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The OKP Interview: Benny Sings
The OKP Interview: Benny Sings
Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer

OKP Exclusive: Benny Sings Lets Us Into His "Little Heaven" On His New 'STUDIO' Album [LP Stream + Q&A]

The OKP Interview: Benny Sings Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer

I remember first hearing Benny Sings' "Dreams" on an expertly-curated playlist from Mayer Hawthorne back in 2012. At the time, Mayer had yet to shed his eternal blue-eyed Motown glow and Benny had been something of a cult-hero in the perpetually-merging realms of synth-soaked r&b and pop, leaning heavy on the textures of decades prior, but with his own spin on the Top 40 formula.

"Dreams" made for a proper intro, but it wasn't the one he had wanted me, or anyone for that matter, to have. In the eyes of the Dutch Dynamo, his best work was well behind him, wholly unfulfilled by his last two releases (detailed below,) left without much hope for sustaining a life in music. Which certainly seems odd (given that he was only four albums deep and in the meat of his career,) but those that know the reclusive, borderline enigmatic, songwriter, know this to be par the course. He's a rigid man, but in all of the right ways.

Holding himself to sky-scraping standards, Benny's long known that ever-coveted sweet-spot between polished and over-produced. But that wasn't what brought him back to a place where he felt comfortable creating. Rather, Benny's was a rare case where tinkering with shit served as catharsis, finding the light in dark spaces, both spiritually and physically. 

And so, on the eve of his fifth studio album STUDIO's release, we caught up with the man behind the sounds, to find out where he went and how he got back, along with what compelled him to do so. We talked influence, crappy '90s r&b, adapting to the digital landscape and how getting old doesn't always mean losing a step. Stream Benny Sings' new album exclusively down below and peruse our chat to get a sense of just what went into the comeback ahead of tomorrow's official release.

Grab your copy on iTunes today.

Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer

OKP: Benny, introduce yourself to the people.

Benny Sings: The name is Benny Sings. Producer, songwriter, singer, occasionally.

OKP: Cool, cool. The new record's coming out this month.

B: Yes.

OKP: It's the first time you're putting something out through Jakarta?

B: Yeah, yes. I've put out a couple of separate tracks online, but this is like the first real release.

OKP: Is there a new approach to this record?

B: Yeah, I think so. I was kind of done after the last album, Art. I was just ... The sponge was squeezed out, you know? Empty.

OKP: Really? What brought you back?

B: He did, actually. My manager just told me, like, don't be a bitch. Do something.

(Manager: Those weren't my words, but ...)

OKP: Paraphrasing?

B: Yeah. That was a really good starting point for me because I was making it just because the manager was telling me to. There wasn't this big ambition that I had with with my last album. After Art, I was really disappointed. I didn't feel like I met my ambitions.

OKP: Creatively or in the way it was received?

B: No, creatively. Art, for me, was really like, my final ... I really worked hard on that one.

OKP: It shows. It's a fantastic record.

B: Yeah, that's great to hear, and thanks a lot. But for me, it just didn't flow. I just worked too hard on it. That kind of got in the way of my creativity, I think. For this album, the ambitions weren't that high anymore because I was just doing a small album. But It didn't turn out to be a small album. It turned out to be, for me, a very important album. Because I was playful again. I was -

OKP: Back in the sandbox.

B: Yeah. I didn't have the ambition to write, like, the ultimate song, at all. I was just flowing and playing, and that's a much better place for me now. And it worked out. It wasn't the plan. Then it turned out I really liked the songs a lot more than Art.

The OKP Interview: Benny Sings On Crappy '90s R&B, Growing Old & Strong [Exclusive LP Stream + Q&A]

OKP: So, this is going to be your record?

B: I think Champagne People was really my record.

OKP: Another fantastic record.

B: I Love You had some good stuff, but Benny At Home and Art weren't my favorites. But I think this one is, again, one of my favorites.

OKP:  Glad to see you back in a place where you're comfortable and really standing behind the piece. It's actually kinda surprising to me that you felt so shitty about the way Art came together.The tracks are all so strong. I mean, maybe in the way that it flows?

B: Yeah. It's kind of rigid.

OKP: Yeah, I could see that. But they're all such strong compositions.

B: Well that's what I worked hard for, of course. It just didn't become music for me. It was just all like a concept, like an idea. Although, I'm still kind of a rigid kind of guy, so we'll never have like, super big drum fills. This album, for me, has turned out to be music.

OKP: Since you're behind it, since you're so much more invested in this one, how does it feel to finally get it out into the world?

B: It feels great. The times have changed, I think. The last album was 2011, so of course, the whole online thing is now the mainstream. Back then it was still a mix. The reactions are far more direct. It's nice that we dropped just one track and then immediately I'm getting feedback.  Of course, the downfall is that sales don't do anything.

OKP: The game done changed. How are you adjusting to the digital landscape?

B: Actually, it fits me perfectly. I'm not really a live music kind of guy. For me, it's great to not be on tour the whole year and be able to put out stuff and reach people.

OKP: Sit in the studio, do some work.

B: Yeah. The studio, as the album is called. That's my little heaven.

Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer

OKP: So this isn't going to be the last Benny Sings project or anything, right?

B: (laughs) No, no. I thought Art might be, though. And now the cards are on the table again. I think it's full on. Then again, life changes. I'm growing old, I've got a wife and a house, and all my family and stuff. I'm also working commercially, which I like. Producing other artists as well.

OKP: Like who?

B:Bea1991 is my last big one. It's far more, how do you say, indie or new wave than what Benny Sings is. It's a young artist and it' far more hinting back to the 90s.

OKP: That's hitting right now.

B: That's just logical. People want to make music from their early childhood. That's what she's doing and I'm really inspired by that. Actually, she inspired me for the new album, because we we're making this 90s crap music, as far as I'm concerned, and it really like, fired me up. I love making this crappy shit. It's such a relief to me that I didn't have to get more and more serious. This opened a door for me. That happened because of the Korg Tritan. It's just out of date. Maybe like, five to ten years. You don't play that anymore. That's like, super funny to me to immediately make it retro now.  I was really making Madonna kind of stuff with this girl. Not early Madonna, but the terrible kind of Madonna.

OKP: Full-form Madonna.


OKP: Post-A League of Their Own Madonna.

B: Ray Of Light Madonna. Those kind of terrible songs, which was actually really exciting for me and influenced the new record a lot. I started using the Triton for more R&B stuff, or whatever you want to call it. That worked out really nice, I think, because on the Triton, there's a lot of instruments. It's not like a vintage 60s, 70s thing. It's super synth-y. You have the whole drum kit that sounds terrible. I used it all. This "TAK!", hard 90s snares.

OKP: Hard, but thin.

B: Yeah! Not like "foomp!" and nice and warm. Cold and awful, you see this skinny white rock drummer. It was just so nice for me to play with these things and then make music from it. I think that added a layer of shine or something, which I was always looking for but never found.

OKP: Something bright in a dark place?

B: Exactly

OKP: Bea seems to have reinvigorated you. GoldLink's on the record. Who else did you work with on STUDIO? 

B: Mayer Hawthorne. He's singing on one track, and co-wrote a song. He meant a lot to me, I think, for the whole finishing thing. He's always supported me. Super nice guy.

OKP:  What have you taken from working with him?

B: We've toured with him for a month in Europe, and I've learned from how he takes on being a ... pop star's not a good word, but being a musician.

OKP: Being that front-man.

B: Yeah. Really, trying to take that to a higher level. Also, his songwriting is a little different from mine. That's also inspirational, and I think I can never do what he does, but it's still great to hear. When you're on tour, you often look at each other's shows, and then you can really marvel at how good these songs are right now. That's an inspiration.

Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer

OKP: Who are some others that you'd want to link with in the studio?

B: The obvious things, for me, like, producers are the ones. Producers from my childhood; Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, all of those.

OKP: I hear those early Neptunes and N.E.R.D. textures. Who are some of your influences as a musician and songwriter?

B: Let's see. Of course, all the obvious: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Paul McCartney actually influenced me in a big way with one album.

OKP: Which one?

B:Pipes of Peace.

OKP: That's the one with "Say Say Say"?

B: Yeah. That's an album from my childhood which my father really liked.

OKP: It's a helluvan album .

B: Yeah. I guess new stuff also inspires me.

OKP: What kind of new stuff are you listening to?

B: The latest Bird and the Bee album. Really awesome like disco sort of stuff. They're actually kind of my age, so it's music for people that are old.

OKP: You consider yourself old, Benny?

B: No, I'm not old, but I'm not a kid anymore. It's hard for me to listen to Kanye West and stuff.

OKP: Do you feel yourself maturing as a songwriter as well as a human?

B: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to say, because I still like making danceable stuff. I really like dancing still, just not in the club. More like a private kind of guy now.

OKP: You just dance in the corner when nobody's watching?

B: When everybody gets drunk and ugly.

OKP: That's when Benny moves?

B: Ugly parents making their kids feel ashamed of them. That's like, my new goal in life. It's still danceable, but no, it's not at all top 40. I mean, in 2003, when I made the first album, I think there were still real links to top 40 music. I was still really listening to top 40 stuff. Of course, Pharrell was really dominating at the time.

OKP: He and Timbo were (on) everything

B: Yeah, and Britney Spears ... but earlier, in the 90s, I was still the guy that also liked the stuff on the radio.

OKP: Radio was virtually inescapable back then. It's not like you could jus hit the web and dive into the abyss.

B: Exactly.

OKP: So you're an older guy now, Benny, but you're still making music that everybody can dance to.

B: I think what the fun thing of the whole internet and its revolution in music, is that there's not the idea anymore that people that get to their 40s should still make music for the kids, should still be wild because that's the market. I think, at this moment, we're waking up and thinking like, "There's a market for 40 year olds as well. We don't have to change ourselves. We just can make stuff that's kind of out of fashion, but we like it."