INTERVIEW: New Zealand's Benee on her career, writing music and touring Australia
Image: Nikko LaMere
Interview: Danielle Doporto
New Zealand’s Benee (born Stella Bennett) released her debut EP Fire on Marzz in June. An addictive blend of soul, jazz, funk and pop, Benee has quickly gained a huge following with over 1.5 million monthly streams on Spotify alone plus critical acclaim from outlets such as Nylon and Idolator. Today she released the video for new single ‘Glitter’ and has recently announced an shows across Australia for November through to January and February next year. This is in addition to her appearance at Spotify’s Front Left show in Melbourne on October 9 alongside Tove Lo, Tones & I, girl in red and Electric Fields. Benee is fast becoming New Zealand’s hottest artist to watch and we recently chatted to her to find out more.
Hey Benee thanks so much for talking to us today. Your voice is amazing. How do you sound so confident and smooth and mature at your age?
Thank you. Stop it! Thank you very much, I don’t know how to answer that question. I just love to sing and that's just what comes out when I write songs.
What got you into music? Was it the singing, the writing, the artistry or all three?
I grew up playing around on GarageBand and stuff. I've always loved to write and then when I found out about GarageBand, I started messing around with it and tried to make heaps of stuff and kind of failed epically! I've always loved the idea of being able to write my own songs and I started to properly do that in 2017 when I met up with my producer.
Let’s talk about your creative process - from having an idea to getting it out there?
I write a lot of stuff down on my notes on my computer and I used to be a pretty big diary writer and stuff, but I don't do that so much anymore. I’ll have a lyric idea or a melody idea and I’ll of take it down or take a video on my phone. Then I’ll usually go into the studio with Josh Fountain who is my producer. If it's an idea that I think is worth doing more of, I will kind of show it to him and then it'll be this kind of bouncing ideas off each other and I’ll be writing away and usually he's looking at the beat. I’ll come up with lyrics and go in and just freestyle.
Is your process changing at all as you have more access to opportunities?
Yeah, I was just in LA and that was definitely different because I was working with different people who have different ways of making creative work. So I've been exposed to thinking of different ways that I can do it. So in the few sessions I've done recently, instead of freestyling I would figure out the structure of the song and I've gotten more used to when I’m writing the song, actually write it in the structure with the choruses.
So one of my favourite things to ask people is when you're writing, when you're performing, when you're recording is there anyone you've got in mind and does it change when you're in your bedroom versus in a studio versus on a stage?
It does definitely change. I think when I’m writing songs in my room the songs tend to be glorifying or really sad and slow. I feel like I've written a lot of songs about my ex. I think about a lot of people when I’m writing. I think about mum and I’m like is this lyric going to make her like you know? Is it inappropriate? I always think about who will listen to it - like my friends. I do think about my friends a lot.
You’ve said in the past you have really experimented with your style, especially with your lyrics and you feel that you've cracked it now - your formula. Do you think that you've really landed in your place for the rest of your artistic career, or do you think we're going to see more experimentation with you in the future?
I’m definitely all about trying different genres and kind of scooping out the elements from different kinds of genres. I like the idea of genre bending, so definitely and even in LA we tried to make different sounding songs and they definitely fit into different genres.
What are you looking forward to on your upcoming tour?
I think just going to places that I haven't been before for me is like the coolest thing. On previous tours that I did, just going to like Berlin and Stockholm was crazy.
What do you hope the fans take away from your shows?
I say this quite a lot but it's for people to be able to relate to my art. I think that for me is the biggest thing when I’m listening to or going to a gig, being able to relate to the music and what they’re saying is the biggest thing for me. That’s what I would hope for people to kind of get out of listening to my music. Feeling a little fuzzy inside, like they’re not the only weird one out there.
You have said in the past you have regretted things you say on stage. Tell me about the good, the bad and the ugly!
If I say something embarrassing I’ll instantly kind of block it out and forget about it, so that I’ll feel better. But a couple of people who have reviewed my shows have quoted me, I said something like holy crumble cakes which is embarrassing!
Do you put a separation between Benee the artist and Stella the person at home with her family and her friends?
Yeah, I think I do. I think Benee has definitely got this kind of newfound confidence. I have a little quiet side to me where I kind of hibernate in my room and I have a small group of friends. There’s a less crazy side, which is cool to have.
Has anyone thrown their undies on stage at you yet?
No, they haven't! Someone bought me a bunch of flowers which was really cute. And then he gave me a kiss on the cheek. It was kind of weird, but it was also really nice. I was like ‘aww, thank you for the flowers!’
We have all these amazing platforms our fingertips like YouTube, SoundCloud and GarageBand as you’ve mentioned. They've just changed the whole face of the industry. What are your feelings about these platforms?
I think it's nuts what's happening right now with streaming and everything. It's so much more accessible, there are so many places where you can put out music. I think it's cool that like you have a platform like SoundCloud where A&Rs are swirling around looking for people. There are a lot more opportunities for people who make music now. I think it's cool, I think it's really cool.
Are you getting recognised down at your local shops yet?
Weirdly enough, I got followed down the street by a group of twelve-year olds and they did ask for a photo which was strange, but really cool! It was weird for me because I’m not used to it, but it was really cute.
Benee is touring across Australia throughout October and November. Tickets are on sale now via www.benemusicc.com
October 9 - Front Left Live, Forum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 22 November - Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 28 November - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Friday 29 November - Max Watts, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 23 November - Spilt Milk, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 30 November - Spilt Milk, Ballarat, VIC
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival
Monday 27 January - Albert Park, Auckland, NZ
Saturday 1 February - Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday 2 February - The Domain, Sydney, NSW
Friday 7 February - Harts Mill, Port Adelaide, SA
Saturday 8 February - Footscray Park, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 9 February - Esplanade Reserve & West End, Fremantle, WA