make and produce music for audioskills.com and writes music under the alias JUSTPROCESS, but the flame of City Rain has been dampened for now.
“From age 21 to 29 it provided an amazing outlet for me to understand more about myself in the world. I never could have imagined how far it would take me! This new alias allows me to do what I love (write music) but skip out of the stuff I don’t like as much these days — being in the limelight, touring, pimping myself out all the time. I am going to be releasing my debut record as JUSTPROCESS in August of this year.”
Ben started City Rain in 2007. It was originally a solo project that morphed into a band in 2010. The band name came from a random song title. The original guitarist left to pursue other endeavors, and Scott stepped in four years ago. “It’s been really the most fun I’ve had playing out live,” said Scott in an earlier interview. “Ben uses the computer, the keyboard; then there’s the guitar. He has a really great ear, and he’s a great producer. When I come with these ‘little pieces’ and have no idea what to do with them, he can turn them into something really great. I have a blast playing.”
On the new project, Ben is doing all the songwriting, lyric writing, production, mixing and mastering with the addition of female vocals. He also composes music for short film and commercials. Meanwhile, City Rain is still played on radio stations, and TV! MTV and Esquire TV are two stations with shows that have included their music.
What was City Rain’s favorite gig of all time? According to Ben, “Opening for the Lumineers at the XPN festival in 2012. I cried after we got off stage, and the Lumineers played that song ‘Ho Hey.’ I felt like I finally belonged. Like I had done something in life worth noting.”
What was their least favorite? “Too many of these to count! But it was the time where we played a promo show at JR’s Music in Manhattan, and the only people in attendance were homeless, and they were only there for the free food. What a dump.”
The duo released numerous CDs such as “Light Turned On,” “This I Will Remember,” “Running Man,” “City Rain” and “Songs for A High School Dance.” They released over 60 songs as City Rain, LPs + EPs combined.
What was City Rain’s greatest achievement? “Easy,” said Ben. “‘The Optimist.’ It was our one-hit wonder. I am totally fine with that. I made a ripple in the universe. What I was going through and saying really connected with people and had an effect. I am so proud of that.”
Is there still a future for City Rain? “That itch was scratched for now,” said Ben, “but I will not rule out making a comeback someday. For the most part I did exactly what I set out to do and never looked back.”
For more information, visit www.benrunyan.com