Chatting to Alec Benjamin about his album ‘(Un)Commentary’

The innately perceptive and ingeniously intricate wordsmith Alec Benjamin is renowned for his thought-provoking lyricism and dexterity as a storyteller. The profoundly insightful workings of Alec Benjamin are continuously expanding and this year he shared his 13-track sophomore album ‘(Un)commentary’. Inquisitive of the world around him, the album captures his inner mind, explorative of the human experience.

Magnifying his creative vision to the masses, he can finally perform his new music in front of live audiences. Situated in Europe for the summer until early August, he is also set to play two shows in London at O2 Kentish Town Forum, on the 30th of July and the 6th of August. Speaking to us whilst currently in Portugal, he talks about his European tour. ‘It has been awesome, it feels amazing to be back because obviously there was a long hiatus in touring because of the pandemic so the fact that I am able to be touring in Europe again is really amazing and also it is beautiful here. I’ve never toured Europe in the summer, so I feel very fortunate. Even though it is a little bit hot, after the shows I can walk around and go sightseeing and things like that, so it’s good.’

The listening experience of his project ‘(Un)commentary’, is as personal as reading someone’s diary, his words are neatly threaded together, song after song, to formulate his deepest thoughts. With both vulnerability and candour he spills out his thoughts through the medium of music and his project expresses existential questions that have slipped through people’s minds at one point in life or another. When explaining the meaning and inspiration behind the project he said that he wasn’t really intending to even write an album during the pandemic. Although a lot of it is inspired by the pandemic, a lot of the issues were pre-existing coronavirus. ‘Even though a lot of it was inspired by some of the stuff that happened during the pandemic, I don’t think that my album is going to be relegated to that specific period in time. You can listen to it outside of that because I think a lot of the problems that were going on during the pandemic had existed before and they were exacerbated by the coronavirus, which sort of put them on full display which made them really easy to write about.’

When talking about the themes on his record he said: ‘some of them are obviously about love and loss and a lot of them about my frustrations with the current political climate, things of that nature.’

Discussing the meaning behind the name and how he felt whilst creating his album, he said: ‘I was pretty frustrated [laughs] and I felt like music would be a good outlet for me to voice my frustrations and talk about the things that I wanted to talk about. So the reason why I named the album ‘(Un)Commentary‘ is because I felt like it was my commentary on a lot of the stuff that was going on in the world at the time and I did the (Un)Commentary thing as a play on words because I felt like some of the things I was saying weren’t things people were maybe not necessarily saying at the time.’

He later continues: ‘we all live in the same world but the way we experience it is unique to every single person. So that is why I called it that and then that is sort of like the overarching theme of the album, which is just sort of my commentary on the things that I was going through in my life during that period in time.’

I expressed to Alec and said what I love about him as an artist is that his lyricism is incredibly personal and he’s a compelling writer. I wanted to find out what songs from the album felt personal and close to him in the writing process. ‘There is a song on the album called ‘Hill I Will Die On’ and that one felt pretty close to me because I realised also over the last few years that everybody myself included has a breaking point. Everyone has a different breaking point and you don’t always necessarily know what it is, but when you find it, it’s very easily identifiable and a lot of people found there’s over the last few years and so that song is about various hills that people found that they were willing to die on and I certainly found mine.’

A lyrical mastermind, he also co-wrote ’Older’ with some heavyweights in the music scene, which were Charlie Puth, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, and Zach Skelton. ‘So I went to Ryan’s house for his session, to work with him and another writer named Zach Skelton and Charlie just happened to be using a room at Ryan’s house. I think actually Lil Nas X was there that day as well, which was crazy. I am friends with Charlie so I just asked him ‘yo dude, do you want to join this session?’. So in between doing promos, like phone calls things like the one we are doing right now, he would come in and out of the session and work on the song. It was very fun, it was very fortuitous that he was there and I think that ultimately the final product was something I am really proud of. That is the only song on the record that I didn’t write during the pandemic.’

Exploring his development as an artist from the beginning of his career to his current sophomore album ‘(Un)commentary’, he says: ‘My approach to songwriting has changed and the things I’m talking about in my music have evolved and my melodic choices.’

‘Also this album, I don’t make really super up-tempo music but there are definitely some more up-tempo songs on this record and I think I am taking more risks in terms of the things I am talking about. But I do think that though at the last few shows that I have done some of my fans have asked me to play older songs and they were bringing back songs I haven’t thought about in a long time. Because I am 28 and I have been writing songs since I was 15 and I’ve changed a lot but it also surprised me how much I haven’t changed too. I am still the same person that I was when I was 15 years old and when I sing some of those songs I still relate to a lot of them. So I think there are ways that I have evolved but also a lot of ways that I have stayed the same.’

During the shoot with House of Solo, he showcased some of his karate skills, a black belt in karate I asked him how he got into it and what he learnt from learning the art form. ‘I haven’t done it since I was 14 but my parents encouraged my sister and me to do a sport when we were younger and for some reason, karate was just the one we decided we wanted to do and I made a lot of amazing friends and I also learnt a lot about discipline and also just seeing something through to the end. I started it and I set the goal for myself that I wanted to get my black belt and there were other things at the time that I had picked up and put down, picked up and put down and that’s one of the things I stuck with.’

He later goes on to say: ‘I felt very accomplished and it taught me a lot about setting a goal for yourself and then completing it, so that was good. I feel all of the kids that I did karate with, were all responsible enough citizens, we all turned out alright. I don’t think it was a coincidence, I think that we learned a lot about staying off of drugs, doing well in school and the instructor that I had was pretty amazing.’

On the topic of discipline and determination and sticking to things, during his pursuit as a rising singer he would play DIY shows outside the parking lots of Shawn Mendes and Troye Sivan concerts. It takes a lot of discipline and a new way of looking at things to go pursue it and I asked about his experience at that time. ‘It feels like yesterday but when I was performing outside the venues, I was 22, that was six years ago, it has been a long time since then, but I think having that grit and determination and refusing to give up I definitely learnt from karate.’

Whilst performing the DIY shows he used to also hand out business cards, I mentioned that it was a smart move and a different idea that most people don’t do. ‘Well, you have to be willing to do the stuff that people don’t want to do because that’s ultimately what’s going to be the path of least resistance. There’s a reason why people don’t want to do it but if you do the hard stuff it gives you a greater probability for success.’

Reviewing some of his biggest achievements so far, it immediately became apparent the impact and importance of his family and friends. ‘Probably making my parents proud, to be honest, that is the most important thing for me and getting approval of my family and my friends has probably been my greatest achievement if I am being honest.’

He also speaks about a moment on tour spent with his family: ‘The other night I performed in Paris and my mom was there with my sister and it was a sold-out show and it was my mom’s birthday and I got the whole crowd to sing Happy Birthday to my mom in French, in Paris. It was like, ‘what’s better than that?’ There’s nothing that is better than that, that’s the greatest thing in the world.’

A big success that contributed to the rise of Alec was the release of his song ‘Let Me Down Slowly’. I asked what it was like during that process of gaining recognition and the buzz it created. ‘While I was in it, it didn’t really feel like it was working and it was a long path and when you look back and sort of realise like ‘whoa I really climbed a big mountain there’ but as you are doing it you don’t always feel like you are moving up. I think that song was a struggle for a while, I had to keep pushing it because the music that I make sometimes takes a minute, it doesn’t just pop off immediately and ‘Let Me Down Slowly’ I worked it for three years and it is still charting in places on Spotify and it’s hanging around, it has been out for five years and people are still discovering it.’

In a generation where music release cycles move quickly, it is harder for music to remain timeless and personally, I feel an artist who is able to withstand the test of time is Alec Benjamin. There is always something new to discover when listening to his music, it’s easy to get lost in his deep, meaningful lyrics and the listening experience is almost like reading a story,  it has endless possibilities as each single adds a new dimension to his artistry. Looking ahead I asked what some of his goals are and his response was powerful. ‘I think ultimately my number one goal is to make music that would resonate across time.’ With singles such as ‘Let Me Down Slowly’ paying testament to this, his music has the capability of becoming timeless. 

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