Interview & Photos by: Orchee Sorker | May 4, 2022
Phoenix-born, LA-based pop singer-songwriter, Alec Benjamin, sits down with Hazze Media to talk about his ongoing North American spring tour, first-time experience of performing at Coachella, new album (Un)commentary, learning Mandarin and wisdom about pursuing your passions.
Benjamin chats with Orchee Sorker (Hazze Media Director of Press & Team Photographer) before his performance at The Pageant St. Louis, Missouri on April 30, 2022. Check out full set photos below!
Q: Hi, how are you doing today and how has the tour been?
AB: I'm good! Tour has been really great! It's been weird. Normally, we rehearse at a rehearsal studio. Then, the bus shows up. and picks us up and takes us to the first destination. But, we didn't have a bus for the first two weeks because we did Coachella after the first two shows...where we were flying for those shows. So, it didn't feel like the traditional start of tour. It's been a weird tour, but it's been great.
Q: You're halfway through the North American tour. What has been your favorite moment?
AB: I'd have to say the meet-and-greets have been really fun. It's nice to see people. It felt like everything was going back to normal. When I did the last North American tour, you know before everything closed down again. Just having the opportunity to perform for people again and do meet-and-greets and just get like face to face with people that you don't have to wear a mask for everything.
Q: "For this album (Un)Commentary...how did your creative process differ from your writing in Narrated For You and These Two Windows? Why is it called "un" commentary?"
AB: Well, the creative process was different just because it was immediate during the pandemic. It was very solitary. It mostly in my house and when I collaborated with people it would be via zoom and FaceTime. So that was, that was different. The things that I was inspired by were different because with such an unprecedented time and everybody was like locking their house. I was watching a lot of the news and kind of like reflecting on what was going on in the world. I used the album to journal my feelings about what was going on. I didn't necessarily feel like I had to tell a story because I felt like the story that was taking place in the news media and in the world at large was just so crazy that I kind of just wanted to make the album my own commentary on. The stories and things that were unfolding.
It was just supposed to be like "uncommon commentary". I was maybe talking about things that people were reluctant to talk about. You know, just told from my point of view, which I feel is unique because every person is unique and seeing it as individual.
Q: My new favorite songs would be “Shadow of Mine” and “Devil Doesn’t Bargain”. You use a lot of metaphors when you’re storytelling. Was this a technique you practiced over the years of writing or does it come naturally?
AB: I think some of it comes naturally and some of it needs practice. I try to find parallels between things that don't necessarily appear related at first glance. Then, I use that in my songwriting as a tool to get my point across. I think some of it comes naturally. I feel like sometimes I see parallels between things that maybe other, other people don't necessarily see. I think that makes my songwriting unique.
Q: The month of May is "Asian/Pacific American Heritage" month. Going back to when you recorded “Let Me Down Slowly” & “Water Fountain” in Mandarin, what inspired you to learn Chinese? What aspects of the Asian culture do you admire?
AB: Growing up, I'd been indirectly inspired by like Asian culture in a lot of different ways.
My dad is a medical doctor, but he also practices integrative medicine, which is like some medicine from the East, like acupuncture and stuff. My first exposure to East Asian culture was doing a Chinese form of karate. Some of that influenced me to learn the language. A lot of the things that we learn in karate were written out in Chinese characters and maybe that inspired me. Ultimately, I think the West has in large part discounted and ignored the East, and I think that's a shame because there's a lot to be learned from some of the longest lasting cultures in history.
Q: This was your first time at Coachella. What was the experience like being a part of this massive festival? For you, what is your opinion and experience of the Coachella crowd vs. your tour audience?
AB: Everyone talks about it, and I've been hearing about it since I was a little kid. The fact that I got to participate in it was pretty cool. At the end of the day, it was awesome! It was the biggest stage I've ever performed on physically. So, I learned a lot from that. As much as the audience was watching the stage...the audience was crazy. I was watching the audience. People wore crazy things and they really went all out for the festival. It was very fun for me. I felt like I was also a spectator, even though I was performing.
For my music, the people who are going to come and see my set are normally people who have heard my music before and people who are going to know the words...like you're not going to just show up to my set. It felt like the people who are at our set where they're intentionally and weren't just there peripherally and they were really engaged. At least from my own personal experience, I can say that we had a great audience.
I can see how there can definitely be people who come to festivals who want to go and check out stuff that they're not familiar with. Maybe that sometimes that leads to having an audience that's maybe less enthusiastic than a headline show, but I didn't really notice too much of a difference. I guess the difference between that and a headline show would be the time. We played at 4:00 PM. It was really hot out, and it was also outside. Shows on tour are inside. So, sometimes it feels louder because the sound is inside. But, I had a good experience at Coachella. I felt like the crowd that was there was really invested in it.
Q: Personally, I have recently changed my career path to entertainment, and I am beginning to compare my work and life with others. For aspiring creatives, what is your advice to those who are wanting to pursue careers in the creative industry? How do you avoid falling into comparison?
AB: Well, I compare myself to everybody and I never feel like I'm doing a good enough job. So, I think I'm the wrong person to ask. If you are pursuing something that you love, that's the best thing. If you're doing something that you don't like, it's difficult. You know, you have one life, right? You should do what makes you happy because ultimately you're going to work the hardest for that.
Like, I had difficulty focusing and doing things in school, and I know that if I wasn't pursuing something that I didn't genuinely enjoy and genuinely want to do, then I wouldn't be able to. I wouldn't be able to maintain this level of focus. My only recommendation, which seems like what you're, what you're already doing is to just pursue something that you enjoy. You know, if you don't like it, you can always leave.