Editor’s Note: This article is a full transcript of the radio interview, which has been lightly edited for format and consistency. Thanks to WNYU-FM and Bridgette Kontner for the collaboration!
These past few months have been huge for up and coming New Zealand alternative singer songwriter BENEE, with her track “Supalonely,” specifically, blowing up on TikTok. What’s even weirder is that she’s spent the last several weeks of it quarantining with her family in their home in Auckland. Now that they’re beginning to reopen, she’s been back in the studio working on an upcoming album. She chats about everything from the stripped down version of “Supalonely” she just released, to her new YouTube series “BENEEfied,” to how she’s been working on new music coming out of quarantine.
Bridgette Kontner: Hey everyone! This is Bridgette and you’re listening to the Sound Between here on WNYU! I have such a treat today: BENEE is joining me all the way from New Zealand! Thank you so much for stopping by!
BENEE: Of course, hello!
BK: So what’s been new with you? What’s going on? You’re with your family in New Zealand, right?
B: I am. I’m in Auckland, New Zealand. We’ve actually just come out of lockdown, so we’re on our level two right now, which is crazy. Level one is like, kind of normal life, which is crazy. So we’re almost back to normal living which is nice. I can go back into the studio and stuff, which is what I’ve been doing, and it feels good! It feels good being able to see people.
B: I feel like I had enough of the lockdown situation.
BK: Oh my gosh, I think we all did. So what’s it look like — level two — are you still able to go places a lot or not as much?
B: It’s like — we’ve still got to be kind of careful and they’re kind of encouraging social distancing still. But, yeah, we’re allowed to do 10-people gatherings, which is exciting. You know, you can go to your workspace and everything. Yeah, it’s weird because it’s still like– we’re still kind of a little bit, you know, we don’t want to stuff things up. So I think it’s– people are being pretty responsible, which is good. And I think it’s what we need right now; I’m glad that it’s getting a little bit more normal.
BK: Yeah, so are you able to walk outside like normal.
B: Well yeah, it was so– our lockdown was crazy. We weren’t even allowed to get takeaways or anything. There was, like, no restaurants or anything, so it was only essential workers. And that didn’t include people making food, which is crazy. But I think, I don’t know, the spirit now is everyone’s kind of excited and I think you’re seeing a lot of people looking a lot happier to be able to go back to work, because obviously a lot of people did not have work for a long time, which is scary. But I don’t know, we’ve also got Jacinda Ardern, who’s our Prime Minister, who’s been incredible and I think that the whole government support system we have is very much people-focused and we have a lot of things in place to support everyone who is struggling right now, which is nice.
BK: Yeah, do you notice– do you feel different walking outside at all?
B: I do! It’s weird! It’s crazy because it’s like, it doesn’t feel real what has happened in the last — what, like — seven weeks.
B: Everyone is in the same boat and everyone is kind of like, what is happening to the world right now? But yeah, it’s interesting because you go out and you talk to people in real life and it’s like– I’ve kind of forgotten how to socialize. (laughs)
BK: Yeah totally!
B: (laughs) it’s weird.
BK: Here in the U.S. we’re still in the earlier stage so I’m still (laughs) I’m looking forward to that, I guess.
B: Yeah. (laughs)
BK: So while you’ve been in quarantine you’ve been doing some fun stuff.
BK: Like you just released the stripped back version of “Supalonely”–
BK: which is awesome! What was the inspiration behind that? How did that come about?
B: Yeah! I mean, that whole thing with “Supalonely” is I wrote it after a breakup when I was really sad and lonely. (laughs) But when I went into the session I was like, I want to flip it and I want to make an upbeat happy song that makes me feel good in this session so I don’t have to think about being sad. But I don’t know, I’ve been listening back to it, you know, a couple months ago and I was like, I feel like I want to make the real side to what I was actually feeling. And I think that the lyrics speak quite honestly about how I was feeling and I think that the production is definitely what, you know, masks it and makes it upbeat and fun and relatable and everything. But yeah, I wanted to strip it back and I got my guitar player Tia, who’s in my band– I got her to lay down some guitar, and I went and I worked with my producer Josh and I was kind of just like, let’s just make it super sad. Like, I want to make it– (laughs) I want to give it a really sad side. And I think, yeah, I like it now how they’re like polar opposites but they’re written about the exact same thing and I was feeling the exact same way. Yeah, I don’t know, it’s nice to kind of show two sides.
B: You know what I mean?
BK: I feel like that kind of a thing with your music– like sometimes the lyrics are quite sad,
BK: but then, in the way you make it, it’s so happy which I think is so cool,
BK: because it’s definitely two-dimensional. Like even a song like “Blu”,
BK: I still feel like there’s kind of some upbeat feeling in it.
B: (laughs) yeah.
BK: Like it’s very obviously a sad song but it’s not a dragging sort of sad song, which I think is cool.
BK: That’s exciting! So speaking of “Supalonely,” that is the song that has really, really blown up. Did you think that this was going to be the song?
B: No, I actually didn’t! I’m actually — honestly — I’m happy that it’s this one because this was the one where I was being super experimental with everything, you know? Like “put a ton of auto-tune on my voice in this I wanna sound like a rapper!” (laughs) like “do this”. I had a lot of fun making this song; it’s a song that doesn’t sound like my other music. It was a song– I don’t know — it’s kind of a fresh sound for me. And I like that it’s not always the, kind of, classic ones that people love, which is nice and it’s interesting. I don’t know, I did not at all– I didn’t even know, I didn’t even think anyone would like the song because usually it’s the ones that I actually am happy with and I really, really like that no one likes (laughs) I feel like that’s been the case with most of my music,
B: But yeah, no, I’m glad it was this one because this is a weird one out of the bunch, for sure.
BK: Did you feel that when you were making it? Like, what was the feeling of making it? Since you’re saying it’s kind of different for you.
B: Yeah, I mean. It was the first session I did when I went to L.A. on this trip to make music, and yeah, I had gone through the breakup– broke up with my boyfriend four days before I left, so I was like–
B: Kind of just like, “the world hates me, what’s happening with my life, I’m so sad” and (laughs) I hated feeling sorry for myself at the time. But I kind of just gave up, and I was like “you know what, stuff it! Like, I’m frickin sad right now but I’m going to make a song about it and I’m going to have fun. Stop feeling sad and miserable and, frickin, all of that stuff.” So, I don’t know, I feel like it was kind of just that “stuff it” attitude that made me — I don’t know — I just got in there and didn’t really care about anything and I was kind of just like “I’m going to make a song that makes me feel good.” And I think, even when I did the ad-libs in the song, like the screaming and the, you know, “I’m a lonely b*tch” it was kind of like “why not?” You know what I mean? Like I didn’t really have anything to lose (laughs) when I was in the studio. Like I didn’t really feel like anything was going my way so I was just like, “you know what? Stuff it. I’m just going to have fun doing this.” And I feel like that’s sometimes when the best stuff can come out when you’re not, kind of, caring too much.
BK: Yeah, I love that! So what kind of stuff usually inspires you when you write? Is it those big emotional moments or, kind of, little things?
B: I think more recently it’s been the whole relationship kind of stuff. But in a lot of my earlier work it was — I don’t know. I’ve written about fears of mine, actually that’s more recently, as well. Yeah I’ve written about fears and relationships. Relationships, you get so much out of them.
B: And I feel like they’ve been very helpful for my songwriting recently.
B: But yeah, dreams. I wrote a song of mine called “Afterlife”, which I wrote about this nightmare I had. I don’t know, I write about conversations I’ve had with someone. It can be anything and I think that that’s the crazy thing about music; you can literally write about anything and it’s weird how someone can relate to something, like people have related to my dream song — the song about my dream — people are like “oh my gosh, I feel that” and I’m like “what, how?”
BK: Like “you had that dream too?” (laughs)
B: But it’s cool, like it’s sick! It’s crazy but weird.
BK: Yeah totally!
B: I don’t understand it, but it’s fun.
BK: But that’s music! Yeah, everyone can relate.
BK: So you were saying you write your own music.
BK: What’s it like for you writing by yourself; whereas, now, maybe working with other people— how’s that different?
B: Yeah I mean I don’t know I’m someone who likes write my own lyrics and I think that something that I’m gonna stick by because I don’t like other people writing my lyrics (laughs) I don’t know, I mean, I’ve always worked with this guy called Josh Fountain and we’ve made like all my music together and he’s like a wizard at production. And I’ve also started to work with this guy called Jason Suskov who I actually made a bunch of FIRE ON MARZZ — the songs on FIRE ON MARZZ — with him. And he kind of taught me a lot of ways that I can write a song and he helped me a lot with the craft and everything of songwriting. But I don’t know, I feel like the people that — I mean I’ve only really worked with them, so far — but I feel like they kind of understand exactly what I like to do. Which is: I like to sit there and I like to write my lyrics in my little bubble and we can bounce ideas around, but I like it to come from me because I think that, I don’t know, that’s just my way of making music and I think that if it’s honest and if it comes from you, I think that’s kind of what’s special about it. But also when I went away to LA to make music, I was working with a lot of different people.
B: And I think that that was kind of what it was set in place to do, was to kind of put me into the studio with someone I didn’t know and to see how I would work with them and I think that I mean my next song that’s coming out — just a bit of promo (laughs) — at the start of next month, I worked with a producer whom I had never worked with before and it actually worked really well. But I had sessions where I was working with a different producer and there was a writer put in the room and they tried to write my song for me and I was like “no!” (laughs) like I don’t know, it’s interesting because I learned a lot about how other artists might work, which is that some people like people to sit in there and write their song for them, you know?
B: And a lot of people’s jobs are to just write songs for artists and I think that’s awesome, but it’s obviously not how I work. And I think that it’s really interesting how different different musicians and artists can work and I kind of, yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t really realize that that’s what it was kind of a bout and like but it was I learned a lot on that trip and now I know very clearly how I like to work and what I’m going to work like in the future, I think. But I don’t know even going away and working with those kind of people it has made me realize like I’d actually be keen to write songs for other people, too, you know what I mean?
B: So I feel like just kind of experimenting with stuff just kind of makes you realize what you want to do and stuff. You get stuff out of it, but you kind of learn more about what you want to do and stuff which is interesting.
BK: Yeah totally. Well, people want to hear your voice and your lyrics so that makes sense that you’d want to keep it authentic to you.
BK: Well, speaking of experimenting and things (laughs)
BK: You’ve been doing a really, really fun series on YouTube called BENEEfied,
BK: Where you kind of just do a lot of different activities with your songs and discuss the meanings— that is awesome, I love that idea! How did that come about?
B: We actually filmed that a while ago. We filmed that after I finished the Conan Gray tour that I supported, which was the end of last year. And it was the day I was leaving that night, so I was really, really tired (laughs) but I was filming them. We filmed it all in one day— all of the episodes. I don’t know, my guys from Republic organized it. My friend Michael planned it all and stuff and I was like “shoot yeah, ok, this sounds kind of fun.” They just had all of these activities for me to do and I was like— I wish I wasn’t tired, because I feel like I would’ve put in more effort (laughs) but it was really fun! And it was something I haven’t done before. I don’t know, I feel like I want to do more YouTube stuff because I have been a serious YouTube watcher since I was a baby, I swear.
BK: Totally, yeah!
BK: I mean, if you ever want to take a break from music (laughs) YouTube would be a good next step! (laughs)
B: Dude (laughs) yes.
BK: So we’re looking forward to more episodes coming out of that, right?
BK: So that’s on YouTube and that’s super exciting.
BK: What do you think your favorite one was to make?
B: There’s one that hasn’t come out yet.
BK: Ooh that’s good!
B: I can’t spoil it! I think it’s going to be the next one that comes out.
B: But, yeah!
BK: Can you say what song it’s about? Or maybe something about it?
B: Oh my God, what song is it about? (laughs) I’ve just forgotten what song it’s about.
B: I think it’s “Evil Spider”— no it’s not “Evil Spider”. That’s so bad that I don’t know what the song is! (laughs) I’m only thinking about the activity that I did in it.
BK: (laughs) That’s the fun part though!
B: And you know what? You’ll find out! And so will I, it seems! (laughs)
BK: We’ll discover it with you (laughs) we’ll discover it with you!
B: (laughs) dude.
BK: Now everyone’s going to watch!
B: I know, I’m excited!
BK: That’s so funny.
B: Excited to find out!
BK: So you first released “Tough Guy” back in 2017. So you were 17 then?
BK: How do you think your style, your writing, and stuff has changed since then? Because, that’s a good amount of time.
B: Yeah, true. I mean, I think “Tough Guy” for me was the first song that I made that I liked (laughs) I think I had made a lot of songs where I was kind of like “this isn’t the sound that I’m wanting to make”. But I don’t know, I was listening to a lot more R&B than I listen to now. I still love R&B and all of that kind of stuff. But I think, you know, I was listening to — I love The Internet and Steve Lacy— he’s more indie — a lot of that kind of stuff when I made “Tough Guy”, and even trap, trappy kind of stuff, and I think that you can hear that more so in the production. And I think, to compare that to now, I think with everything new that I make, I like to go into it and be more experimental now. I was maybe more afraid to do that earlier on, but yeah. I think even thinking about comparing “Tough Guy” to my EP STELLA & STEVE— with STELLA & STEVE I was listening to a lot more indie music and I think that what you listen to definitely influences what your music sounds like. And I think it’s been interesting to see how I’ve been listening to different stuff and it’s been rubbing off on the music that I’ve been making. And I think that for my new music— for the album I think that definitely listening to new stuff now it’s like, ok the album is going to sound very different to “Tough Guy”. It’s cool how you can do anything with creating.
BK: Yeah exactly.
B: And I think that’s the most exciting thing about it is that you can make something that sounds entirely different to every other piece of work you’ve done.
BK: Totally, yeah. And you can see the growth right in your discography, which is so cool.
B: Indeed, you can!
BK: Is there anything that’s inspiring you right now? Or something that you’re really digging?
B: Ooh. Yeah, I mean I’ve been listening to a ton of music lately, because I’ve been in isolation. (laughs)
BK: Because what else is there to do. (laughs)
B: There’s not a lot else that you can do (laughs) I love Tom Misch. Radiohead— I feel like I’ve listened to Radiohead since I was like 8, and I feel like it’s just something that I always listen to. I’ve been listening to— do you know the Japanese House?
BK: I do, yeah!
B: Dude, I’ve been loving them. I can relate to every lyric of hers. I sometimes am like, “I could’ve written that song” because it’s like, every word speaks to me.
B: Which is crazy. But, I mean, Bane’s World is also cool. I have a playlist right in front of me. Oh, I’ve been listening to a lot of New Zealand music.
BK: Oh, nice.
B: There’s this guy called Muroki who’s really sick. The Smiths, Cloak Bay, Grimes is pretty cool. Groove Armada, Slum Village, a lot of different stuff. But it’s been cool being able to just listen to music and watch films and series during isolation. (laughs)
BK: Totally. It’s kind of like you have no excuse not to.
B: Yeah, you can just do it! Just do it!
BK: You don’t even need to feel bad, yeah!
BK: Well that’s so exciting! I know you just said you’re getting to go into the studio which means…new music! (laughs)
B: (laughs) Yeah!
BK: That’s so exciting! Can you say something about how that process has been? How do you feel like that’s going making new music and what do you want people to get from it?
B: Yeah, it’s been cool! It’s been super exciting making new music coming out of releasing STELLA & STEVE. I feel like now working on an album — it’s going to be my first album ever, which is exciting!
B: But yeah, I think it’s like three quarters of the way done now. And I thought I had everything in it that I wanted to be in it, and then I brought a couple of songs I made in isolation into the studio and then Josh made it sound good— to be honest, because I can’t produce to save myself. (laughs) And I was like “damn, these need to go on the album too now.” So, yeah, it’s been super cool and I feel like isolation has definitely helped me to plan what I want it to be like.
B: So yeah, it’s been nice. Sorry, you go!
BK: Yeah, Zoom is so annoying like that. (laughs)
B: I know, I never know when to stop talking. (laughs)
BK: Did you know that it was going to be an album when you started or did it just sort of fall into place that way?
B: I had been talking about making an album for ages.
B: Like I think that I was— after STELLA & STEVE, I was like, “alright, now I want to release a bigger body of work.” I didn’t know what I wanted to put in the album until recently, though. And I think that for me, it’s not normally a thing of like “ok I’m making these songs to go on the album.” It’s like, I’m just making a bunch of songs and then when it comes to being like “ok I need to arrange an album” it’s like I have songs— oh I have one song on the album that I wrote in 2017.
B: You know what I mean? So it’s like, just picking the ones that I like,
B: and putting them into a little package.
BK: (laughs) Making it make sense.
BK: Wrap it up with a bow.
BK: That’s so exciting! Well, we are really excited for that, that’s going to be so big. I mean, besides that, is there anything you want people to look out for from you in the next few months? Whatever that may be.
B: Ooh. Yeah, apart from the album (laughs) and a single coming out in a few weeks… a couple of weeks? I don’t know when I’m going to be announcing that— it should be soon. I love how I just don’t know stuff.
BK: You know what, you made the music! (laughs)
B: So many others are onto it and I’m not really one of them. But, that’s alright, a song is coming out in a few weeks. And I have a music video that’s being made right now for it— haven’t told anyone that!
B: Yeah, so I’m super excited about that. I think just giving people stuff to watch and listen to right now is something that a lot of people kind of need, if you can feel me.
B: And I think that’s even why the BENEEfied episodes have been good right now, because everyone is bored. (laughs) Watch this!
BK: Yeah, this is the perfect time! More content!
BK: Things for people to do. Thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with me today, I really appreciate it!
BK: Thank you so much!
B: Of course!
BK: Have a wonderful rest of your day!
B: Thank you!
Email Bridgette Kontner at [email protected]