INTERVIEW: Alec Benjamin

Over the past four years Alec Benjamin and I have had a few chats where we’ve been able to chat through his growth and self-discovery as an artist. Now, the Arizona based singer-songwriter is on a completely new trajectory that has seen him evolve into the songwriter and storyteller he was always destined to be. Selling out shows worldwide, his vulnerability has become something fans have gripped onto as they relate to him, and don’t feel quite so alone with their own feelings. His sophomore studio album ‘(Un)Commentary’ is the perfect embodiment of the intimacy his lyrics create, while the big production soundscapes are built on-top of them. 

Alec is finally heading down under for his first run of Australian dates, which follows a brief promo visit in 2018 that saw him only perform at an industry showcase. So this is the first time fans are going to be able to properly see him live, and you better prepare for the big singalong’s that are going to erupt with his anthemic discography.

I chatted with Alec Benjamin about the process of bringing his new album ‘(Un)Commentary’ to the live stage, explored the connections fans have had with songs from the record, and discussed the creative process behind songs like ‘Hammers’, ‘Speakers’ and ‘Older’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: You’ve just finished the UK and European leg of the tour, and you’re about to start the US and Canada leg before finally coming back to Australia in December. So after playing the first run of shows, what has playing these new songs live taught you about your relationship and connection with ‘(Un)Commentary’? 

ALEC BENJAMIN: That’s a great question! I feel like when you put out a record, over time, your relationship changes with the album from tour to tour. But I think what it’s taught me right now, is that I really am proud of this album and this body of work. When I made it, I didn’t know what to think of it, and I just wrote it as I felt like I had something to say. 

I always want to put the things I want to express in my music, and ultimately the number one most important thing is that it reflects who I am artistically. But also at the same time, sometimes I have the goal in mind that I’m looking at everybody else and hoping it will chart etc. This time I just made it because I needed to. I didn’t care if it was going to be commercially friendly, or if I was going to love it in a few years, I just wrote whatever was in my heart. At the start of the pandemic I wasn’t even sure I was still going to be able to release music, and genuinely thought I was going to have to get another job. So after making a record and not knowing if I was ever going to play it for an audience, to now touring it globally and seeing it connecting with my audience, I just feel super proud. 

TB: Have you been surprised by any audience reactions and relationships to songs on this tour so far?

AB: Yeah, the song that is doing the best live at the moment is ‘Devil Doesn’t Bargain’. I’m surprised that it’s doing as well as it is because I didn’t even really like the song when I first made it, so I didn’t think it was going to make the album. I almost gave it to another artist, and then my manager said I had to keep it. When I first started playing the song live I started to see that there was something there, and that people related to the song. I also have a song called ‘One Wrong Turn’ that I didn’t anticipate people would make a connection with, so that surprised me. 

There are a lot of songs from the album that we still haven’t performed live yet, so by the time we get down to Australia we will have some new songs in the set from the record that we haven’t had the opportunity to play yet. So maybe it will be one of those songs that further surprises me. 

TB: I was talking with Tove Lo the other day, and she was saying that sometimes some songs just don’t necessarily work live, which I found really interesting. Has there ever been a song of yours that you’ve tried to play live but it maybe just didn’t work or resonate the way you expected? 

AB: There are definitely songs of mine I’ve played where I wasn’t good enough to play live yet. The songwriting muscle is one I’ve worked out more than my performing live muscle. So I think one of the cool things about not properly playing in Australia yet, is that I’m way more experienced as a live performer now. There are songs I’ve played in the past where I don’t necessarily think I had the facility with the guitar or my voice to master live. I feel like I’m now at the point where I feel really comfortable to perform on stage.

TB: Now that you’ve got 2 albums as well as mixtapes and EP’s to perform live, when you’re creating the setlist do you think you have songs that cancel out others, or thematically make more sense over others?

AB: I have songs I made a long time ago that still resonate with me now. Ultimately my number one goal is that I make music I don’t feel ashamed of 10 years down the road. I think there are definitely instances in songs where you can see personal growth. But I don’t think it makes any of the older songs irrelevant. I still feel justified in the things I said back then. I was just a different person.   

TB: Last time you were here we chatted about the bucket list things you had for coming to Australia which you had ticked off like visiting Sydney Opera House, playing a show, and holding a koala. With it being four years between visits, do you have any new things you want to do while you are down under? 

AB: The headline shows! That’s it! There are certain fans in particular who have been so supportive of me, and their Australian, so they’ve waited for me to come for a long time, and I can’t wait to meet them. In specific, there is a girl called Courtney who has been a longtime supporter of mine. There is a fan group chat that I’m pretty active in, and they have just been die-hard supporters. All of the people in the chat are from different parts in the world, and I’ve met everyone in it but her. So every time I announce a tour she’s like “Oh I guess you are skipping me this time”. So this time I get to see her! I got to message her earlier today to tell her I was announcing something special that I think she will be happy about, which was fun. 

TB: I bet she was excited!

AB: She was excited. They also give me a hard time sometimes, so I think it was more like “how come you haven’t already come here” banter.

TB: She’s actually like; “sorry I’m busy that day, I can’t come”.

AB: *Laughs* That actually sounds like something she’d say. 

TB: ‘(Un)Commentary’ is a very honest body of work, and it’s led by strong songwriting and this furtherly developed production. One of the songs that immediately stands out is ‘Hammers’. Can you explain to us the creative process behind this track?

AB: It was initially called ‘If Hammers Can’, and then over the process of the record so many comments and changes were made, and the creative director I worked with would write down all the notes. He ended up writing down the song name as ‘Hammers’, and I wanted it to be called ‘If Hammers Can’, but I didn’t want to be annoying, so I left it *laughs*. There are a couple of songs on the record that are like that. ‘Deniro’ was actually supposed to be “If I’m Not Deniro’.

But anyways, ‘Hammers’ is all about a metaphorical hammer. Everybody has something they bring to the world, a tool if you will, and it’s your own individual choice what you do with that. The question is; are you going to build something? Or are you going to break something? And it’s about finding out in time. 

I was with my friends Nathan and Eli, and Eli started playing these piano chords and to me it sounded very uplifting and a Hamilton-esq song, and we built it from there. 

TB: ‘Speakers’ hears you reflecting on the idea of songs attached to memories, and metaphorically being someone’s song that plays on their speakers. So if you were to take a step back and look back at this part of your life, what song would come on the speaker to trigger a flashback of your life right now? 

AB: Honestly there is this song called ‘Bandana’ by Fireboy DML, that I’ve been listening to over and over again, so I think it could be that song. I’ve been listening to him a lot, I really like his music. 

TB: In Older you sing; “Guess my childhood is over. Now I’m taking down my posters. And I’m putting all my things inside a box next to a toaster. That’s my closest thing to closure”. Now that this song has been embraced in such a huge way to your fans, does that feel like a new sense of closure with those feelings?

AB: It makes me feel like the pain of growing up was worthwhile, and it makes me feel good to know that I’m playing the song for a lot of people right now and they are connecting. You can feel this way at any point in your life. You can be 15 or 50, and have doors that you are opening or closing. But a lot of the audience that does come to my show are going through that critical point in their life where they are leaving their parents house, or moving back in, or whatever it might be. I’m happy I can share my experience with people and let them know they aren’t alone. 

TB: In Shadow Of Mine you sing “Everywhere I go, my shadow, it follows behind. Doesn’t matter where I travel, my shadow, it finds me”. It’s a song that has a lot of darkness, but also feels quite cathartic in embracing those emotions. So how did that song feel to write? 

AB: It felt like I was able to finally express something I had been feeling for a long time in a way that felt very genuine. I hadn’t been able to properly express it, and now I feel like I’ve finally got it out and I no longer have to carry that burden by myself. Now you guys can deal with it *laughs*. 

TB: What song on the record went through the most versions to get it to where it is now?

AB: Probably ‘Older’! Actually… no, it would be ‘Devil Doesn’t Bargain’, as it started off with different lyrics. It’s actually the only song I’ve ever re-written the entire lyrics to.  

TB: Two years ago you posted a demo online called ‘Make You Cry’ with Julia Michaels. Are we ever going to hear anything further from this song? Because that chorus lives rent free in my mind. 

AB: Okay, well, now that you mention it, maybe. When I put out these demos I sometimes don’t think about them, and then people will ask me if I’m ever going to put them out. If enough people ask me then I put them out. So I will reach out to Julia and start working on it. 

Alec Benjamin Australian Tour 

Saturday 10 December – Metro Theatre, Sydney

Tuesday 13 December – Max Watts, Melbourne

Friday 16 December – The Triffid, Brisbane

Tickets are on sale now via Frontier Touring