WORDS AND FASHION SOPHIE EMMETT - PHOTOGRAPHY FILIPE PHITZGERARD
Considering the huge amount of artists - old and new - and the even greater number of songs out there, it is rare to find raw honesty and authenticity in every lyric an artist produces; however, when it comes to mastering the art of candid sounds Alec Benjamin is defying the odds with a voice - and lyrics - of his generation. As he shows vulnerability and thoughtfulness through each and every song Alec shares that these are narratives of real experiences shared by many, including himself. Each of them has its own touch of uniqueness. The twenty-four-year-old hails from Phoenix, Arizona but now resides in Los Angeles, and, although unlike many people his age, the bright lights of tinsel town and fame don’t faze him. His focus is to share his stories with his fans and eventually find someone special to share his life with. Despite setbacks at the beginning of his career, with his first record company dropping him overnight, Alec has managed to go from the parking lot of other artists’ gigs to a sold-out European tour, a single (Let Me Down Slowly) that garnered over 2 million streams in its first week, garnering over 170 million global streams and being called a "young Jedi" by the incomparable John Mayer. There is a strong sense that this is just the beginning for Alec as he is authentic and open when it comes to discussing his struggles with low days, the effects of social media on himself and the wider society, and, of course, his passion for music. Alec Benjamin is a true artist, a creator who will continue to grow and succeed. Someone whose real talent for the craft of songwriting and performing make him unique in every sense of the word.
Opening Image: Alec wears t-shirt URBAN OUTFITTERS
Sophie Emmett: Hi Alec; how are you this evening? Alec Benjamin: Honestly; I am really tired. [Smiles]
S.E: You’ve had a big week performing in Paris and then London last night, right? How has your European leg of the tour been? A.B: It’s been great. I got a lot of cool stuff done and met a lot of great people. It was also my first tour and it was sold out, which was pretty cool.
S.E: Is this your first time in London? A.B: No. I’ve been coming to London since I was about 17 to make music, so I've been here a bunch of times.
S.E: Do you have a favourite spot in town? A.B: A restaurant on Ladbroke Grove called Fez Mangal. It's pretty great!
S.E: So you’ve been living in California for the last 6 years; is that with family or friends? A.B: I live with my parents.
S.E: Nice. How was it growing up for you? Do you have any interesting stories from your childhood? A.B: Well, I grew up in Phoenix, which was really nice. My neighbourhood was good and really safe and I made friends there that I will have for a lifetime. However, I am happy to have moved to Los Angeles as there are more opportunities there for me. I don’t have any particular stories that stand out to me to share…but I really did enjoy being raised in Arizona. And when in comparison with L.A I don’t think I could raise a family there.
Alec wears grey hoodie CHAMPION; brown jacket WEEKDAY; corduroy trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS; shoes CONVERSE
S.E: I love that you're already thinking about that. Starting and raising your own family. A.B: Well, yeah, having a family is the most important thing for me. As when you’re getting older, friends are really cool, but it’s not like your family, it’s really not. People say ‘oh my friends are my family’ but I don’t think it’s the same. Everyone’s different and perhaps one or two are but they aren’t like your mum or your sister.
S.E: And do you come from a big family? A.B: No. It’s me and my sister, mum, and dad so not really a big family.
S.E: I find your humble beginnings in music really inspirational. I know that when you were eighteen your first record company dropped you the day after you handed in your first album and you simply got up and kept going. How would you say this has affected you and your music?
A.B: It definitely shaped me as a person but I wouldn’t say it has changed me an artist because my music stayed pretty much the same. Obviously, it has grown since I got signed and dropped from my first label but it has definitely changed my perception of what it takes to be successful in music as I learned a lot from the whole experience and many others that came.
S.E: Your ingenious idea of “Parking Lot Shows”; how did this come about and how did you manage to dodge security? A.B: The security was always pretty cool about it. It came about because I was walking past a gig and then I thought "well I want to play for real people", however, when you do it through clubs it’s a harder process because you end up having to pay the club as the promoters aren’t promoting you. As you’re not in a place where you are selling tickets, you have yet to form a fan base. So then you go to the internet to build up a following but that can also be a slow process which I think can make you feel like "why did I get into this in the first place?" So for me, I did it because I wanted to perform live for people and if I can’t get the people to come to me, I’ll go to them.
S.E: So were you selecting gigs in which you thought "if they like that artist they will like my music?" A.B: Definitely. And then when there were concerts in town that I didn’t think was necessarily my fan base I would go to just practice.
S.E: Gosh that must have been quite nerve-wracking and rewarding at the same time if you managed to win people over. A.B: Well, every time you put music out you risk people not liking it and each time you get up on stage you are taking the same risk. I guess it’s a little nerve-wracking to walk up to random people and ask if you can sing for them but it didn’t bother me that much.
S.E: You're now sharing your music with millions of streamers globally. How does that feel? A.B: It doesn’t feel real and it’s another reason why the parking lot shows are so important to me as even when your social media grows it doesn’t have the same feeling as standing in front of real human beings. You see the numbers grow but you can’t visualize what 100 million streams is, like, what that actually means.
S.E: I just watched your new music video for "Let Me Down" which you duet with Alessia Cara (which is great by the way). It’s refreshing to see two young talented song-writers joining forces. How did this collaboration come about? A.B: A fan on twitter sent me an interview she did and I just messaged her there. Basically, in the interview, she had mentioned being a fan of my music and it was crazy as I am a fan of hers. So we became friends and it was a really surreal experience.
S.E: As a self-prescribed "Narrator" when listening to your lyrics, it's easy to begin to imagine the situation because you’re a vivid story-teller. Has this developed from perhaps keeping a diary or do you find yourself documenting your life directly through music? A.B: I never kept a diary when I was growing up. Now, when I have ideas for a song I write them down on the notepad on my phone. It just seems to flow that way.
S.E: With "Narrated For You" (November 2018) would you agree that the overall mood of the mixtape is the trials and tribulations of relationships? A.B: Well, I think it’s about a lot of different things. What ties it all together is that its narratives have happened to me in my life. One thing I can say is that every song is about something different, which I think is very unique. If I have to say something positive about myself, but that makes me feel uncomfortable, it's up to other people to decide if they do or don’t like your music, or album. However, what I do think that I do differently from other people is that every song has a unique new perspective on each different subject. Does that make sense?
S.E: Yes. It definitely does. With "Boy in the Bubble" you can see that the lyrics are packed with emotion and vulnerability. Is this a true life story? A.B: Yes. It’s about a time when there was this boy making fun of me when I was younger. When we grew up I found out that he was from a troubled household and it gave me a whole new perspective on why he had taken out his frustrations on me, although I don’t think that excuses his actions. But, at the same time, when you understand what the motivations were it helps to put the experience into a new perspective.
S.E: I feel like it’s very vulnerable to put your life out there and through your lyrics. A.B: Well, yeah. Can I be honest with you?
S.E: Of course. A.B: I'm not saying anything bad about anyone, but, one of my favourite albums is Continuum by John Mayer because every single song is about something else. Many of the albums I’ve listened to every song is about the same exact thing, people are saying the same thing 13 times. A broad spectrum of things happened in your lifetime, it’s not all about one break up. That’s why I also like Kendrick Lamar as he has a song called pressure and there is a bit where he says "I’ve never been violent until I’m with the homies" and lyrics like that are so real. That’s why I love Poetic Justice, because of its realness.
S.E: What is music to you? A.B: There are a lot of reasons in which I make music. I love singing and more than that I think I have something important to say and music has become a great vehicle in which to express my feelings. I think about it a lot, basically, all the time. I think about things and thoughts and they all come out through my music. It doesn’t always come so easily though.
S.E: Do you look into your own life and environment or what’s around you? A.B: I think that I see things differently than other people, at least some of those who I grew up with, and, I am a very sensitive person. I often get depressed and I think that is because sometimes I pick up on things that people around me are not picking up on.
S.E: Do you have a special spot in which you write or is it a case of feeling it at the moment? A.B: It really depends where I am. It doesn’t matter to me where I writing.
Alec wears yellow sweatshirt CHAMPION; denim trousers ARTIST'S OWN
S.E: As someone who is fast becoming the voice of your generation; what musicians or music played a part in influencing your sound? A.B: That’s crazy! No one has ever said that to me before; I appreciate that! I like John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie, Coldplay, and Eminem. I like a lot of different music.
S.E: You recently got to not only meet but perform with your idol Mr. John Mayer who referred to you as a ‘Young Jedi’. How did that make you feel? A.B: Yes! So, I got to play with him and it was awesome and one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life. I had a very high bar set for what I expected from him as a person and he exceeded it, which blew my mind. Sometimes I can get depressed on tour and we talked about it and he recently sent me a gift of a year’s subscription to these master classes online where you can watch people like Martin Scorsese give classes on their craft. It's the coolest gift and it keeps me busy on tour. [Smiles] The whole experience was pretty dope. He is just a super thoughtful person, which is really cool.
S.E: That is so sweet. Can you describe what a perfect day for you looks like? A.B: Being home in bed. [Smiles] Also, I love writing songs so I’ll have breakfast then brainstorm for 2 hours then go for a writing session for about 4 to 5 hours before coming home again.
S.E: As a young adult; what are your biggest concerns for the future? A.B: I just want to make sure I meet the right person and have a family.
S.E: Oh wow that’s so sweet! A.B: Well, yeah. What are your victories if you don’t have anyone to share them with? [Smiles] That’s a really selfish thing to say [laughs] I’m not trying to make a family just to share my victories with but at the end of the day if you have no one to call and talk to, someone who really cares about you, what’s the point?
S.E: That is true. Okay, so, when it comes to social media; you have grown quite the fan base through platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. How do you feel about them? What is your relationship with social media like? A.B: Despite my following, I don’t feel famous and I think social media is amazing, scary, and dangerous at the same time. However, it’s the present we live in. The scary thing about social media is that we haven’t made the transition yet of merging with machines which I believe is very close to happening. As with Elon Musk’s company Neuralink working on connecting our brains with machines. But we are still human and we are addicted to our phones, addicted to getting likes on social media, it can actually ruin my day.
S.E: How come? A.B: Like, if I don’t get enough likes on a picture it’s very difficult to admit that, but it’s true. It’s like if there is a girl or a guy you like and they don’t look at your story; it f*cks you up. That happens to the majority of people with me included. Yet, this is what these platforms were designed to do. The issue is also that before social media happened your average teenager would be comparing themselves to the jock or the head cheerleader in their school, but now, you're comparing yourself to Kylie Jenner or some other big Instagrammer. Every person in the world is comparing themselves to them and the problem with that is the high school lunch table no longer fits in the physical world, but on Instagram. So the lunch room just got way bigger and the competition just became way stiffer and that’s a big problem that’s changing everything as it sits there right in your face. It's crazy and it's hard.
S.E: I have to agree with you. Things have become a lot harder since this whole social media culture came about. On a better note; you kicked this year off with a Performance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden. What else should we expect from you this year? A.B: More music and more shows. [Smiles]
S.E: Are there any British foods you like? Have you ever heard of Yorkshire pudding? A.B: [Smiles] I’ve actually tried it and it's good!
S.E: On that note; what must your rider/dressing room contain? A.B: Baby wipes because the toilet paper in dressing rooms is pretty bad. [Laughs]
S.E: What is the number one festival you would love to headline? A.B: [Smiles] Anywhere that will have me!
S.E: Last but not least; what is your favourite F-word ? A.B: FREEDOM
Alec’s debut mixtape ‘Narrated For You’ is OUT NOW and you can get it HERE.