Solo Musician Interview: Benjii

Benjii Photo

Tell me about yourself?
Let’s see. Raised in the prairies of SK, and have been living in Vancouver now for about 7 years. Quarter of a century old, and have a large obsession with Back to the Future, Zelda, and pizza. I also make music sometimes

What Instrument(s) do you play, if any? And how long have you been playing your respective instrument(s)?
My one and only has always been the guitar. I’ve always considered myself a guitarist first, with singing as an auxiliary to my guitar playing (that will probably need to change now that I’ve got a little more singing to do!) I’ve been playing for maybe 14-15 years now, starting with acoustic and getting an electric about 5 years later.

On a separate note, I’d love to pick up the sax – get my George Michael vibes going, you know.

Who are your biggest influences?
For my current music I’ve been obsessed with bands like The Neighbourhood, The 1975, LANY, Glass Animals, etc. – just really cool and sheik groups that are heavy on the electronics and pop hooks.

However, my roots heavily go back to blues and pop. When I picked up the guitar I had somehow discovered SRV and Hendrix (my parents didn’t listen to these guys) and went heavy into their stuff. Plus, growing up in the prairies, we didn’t really have alternative music on the radio, so all I really knew was Top 40 which lead me to John Mayer when he put Continuum out, followed by his live DVD Where The Light Is. Those 2 pieces of art literally changed my life and solidified me as a musician for life.

What song(s) do you remember most from your childhood?
Oh MAN, I don’t even want to say. For some reason Mambo #5 sticks out the most because it’s super embarrassing and was the first song I ever downloaded and put onto my MP3 player.

But the song that really hits home and brings me back is probably Father and Son by Cat Stevens. My dad used to drive me back to the airport in his big white bread truck when I was little to go home to my mom, and he would always put Cat Stevens on for the drive. I don’t know, something about that song and sitting in the bread truck with my dad will always be one of my most special and vivid memories.

Do you perform covers and if so what’s your go to?
That’s a really hard one…I mean, I haven’t launched a live show yet so I don’t technically “perform” any covers right now, but for some reason my go to whenever I pick up a guitar is Landslide by Fleetwood Mac on acoustic, or Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by Mayer.

Although if I was to put a set together and pick a cover to do, I think doing a really cool sexy, electronic version of Grover Washington Jr’s Just the Two of Us would be SO rad. Maybe that’s a corny pick, but for some reason I’ve really been stuck on it.

What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
Alternative-Pop 100%. My vocal is definitely more of a pop-vocal, but I don’t think the backing music is pop enough to drop the alternative tag. It’s still very alternative in a lot of ways, and I’m really happy to be nestled into that sweet spot. It took awhile to find a sound I adored because there’s so many genres I love now, but I think alt-pop hits home for me and is something I think I’ll do well with.

Do you have a process for writing your songs?
Great question. It might sound odd or backwards or whatever, but I get really inspired by environments and colours. I don’t like pushing this because I know a ton of artists have this as well and it might sound a bit gimmicky, but with the “synesthesia” thing, I just love to start with a few colours of some sort and just build soundscapes and chord progressions based on what notes and harmonies I see/hear for those colours.

Once I’ve got a progression it can vary where I go from there (whether I keep with the colour thing, or veer off if I’m collaborating), but then I start layering on samples or other instrumentation, followed by some sort of gibberish top-line, and then finally I add in lyrics where the syllables seem to fit.

Have you released any music yet, and if so how has it been received?
This will be the very first time I release music under my own name/solo project, but from the explosion of praise this first single has received so far, I’m really looking forward to seeing where California can go from here!

Are you planning any music releases for the near future?
Definitely. I’ve got a lot planned for the next 12 months here, but you can keep your eye out for the follow up single in a few months here. But be warned because this second one will not be what people are expecting.

Do you have social media, if so please provide links?
You bet! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or on my website.

Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues?
Oh man, I have played a lot of amazing venues and not so amazing venues during my touring days with my old band (Hawking, check them out, they’re wicked talented).

My favourite would have to be Hotel Café in LA – not because of room size or crazy light effects or anything, but because it’s such a cool tucked away club where a ton of big artists actually go and test material out at. Just a great vibe.

Least favourite I won’t say exactly where, but let’s just say it was like 3 stories underground, incredibly dark and musty, with a broken elevator sitting 45 degrees in the elevator shaft, used to be like some type of butchery, and it drew a very interesting crowd as well. Despite all that, it was one of my best memories of touring but I probably wouldn’t play there again.

Do you have any gigs in the near future, and if so where and when?
I don’t have any current up and coming gigs I’m afraid as I’ve been focusing all of my time/money/energy on writing and recording, but once I have some more material out ready to go, I’ll really take some time to put together a top notch live show – sometime in 2020 I would say.

How do you balance your music with other obligations?
it’s certainly a tight rope walk. I work some very heavy hours with my current job, so I basically work all day and then come home and do music until 1-2am. I’m so lucky my girlfriend is so supportive of me, because if I’m honest, my life is just work and music right now.

Following on from that question, what has been your biggest challenge as a performer and have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so then how?
If I’m honest, I actually have a terrible case of stage fright. Back when I was just playing guitar it wasn’t so bad because we were so rehearsed and I was so comfortable with my skill set there. However now that I’ll be the lead singer as well (and as I mentioned earlier, singing was always a complimentary thing for me), it’s definitely going to be a hurdle I’ll need to overcome as a performer. But we never grow unless we can break out from our comfort zone right? It’s an obstacle I’m really looking forward to tackling.

What advice do you have for beginners?
If there was any advice I could have given myself when I set out to make a career in music, it would be to plan and execute your steps carefully. DO YOUR RESEARCH, make business / marketing plans, set realistic goals, and execute. You can’t be spending ridiculous amounts of money on gear, recording, or touring with the hopes someone will hear you and you’ll just get lucky and hit it big. You need to spend just as much time on the business side of things as you do the creating side (lately I’ve even been finding myself spending more time on the business side), so you can make sure that your musical baby can be heard by as many people as humanly possible.

And let’s end with something a little different…Which famous person, living or dead, would you have dinner with and why?
Ah jeez, haha. I’d be doing 3/4 of my life a disservice if I didn’t say John Mayer, SRV, or Hendrix. I feel like simply being in the presence of one those 3 would magically make me a better player. Plus I’d want an autograph.

But let’s go with Richard Simmons, I’m sure he’d be fantastic to have dinner with.


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