"I feel like you never really know," says 24-year-old singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin of knowing when his songs are complete. "There's just a certain point that you have to start putting music out, so you set a deadline for yourself and once you hit that date you just stop working on them." Benjamin has been releasing tracks on his YouTube channel sporadically over the past two years while steadily accumulating an ardent following both online as well as in person, playing shows whenever he could: opening for his musical role model Jon Bellion, embarking on his own self-booked European tour, playing in parking lots for fans in line for Troye Sivan and Shawn Mendes shows. Benjamin's from-the-ground-up approach to a career in music has shown the importance of patience and putting in the work as his debut mixtape, Narrated For You, arrives alongside the start of an entirely sold out 18-date tour.
Over the years, Alec has become best known for his intricate and at times perplexing lyrical storytelling, a trademark that appears thoroughly throughout Narrated For You, but this done more so in the interest of the listener than himself. Speaking with him, he says "I make the music, and the process of getting to write the songs and perform them is for me," but the music itself is for whoever is listening and enjoying it. His first official release of 2018, a brooding plea for empathy entitled "Let Me Down Slowly," has garnered over sixty-nine million listens on Spotify, clearly resonating with a number of people.
The mixtape features tracks like "1994," which outlines nostalgia and the realities of growing older, and "Death of a Hero," where Benjamin tells a story of the downfall of someone he once idolized. "I think I try to be as honest as possible," he says, "as long as I just try to be honest in my songwriting, there's going to be somebody out there who kind of feels the same way as I do." Benjamin possesses a strong ability to capture the vulnerability and the anxiety-inducing uncertainty of what the future holds that so many people struggle to understand in themselves. Using the lens of his own experiences, and instances that he's witnessed over the years, he presents this universal feeling in an uncomplicated manner. On "If We Have Each Other," Benjamin's lyrics offer words of encouragement, singing, "When the world's not perfect, when the world's not kind, if we have each other then we'll both be fine." With the turbulence of the world in its current state, falling victim to worry and anxiety seems almost inevitable.
"I do struggle a lot with being anxious," Benjamin says, mentioning that he doesn't enjoy using the internet too much, laughing slightly before continuing on to say, "sometimes it’s dangerous for people, I don’t think people were ever meant to have this much information." He tries not to look at the statistics for too long, either–apprehensive about comparing himself to others. He also is sometimes caught in the bind of being compared to himself. "Sometimes there's a little bit more pressure because there's already an expectation," he says primarily of the process of releasing previously posted demos as newly recorded, polished tracks. On Narrated For You, "Swim," having been previously uploaded as a demo titled "Swim Until You Love Me" months ago, has been revamped to include passionate and magnetic changes in production, as has a more recently released demo, "Annabelle's Homework." Both tracks share a common theme of complications in love, which is seemingly a frequently occurring matter throughout Benjamin's discography.
"Water Fountain" progresses through unpromising yet hopeful reconciliation, while showcasing Benjamin's practice of modifying his enunciation to sonically match the tone and pace of the track. This appears more on "Boy in the Bubble," an intricately detailed and visual track that sets the scene for a story about intimidation and projecting emotions and fears unto others as a product of abuse and mistreatment. As shown by a number of tracks on Narrated For You, such as "Boy in the Bubble" and "Steve," Benjamin is endowed with the capability of illustrating complex scenes in his music as though they were full-length motion pictures films. "Outrunning Karma" is another strong example of this, depicting horror movie like images with lyrics like "He's such a charmer all the bugs and their larva follow him out to Colorado. Ten dozen hearts in a bag, their bodies lying he'll drag them down to Colorado–A modern desperado."
This chilling subject matter bleeds into "If I Killed Someone For You" as well, although it's important to remember the theoretical function of storytelling. The track is "not talking about actually physically killing somebody else," Benjamin says, "but maybe just killing the person that you were before, changing who you are." Losing yourself as a result of an intense interest in someone is certainly not an ideal thing to do, but it isn't always intentional, and sometimes it isn't even something you realize you're doing when you're doing it. Benjamin recalls a moment he experienced this himself, saying: "I remember being in a relationship with someone, and my friends were like 'Hey man, you’re a totally different person–and the person you were before is kind of gone.'" On a larger scale of thinking of one's sense of self, the singer uses his sonically simplistic yet contextually melancholic track "Gotta Be A Reason" to make an effort to understand the existential matters of the world.
The honesty and applicability embedded in the songs included on Narrated For You are the driving force behind how Benjamin has managed to provide fans with a foundation to build trust and understanding upon. Of the following he has accumulated over the years, he says: "It’s amazing because I started out with zero people listening to me, but at the same time when you look at a number on a screen it’s really hard to picture that in your mind–because what is four and a half million people written out on a screen? It’s hard to really fathom what that actually means." While the realization may be lost in the game of numbers, the real grasp comes when Benjamin steps on stage in front of a crowd of people ready to spend the next hour or so singing those foundational lyrics back to him.
Narrated For You is available now.