At the fresh age of nineteen, Auckland singer-songwriter BENEE, has already made a lasting impression on the New Zealand and Australian music scenes with her infectious indie-RnB style bangers, 'Tough Guy' and 'Soaked'.
We caught up with BENEE ahead of her debut Australian headline shows next week, to chat about dropping out of uni to make music (and pizza) and what she has planned for the rest of 2019.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into music?
Yeah of course! So this is my second year coming out of high school. I was at university for two weeks doing a Communications degree, which is pretty pathetic, um but I had released ‘Tough Guy’ and I’d been working with a guy called Josh Fountain, who I got in touch with after releasing a couple of Soundcloud covers on the internet. So basically that year, I dropped out of uni and was just basically working - I made pizzas, washed dishes for a year and made music. The lifestyle was amazing! [laughs] But yeah I’ve just been working with Josh at Golden Age studios which is in Auckland, and also with this guy called Djeisan Suskov. They’re both in the band LEISURE, which is a really cool band. But yeah that’s what I’ve been up too!
Why did you decide to drop out of your Communications course and uni?
I mean, there was so much pressure in my last year of high school to go to uni. I had just released my song ‘Tough Guy’ and that was kinda like when we had all enrolled and we were all set and everyone was like ‘this is what I’m doing with my life’ and I was like "oh god, is this what I want to do?" I knew I wanted to do something in the creative industry so I was like "okay this sounds good to me". But I guess at that point, music was kinda like the fantasy and probably wouldn’t happen, but if it did, that’d be flipping amazing. And I guess just the response from that (Tough Guy) was pretty encouraging and second week into uni, I just felt like the whole time was just kind of a distraction from what I knew what I actually wanted to do so I was like "I’m just gonna quit this, give music a solid crack and just work hard". Best decision ever!
What’s your favourite thing about making music?
Just like the ability to do anything and take elements from different kind of genres that you like and kind of, make your own sound. I feel like that’s a really important thing. I like different elements from RnB tracks and pop tracks and coming up with something that sounds fresh.
Who would you say are your biggest influences? Are there any particular musicians or artists that you draw inspiration from?
I would say, Travis Scott… his new album is crazy town! And James Blake! He’s just released a new album. I feel like those guys are like pretty out there. I mean I listen quite widely, I’m really into the ‘discover’ thing on Spotify. Like just being able to listen to music and it’ll automatically link you up with stuff that you’d like. It’s always pretty accurate and I find that quite cool.
Yes, I love that about Spotify! So you mentioned you’re barely two years out of school, and you’ve already supported acts like Winston Surfshirt and Lily Allen. Do you ever have moments where you’re like “whoa, how did this happen?”
Dude, totally! I just did Laneway Festival as well and it was flipping crazy! We were at the hotel and Rex Orange County was sitting beside us eating lunch and I was just like "what the heck am I doing here?" and Yellow Days too! And for Lily Allen it was like my fourteen-year-old self, flipping screaming and yeah, I don’t know - it’s just crazy!
If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Whoa. Such a hard question! I mean, there are so many people but I’m so obsessed with James Blake at the moment so I think it would be him.. or KAYTRANADA... or The Internets Steve Lacy! OK, there are so many! But those are the top ones.
Congratulations on cracking the triple j Hottest 100, with Soaked coming in at #58. That must feel pretty damn good.
Thank you! I was listening to it live and yeah it was just crazy.
Soaked has also racked up over 6 million streams on Spotify, which is also pretty impressive. Can you tell me a little bit about the song and what inspired you to write it?
Yeah totally! It was recorded at Golden Age again with Josh and Djeisan. And it was like, you know, your classic kind of breakup scenario but I kind of had enough of listening to the sad stuff and I thought how can I turn it and make it relatable and kinda fun. But also, you know, stay true to what I was feeling. But it’s basically like you’re having this conversation with someone that you love and you want to say something and you know what you want to say but for some reason, there’s just this weird lump and you can’t get it out.
Are you working on any new material at the moment?
Indeed I am! I have a bunch of stuff that’s ready. I’m just like here, itching for it to come out. But, yeah this year we’ll definitely have a lot of music, which is cool and exciting.
Yay! Are you working on an EP or can we expect a debut album sometime soon?
Yeah I think it’ll be a single and then an EP, and then working towards an album. I’ve got lots of songs, so get ready!
You are heading to Australia next week to play two headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney - what can fans expect from your live shows?
Well, I’m bringing my live band over and I’ve got a full set of music which will be exciting. I’ll play some songs I haven’t played before. I guess just being able to show my supporters the stuff that I have been working on, which is so exciting. It should be fun and pretty upbeat. It’ll be a good time. I’m very excited.
Are you heading over here a little earlier, so you can see some sights?
Yeah I’m coming a bit earlier - the 12th or 13th I think. I’ve got to do a bit of promo stuff, but I’ll probably be doing some sightseeing and some relaxing and enjoying the weather. Enjoying the Aussie vibe. I was in Sydney not too long ago for the Like A Version and that was my first proper time in Sydney and it’s just like a cooler New Zealand. I kinda don’t want to admit that, but it actually is. There’s just so much to do and it’s massive! Melbourne is also awesome, I’ve been there a few times.
It's true, Australia is cooler. Speaking of the Like A Version with Petit Biscuit - How did that come about?
Yeah so his manager got in touch with mine because he wanted a female to sing it and I was just like “heck yes, that’d be bloody awesome”. And so I came over and met his team, and they were the most genuine guys ever and we just had a lot of fun. So that happened and the response from Aussies has been really awesome. It’s been cool as.
Do you have a job to help you get by or has music become your full-time job?
It’s full time now, I just quit my pizza making job and my dish-washing job. So it’s like the real deal!
Congratulations! Although you must be missing the free pizza...
Thank you! Ha ha yeah, that’s the one downside and it was mean pizza. Like so good.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Playing more shows! After I do the Aussie shows I come back to New Zealand and I have like a bunch of uni shows that I’m doing with the RUFUS DU SOL tour. So that’ll be awesome, but just doing more performances and working on new music. Hopefully travelling some more.
Finally, do you have any advice for other emerging musicians like yourself, that are trying to break into the industry?
I just reckon if it’s something that you really love and wanna do, it might sound cheesy, but honestly just go for it. You know, the whole thing that I was thinking was that I could think of nothing worse than getting into doing something that I’m not fully passionate about or love. Because you don’t have that much time, so just flipping go hard at it and have fun doing something that you really are passionate about.
BENEE AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Friday, 15th Feb – The Workers Club, Melbourne
Tickets via OZTIX
Saturday, 16th Feb – Lansdowne, Sydney
Tickets via INTIX