When we talk about successful songwriters, we usually talk about innovation, reception, and the ability to paint a picture in fewer than 1000 words. What we don't talk about enough, however, are the songwriters who write not for critical acclaim or radio stardom, but because it is the only way they know how to be truthful to themselves. It is impossible to broach this topic without the mention of Alec Benjamin, the 25-year-old Phoenix native who pens intimate stories and shares them with the world for all to hear. One listen to his new single "The Book Of You & I" is all you would need to realize that "personal" isn't just another buzzword for the indie-pop crooner. It's the only way he knows how to write.
"Anything can be art, but I don’t want to make the kind of art where people look at it and have eight million interpretations of what it can be. That’s not an effective way to let people know how I'm feeling," Benjamin tells me over the phone in between sound checks. He's currently on tour with Lewis Capaldi, the excitement of playing at the sold-out SSE Hydro arena in Glasgow not amiss from his voice. It's only been a little over a year since he released his debut mixtape, with countless shows and even an appearance on the Late Late Show With James Corden keeping him busy. Yet, he still finds the time to write, with his debut album These Two Windows already scheduled to be released in May.
"I think I have a lot more to lose now," he confesses. "My debut mixtape, I didn’t really care because I just got dropped [from a record label] and no one was listening, it didn’t make a difference. I had nowhere to go but up. That’s not really the case now." With over 14 million listeners on Spotify and 1.3 million followers on Instagram, there are certainly a lot more people listening. Every breakout artist's dream—sure—but also their greatest demise. "Social media has contributed to a lot of my anxiety; sometimes it's nice not to know how people feel about you every second. I think this is always a challenging time in an artist's career, the second body of work. A lot of people struggle in this portion of their career," he opens up before adding, "I'm really critical of myself. I’m worried the music won’t perform as well as the last music."
Listening to "The Book Of You & I", you would never know that this is the voice of a doubtful artist. The purity of his sweetened vocals rising over the lilt of rosy guitar chords has become a comforting trademark, both familiar and intoxicating at the same time. His delivery is self-assured, if not of the failed relationship he so poignantly sings of, then of the freedom he has in telling its story. "I like to work with people who have let me have my own voice," he admits to his writing process—one that he has no qualms about when it comes to sharing intimate moments. "I don’t really mind telling people personal things about myself on songs. Art is a way of communicating...this is my way of communicating those personal things and the thing that scares me the most is maybe I didn’t do the best job of communicating. Maybe they don’t know what I’m trying to say."
If you ask me, it is this fear that has let Benjamin rise to the rank he now so graciously holds. Challenging himself to create something meaningful not only to him, but to anyone who can draw parallels between his lyrics and their own experiences. And whether no one or everyone is listening, it will always be authentic. It will always be exactly Alec Benjamin.