Alec Benjamin Breaks Down ‘Narrated For You’ & Talks Touring: Interview
Alec Benjamin is poised to be one of the year’s breakout stars. At 24-years-old, the singer/songwriter refers to himself as a narrator. The title is in tribute to his ability to put stories to song, a trait which has helped him amass an impressive following and notch streaming hits with regularity. 2018 has been an action-packed year for the hitmaker. It all started with the release of the gut-wrenching “Let Me Down Slowly” in May. The evocative breakup anthem perfectly captures his signature, lo-fi sound and amassed more than 72 million listens on Spotify. Currently in the midst of a sold-out tour of North America, he has come a long way from the parking lot shows that helped him interact with fans in the past.
The crooner turns his attention to Europe in early 2019. But right now, the focus is on his mixtape, Narrated For You. The 12-song collection arrived Friday (November 16) and includes a string of buzz tracks such as the nostalgia-inducing “1994” and the optimistic “If We Have Each Other.” The result of years of hard work, it is a must-listen that establishes Alec as one of the industry’s most imaginative creators. Hopping across a variety of productions, what ties it all together is his earnest and attention-grabbing storytelling.
Last week I had the opportunity to chat with the Phoenix-born singer ahead of the release of Narrated For You. We broke down the inspiration behind several songs including the fan-favored “Water Fountain” – a track five years in the making. Alec shared some insight about his current North American tour and plans to return to play more shows next summer. We also touched on his creative process and on how he finds the words to bring his stories to life. Check out his “Let Me Down Slowly” video below and get a taste of the rising star’s musicality before diving into our interview!
Time is really ticking down today. The mixtape drops tonight. Are you feeling excited?
Yeah. But I try to be careful about like… I’ve been putting out a lot of music recently, and I’m trying to just like always temper the way that I feel. Because, otherwise there’s too many highs and lows. So, I’m trying to keep more of an even keel. I’m excited, but also I’m trying not to be too excited because it’s emotionally exhausting. When you have so many things happening, you can’t be that way about all of them because it may be bad for me sometimes.
That makes sense. You have to take it as it’s coming. You have been dropping a lot of music recently. Obviously tonight is the big release. But what would you say is the best part of releasing music for you?
I think the best part of releasing music is that you like, you know… I try to put a message in my songs. One of the reasons why I make music is because I like to… there’s something that I want to say. So I guess the best part about it is it feels like the message was delivered. Who knows if it will be received by the people who are listening to it, but at least I got it out there.
I’ve been listening to the mixtape a lot over the last day. There are a lot of songs that I like, and I want to talk about. First, I was curious; do you have a favorite song on the collection?
Maybe “If We Have Each Other.”
I love that song. It has such a powerful message. Especially the part when you’re talking about your sister. I really responded very emotionally to that actually. Then I was wondering why you selected “Let Me Down Slowly” as the lead single?
I just felt like, I don’t know necessarily if it’s the one song that’s my favorite or if it had the most important message. But it was the song that I felt like I had to write at the time. And I put it out and kind of the people decided. It was getting streamed the most, so I guess that’s how I picked. I don’t really decide what the singles are. I let the people decide.
“Water Fountain” is one that it seems your fans are most excited to hear an official version of. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind it?
Yeah, I wrote that song like five years ago, actually. And I wrote it about, it’s about a missed connection. When you meet someone, and it’s just the wrong time. And then, you know, when you’re finally ready, the time has passed. And I feel like that’s always disappointing. Those are the things you always look back on and go “what if.” So that song’s just about that – the “what if” feeling.
Which makes it infinitely relatable. Another song I wanted to talk about was “Death Of A Hero.” I found that song particularly evocative. And it reminds me of something you tweeted earlier this month. What you tweeted was “Tryna turn this pain into poetry.”
Oh, you know what’s up. You’ve dug deep.
I try to do my research!
I appreciate it. Thank you for that.
No worries. But would you say that’s one of your ultimate goals musically?
Yeah, I guess. I mean, I just thought it was a cool line. But I think as it relates to that song, you know there are things that happen in your life. And things that are milestones in your life – whether you’re achieving something, or you learned something or you see something in a different way. And when those things happen to me, I like to put them into songs. I mean, if I could just like talk about them if people wanted to listen to me. Then maybe I would never have written music. But it just so happens that I had found it more interesting to listen to something in a song than it is to just hear someone speak about it.
Yeah. Then another song I had wanted to ask about was “Steve.” Can you talk about that one? Because obviously it is kind of playing on the Adam, Eve and Steve situation.
It wasn’t supposed to. I actually didn’t even know that was a thing. I was just, like… I just sat down in my room one day and wrote that song in like fifteen minutes. And then someone was like “yo, do you know that there’s like a whole like, there’s a really inappropriate joke that people make about that. That’s super offensive.” And I was like, “well, I actually didn’t know that.” But then I played it for some people and no one was really offended by it. They were like “yeah, it’s fine.” So, I decided to put it out.
But the song’s just about actually having a… it feels like that story. I’m not super religious or anything, but that story for me is just like a classic case of, you know, you have everything but you always want that one thing you can’t have. And I feel like that’s always the Achille’s heel of people. And it’s been my Achille’s heel time and time again. So I just felt like I could write about it in a way that was kind of funny. But, no, it had nothing to do with the joke. And I also don’t even think that joke is funny.
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a really interesting song. It creates a dialogue and some interesting parallels. You’re closing everything out with “1994,” which was the last song you released. Is there a reason you felt it should close the mixtape?
It’s just the oldest song that I had put on the mixtape. And that was from an album that I had tried to release when I had been signed to another label. And there was just a couple of songs that I wanted to salvage from that record. So, I put that as the last song because it’s like, that song I wrote when I was 18. So that song is like six years old. And I just felt like, you know, that’s where it should go.
Are there any other songs from that album on the mixtape?
Yeah – “Water Fountain.”
You refer to yourself as a narrator before pretty much anything else. Why does that feel like the most accurate title for you?
Just cause I tell stories with my music. And stories to me come first before anything else, so that’s why.
What is a typical writing session like for you? How do you approach a song?
I think it’s different every time. A lot of times I write by myself. But I usually like to start with a concept. And then like build from there. I feel like songs sometimes are like a Soduko puzzle. You know, they give you a couple of numbers to start out with and you kind of have to figure out what the common thread is. And sometimes its like that for me. Where I have a couple of words, and I’m like “I love these words, but what do they mean.” I kind of piece them together after that. That’s the way that makes most sense to me.
Right now you’re in the middle of a tour, which is sold out. First of all, congratulations.
How did that feel when you found out the tour was sold out?
I was pretty excited. I definitely didn’t expect it. And it’s something that I’m really grateful for. I was just really thrilled that people wanted to come see me live. I’ve played outside of a lot of these venues on this street before for the lines of people trying to get in to venues to see different artists. So it was really kind of a cool thing for me.
You really started out doing a lot of, you called them parking lot shows. Is that something you’d ever like to go back and do more of in the future?
Yeah. I’ll perform for people wherever, whenever. I really don’t mind.
After you finish up in North America, you’re hitting Europe next year. Do you think you’ll have any more shows in the US after you finish up in Europe?
Yeah. I have a plan to tour for next summer.
What’s your favorite think about being onstage?
My favorite thing about being onstage is I like that, it feels like in a time when everything is online. On a stage it’s kind of different. There is production and all that kind of stuff. But it’s just one moment to really be kind of vulnerable, and you get to really show people who you actually are. And now, especially like today, that doesn’t happen a lot. I think it’s really cool.
I have a couple of quick, rapid fire questions. Can we do a couple of those really quick?
What would you say your dream collaboration is?
I’d like to meet Chris Martin. That would be cool. But I actually have to tell you that a cooler collaboration would be one that is not with music. It would be one that’s with like technology or something like that. I feel like, I was talking about Elon Musk earlier today. I don’t know if there is some sort of music integration thing that I could do for his company, but that would be lit.
What would you say your biggest professional goal is?
I just want to be able to support myself making music. Like, at first, when you say it, it doesn’t really seem like crazy. But even that is quite a lofty goal. If I can do that then I’ll worry about what’s next.
What’s your favorite song to cover?
“Stan” by Eminem.
He’s one of your biggest inspirations right?
What would you say your favorite memory has been so far with everything that you’ve done?
My favorite memory is getting to – this is before I did any of this stuff. I was 17 or 18 and getting to perform when my Grandma was still alive. She would come to all my shows. And I remember one time she went to see me in a venue, like a really small venue in LA. And she was 90. And she walked up a whole flight of stairs to see me play. And that was really cool.
That’s so cute. I love that. You reference a couple superheroes in the lyrics for the mixtape. Do you have a favorite?
Favorite superhero? Probably Spider Man.
When would you say you’re there most creative?
That’s a tough question for me. I’m not really sure. If I knew then I would be like, I don’t know. The whole songwriting process would be easier for me. Sometimes I push myself maybe when I’m not really in a creative space and I get frustrated. So, I feel like I’m still figuring that out.
I feel like that’s the magic question for anyone who has a creative job. I wish I had the perfect answer for myself.
Yeah. The most random times.
Do you have a favorite book?
No. But my favorite story is Forrest Gump.
What’s one thing you need to have when you’re traveling?
I need to have my guitar. Anywhere I go now I have to have my instrument with me.
Do you have any plans for any other music videos moving forward?
Yes. I have a music video that I just made for “Boy In The Bubble.”
Do you have any idea when you want to drop that?
No. I don’t know when it will be finished. But definitely whoever likes my music can be on the lookout for that. So we’ll see.
I’ll definitely keep an eye peeled. Thank you so much. It was so great to get a chance to talk to you.
Thank you so much!