Alec Benjamin found himself without a label, without a deal, and – largely – without support. Gambling everything, he booked a ticket to Europe, and played wherever he could find an audience – clubs, venues, or even parking lots.
“I was working without management or a label, so I had one other person on my team who stuck with me, and said: do you want to go tour in Europe? I said yeah, I’ll go!” he recalls. “I just went myself. I spent pretty much all the money I had, and played shows across Europe, in Germany and the UK. Then I walked past this Shawn Mendes show, and I thought, well, I could just play for them! So I did, and I got more social media attention than at any other point on the tour. So when I got home I decided to keep going.”
Playing 165 shows in that first year, Alec’s exhausting, lung-bursting schedule finally bore fruit. Each song reached a larger audience, clocking up millions of streams worldwide. Something seemed to click – midway between Paul Simon and Eminem in his approach to word play, the self-styled ‘narrator’ watching the world as it passed.
“I feel sometimes I’m more comfortable like that,” he shrugs. “Sometimes it’s easier to have a bird’s eye view, and write like that. And a lot of my favourite songwriters echo that.”
A mash up of influences, Alec’s work veers from straight singer-songwriter territory to something more approaching rap in its dexterous wordplay. This breaking down of barriers seems perfectly pitched for an audience attuned to streaming, and to playlist culture.
“I think now, obviously, it happens more and more,” he reflects. “I don’t really know how other people listen to music apart from me. I didn’t really get into music because of the genre, I got into it because of the words. I really never pay attention to the genre.” “I listen to a lot of country music, too,” Alec continues. “And I got pulled into that because of the melodies, the production, and what people were talking about. Even if it’s in the singer-songwriter category, if I don’t relate to the lyrics then I don’t really listen to it.”
Working continuously, Alec is currently gearing up to complete a full album, and is fresh from touring huge arenas with the likes of Camilla Cabello. It’s all a far cry from pitching up to a courtyard outside the venue, wondering if anyone would notice him. Climbing a mountain in every sense, Alec Benjamin is a success – but he wonders how we could even define such a nebulous, highly personal term.
“My definition of what that is changes pretty much every day,” he says. “I try to face the horizon and keep moving, so I don’t really know how to define success. I guess one of my goals is to figure that out!”
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