Interview: Alec Benjamin on the art of blending narratives with personal experiences

Friday, September 14, 2018

Alec Benjamin has worked hard to get where he is — from playing impromptu shows on the street, moving on to play his own shows to now appearing in Australia. We recently caught up with the humble singer-songwriter to chat about writing, creating narratives and koalas (because, why not?).

Welcome to Australia! How have you handled the jetlag? 

Thanks! It hasn't been too bad, the first day was rough (laughs), but other than that, we’re doing pretty good.

Photo by Kristy Smolcic

I’ve heard that you can write songs pretty quickly, is that true?

Yeah, well it all depends on the song. So maybe sometimes. I try to write a song every day. Some of the songs that I write I can do relatively quickly. But sometimes I get stuck and it can take me awhile. The best songs that I’ve written come out very fast. So it varies.

Does it matter where you write or can you pretty much write anywhere?

I always try not to write in my house or the place where I sleep. I can pretty much write anywhere as I love writing songs. I just try to avoid writing in my house as I try to separate where I live to where I write and work.

And how important is it for you to spend that time writing most days?

I think it’s really important. I’ve never travelled this much so I have never really tried writing when I’m on the road. But I think it’s important if you’re a songwriter to keep writing — it’s like a muscle. You have to just keep going, I think if you stop, it might be harder to come up with ideas. Sometimes if you write too much, you might also become stuck as you’ve used up too many ideas. I try to write as much as possible — I’m a songwriter, so it’s my job to keep doing it.

Because you’re always writing on-the-go, do you ever draw any inspiration from people-watching?

Definitely, yeah. I always like to watch people, but now that I am travelling, the inspiration comes to me from things that happen on the road.

On your travels, where are some of the places that you’ve been to that have wowed you the most?

Australia is one of the first big international trips that I have done for this music, so Australia is pretty awesome. This is a pretty big trip for us. It was a sixteen-hour plane ride and I’ve never been on a plane for that long, so I’m excited to be here. So I would have to say Australia is definitely the coolest place that we’ve been.

Will you get time to do the super touristy things whilst you’re here, like hang out with some koalas?

I already went to the zoo, already saw kangaroos, I already saw koalas — we’re waiting until we get to Brisbane until we actually get to hold a koala.

They’re really cuddly, I’ve done it, I think twice now (laughs)

(Laughs) Are they friendly?

Yeah, I mean kinda...

I heard that they have claws.

You probably don’t want to hold them too long, I’ve seen one shit on someone before — funny for me, but not for the person who was in front of me (laughs).

Oh really!? They actually poop on you? (Laughs).

Yeah, sometimes!!

Now onto your new single ‘Death of a Hero’, it is quite personal. Do you encounter any challenges when you’re talking about something personal or when you bring personal and emotions into a public space? 

I’m totally cool with that. That’s why I like to write songs, as it’s better to sing about it then it is to talk about it. Sometimes when I talk about it, it’s hard, but when I’m singing it, it’s all good. I think it’s hard for me to write songs or perform songs that I don’t have an emotional connection to. It’s important for me to talk about things that have happened. I like to write music because I can express myself.

So do you prefer writing about your own personal feelings and experiences or to instead create a narrative?

Well, I think I like to do a hybrid of both. For example, for the song ‘If We Have Each Other’, the first two parts are more like a narrative, but the last verse of the song is straight personal  — like I’m happy to have my sister and my parents are getting older. And then with ‘Death of a Hero’, half of that story is kinda true, I mean it’s not like I actually saw Superman doing drugs, but there was someone who I knew, and I was in Pittsburgh, and there were some things that I saw that kinda disappointed me. So even though some of it involves a poetic license, most of it is true.

Does that creativity ever spur from other artforms outside of music?

Definitely! I mean, I read a lot of poetry. I also watch a lot of movies. I guess also some visual art. But I draw most of my inspiration from other artists I listen to and poems that I read — they’re both the two main things. Sometimes I might struggle with finding new music, so you have to look to other mediums to get inspired.

Photo by Kristy Smolcic

And to finish off, what are some the exciting things you have coming up that you can share?

So coming up, we have another song coming out in two or three weeks called ‘Outrunning Karma’ which I am excited about. Then a mixtape coming after that and then an album coming next year — that’s the plan. I also have my tour coming up, so a lot of exciting stuff! So yeah, more music and I’m going to be writing more songs and releasing them. So I guess, write songs, release them and play, and repeat (laughs).

That’s so awesome! Thanks a lot for chatting with me today.

Of course! No problem. Thank you!

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

You can follow Alec Benjamin on Twitter and Instagram