Alec Benjamin: Sonic Storyteller

Alec Benjamin: Sonic Storyteller

The refreshingly honest singer-songwriter opens up about his influences and career highlights.

The refreshingly honest singer-songwriter opens up about his influences and career highlights.

Text: Hannah Hightman

“I write about things that I experience,” said Alec Benjamin, regarding where his ideas stem from. He has a deceptively simple writing process, to hear him describe it: “I usually come up with a concept, and then I try to fit the lyrics over a chord progression.” But his relatable tunes are vastly complex yet remain accessible, and perhaps that’s the key to their recent success. The 24 year-old singer songwriter has been on the rise for the past few months, entering the Billboard Hot 100, collaborating with the likes of Alessia Cara, and currently he’s on a sold-out tour across Europe; he was barely able to squeeze this interview into his tight schedule. Despite how it looks, he’s far from an overnight sensation.

Benjamin started by playing “parking lot shows,” at Troye Sivan and Shawn Mendes concerts, fighting to get recognition for his work despite many setbacks. “I just really love making music, he said. “It’s worth it for me to go through some of the difficult moments, because at the end of the day I get to make music.” Now, he’s accumulated a fan base of his own; his latest single “Let Me Down Slowly” is streamed 8 million times a week. His effortless articulation of his personal experiences and the dexterity with which he weaves those anecdotes into universal narratives (with themes of heartbreak, family bonds, and childhood bullies) makes him a standout star. His epicene, somewhat detached vocals create a remarkable juxtaposition with the emotional content of his lyrics. There’s something addictively deviant about hearing “Would you hold my hand // There the same ones that I used // When I killed someone for you” sung in a twee, faraway voice. The magnetism of his cinematic melodies is matched only by the depth of his lyrical content.

Benjamin remains alluringly cryptic about the overarching meaning of his work. “I don’t really like to dictate how people should feel when they listen to my music,” he said. “I just hope that it has some sort of impact on them that is positive.” Benjamin is truly a vessel for his words, a narrator, as he likes to call himself. Appropriately, his mixtape, released in November of 2018, is titled Narrated for You. His storytelling influences include Eminem (“Stan is probably my favorite song. That’s great storytelling in music.”) and Forrest Gump. He’s thankful for his fans, and for his success, but, unlike most artists, by choice, he’s not a cult-of-personality because the emphasis will always be placed on the music.

He even abstains from most of the visual aspects of his music. “Music videos don’t have much to do with me. I just like to write the music. There are other people who are really good [at that.] So I kind of just let them do whatever they want as long as it has a certain aesthetic.” However, he expressed disappointment at the first music video for “Let Me Down Slowly,” released in June of 2018, which features Benjamin as a bystander to the demise of a relationship that appears to culminate in a robbery of a convenience store. “I don’t really like that video very much because it had nothing to do with the song,” he sighed. “It was someone else’s idea and I didn’t really want to do it. I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying no so I just did it. If I’m being honest I regret it.”

Thankfully, a new music video for “Let Me Down Slowly,” with much more suitable visuals premiered just last week. The new video places Benjamin and Cara at the center, with cutaways to couples lovingly embracing. Even regardless of the visual content, “Let Me Down Slowly” is a beautiful demonstration of Benjamin’s capacity to phantasmally reveal the rawness of the human spirit-- a skill that is also on display in tracks like “The Boy in the Bubble” and “The Water Fountain,” but reaches an apex here. Benjamin maintains, though, that the profundity of the song is decided by the listener. “I suppose it’s a deep song if you view being broken up with as a deep thing,” he mused. “But the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. I thought I was gonna get broken up with and I was just being like, ‘Yo, if you’re going to leave, be nice.’”

UP NEXT

Dior Men’s Souped-Up Saddle Bag Marks 20th Anniversary