Interview with Benji Lewis
Pressing play on Benji Lewis’ ‘Here, Then and Now’ EP floods your speakers with an exhale; the chords of the opening track melting effortlessly into an infinite pool of atmosphere. It develops into a rush of chilling falsetto, gently stirring its surroundings with every breath. It might be called “Fast Forward”, but it feels like slow motion.
As it turns out, the track was the catalyst for the Australian singer-songwriter to create a fresh collection of graceful, immersive pop. “I had written one song with my friend and producer Sam, aka Kid Froopy, in Los Angeles towards the end of 2018,” Benji tells us. “He has a nice home studio set up and I felt super comfortable – that song came so naturally. It felt so special and I couldn’t stop listening to it after that session. That’s how I knew that was what was next for me.”
The EP emerged as he began to tap into the potential of this inspiring collaboration. “I decided that [Sam] would be who I would do the next EP with,” he says. “So I returned to Los Angeles in early 2019 to work on it and finish it together. He doesn’t live so central, so the surroundings were quiet. Our conversations, and even the rain coming down during one of the studio days, definitely slipped into the stories of the songs and even a lyric here and there.”
His fourth body of work since his 2016 debut showcases smooth, dynamic tracks leaning towards R&B, but still delivers a tranquil simplicity that remains constant in all of his music. “That sound kind of came together as I was working on my craft,” he explains. “I was more attracted to ballads and acoustic music with beautiful vocals. Eventually at the time I felt like I could bring that, what I love, to the current electronic music scene. [I started with] James Blake and Sam Smith as references for a direction, and then slowly it became my own sound.” Not unlike both of these influences, his voice is the highlight of every track, weaving melodies into glossy synths with an impressive fluidity.
Benji owes his ability to blend pop hooks with a more inventive soundscape to an instinctual approach. “I don’t consciously think too much when writing,” he says. “I’m lucky that melodies and lyrics tend to come pretty naturally. I think it comes down to me being picky about who I create my music with. I choose producers who are really good at what they do, and lean on [them] to help create that vibe and music base for me. Then my honest stories, lyrics, and feeling that comes with that keep it real.”
His lyrics are a notable aspect of the music, reminiscent of racing thoughts circulating through someone’s head late at night. They’re not about concrete descriptions, but show the beauty in uncertainty instead, hovering and searching. The phrases manage to encapsulate a feeling in just a few words, telling stories through a hazy lens. With these lyrics and their accompanying sounds, listening back to each song from the EP can instantly bring him back to a certain state of mind.
“‘Fast Forward’ brings me back to this nice apartment I stayed in with a few friends in West Hollywood,” he describes. “I was in my room, fairy lights on, feeling warm. [I remember] listening to the demo in there as well after it was written and understanding that I may be seeking change.”
In particular, though, the change of environment from his home in Melbourne set the scene for the third track. “‘New Day’ has me walking through the streets of LA, happy,” he says. “Having been surrounded by the same kind of energy and space for a while, I was craving to get back out there traveling and seeing more of the world. I had done a good Europe trip, and that definitely had me wanting more of that.” With rhythmic elements evocative of the fast pace of a city, it’s the most lighthearted moment of the EP.
“‘No Alibi’ is a song of strength for me, taking back a lot of me from a past love,” he continues. “And ‘Promise’ is that one that hits me a little harder. I sing it for the people out there and also myself…feelings of hurt and loss when it comes to love or anything you’re going through. But there’s also comfort in it that I feel, as we are going through these things together.” There’s a certain reassurance in the song’s thoughtful guitar fingerpicking, background vocals sighing in the background.
Although hinting at a spectrum of here, then, and now, the tracks stemmed from recent experiences. “I like to have time between EPs or bigger projects to go and live, experience and feel, so that when I end up in a studio with a genius friend or producer, all these stories of what has been happening recently just come out of me,” Benji says. This time frame has given the songs a meaningful connecting thread. “They are all a story on their own, but they were all around the same time as a certain romance I was wrapped up in and moving on from,” he reveals. “It’s about love in different stages, moving on and wanting to look forward to what’s coming.”
He’s already developing the next batch of music, experimenting with some “unique bridges and harmonies” – but there’s one lyric from the closing track of this EP that he wants to keep around him. “‘Will I get to you, I promise’ feels so strong and full of feeling for me…to remind me and anyone to be there for each other and themselves," he relates. "If you’re struggling as well at any time, reach out. People will get to you and be there for you.”
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