searchsearch
Alec Benjamin On Working With Alessia Cara, Meeting His Idol John Mayer & Chasing Dreams

Alec Benjamin

Photo: Recording Academy

news

Alec Benjamin On Working With Alessia Cara, Meeting His Idol John Mayer & Chasing Dreams

"People can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them," Benjamin, who played more than 150 parking lot shows in 2016, told the Recording Academy in an exclusive interview

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2019 - 03:22 am

Phoenix-born, L.A.-based pop singer/songwriter Alec Benjamin calls himself the "narrator," going so far as to name his 2018 debut mixtape Narrated For You.

Over the last year, he's been actively growing his fan base and living his dreams. He's gone from playing more than 150 shows in parking lots outside of other pop artists' concerts in L.A. in 2016 to bringing out his idol, John Mayer, as a surprise guest during his headline show at the El Rey Theater this past May.

We caught up with the rising star to learn more about how he manifested Mayer into his life and how relocating from Arizona to California has shifted his musical career. We also found out what it was like working with recent collaborator (and GRAMMY winner) Alessia Cara, with whom he collaborated.

So you just performed at Bottle Rock in Napa. How was it?

It was awesome. It's the first time in a long I've performed at a festival and the first festival I've done in the U.S. When I first started making music I had the opportunity to do a couple of festivals abroad. But those are actually tented, so it felt like I was inside. This is the first festival I've played that was open air. I had a great time. I've never been to Napa before, it was beautiful.

I learned a lot from that experience because there's so many new things happening. The crowd was great and overall it was fun, but I was really nervous. It's just going to take some getting used to. I have a few more festivals that I'm going to be playing this summer. I'm happy that that was the first one that I did because the crowd was really welcoming and super friendly and also forgiving because I was really, really nervous.

Do you have any lessons from that experience going into Lollapalooza, and other summer festivals, that you're excited to showcase?

Yeah. I think I have a couple of changes that I want to make to the set. I'm excited about Lollapalooza. I'm excited about all of the festivals. And I'm excited about Lollapalooza because of the history that it has and there's so many people playing there. There's going to be a lot of artists that I'm going to get to see that I have never seen before, so that will be great. I'm just trying to go into with an open mind.

That's awesome, it is totally huge. Speaking of touring and live shows, you also wrapped part of your headline tour recently. What was your favorite city that surprised you on the tour?

There's one city that I hadn't spent a lot of time in before I started touring. Not even just for the show, the show was great, but I really like Seattle as a place. I thought it was beautiful and we got there on a really sunny day and we got to go down by the water and really try the food and hang out. People were really friendly.

And then I had a great time in Detroit. I thought Detroit was really, really cool. The crowd there was crazy. But I think overall every city was pretty awesome. I think that was probably the most surprising thing is that how great the crowds were everywhere that we went. Sometimes you don't get to spend as much time in the city exploring as you like. So that was a bit of a bummer, but ultimately I think all the shows were great. That was probably the most surprising thing. Not that I'm surprised the shows were good, but I didn't expect it, you don't expect every crowd to be so amazing and they were.

What do you think was one of the biggest challenges that you maybe didn't expect while touring?

Maybe the biggest challenge is getting adjusted to life on a tour bus. I was in a tour bus accident three years ago. That was a really short tour. This is the longest period I've lived on a tour bus, for almost seven weeks. I didn't realize how much that affected me. That was the first real near-death experience that I had. So getting back on a tour bus and have dreams about it and stuff, that was the hardest part. Just getting adjusted to living life on the road. That was difficult.

You often refer to yourself as a "narrator," and your album is called Narrated For You. Can you speak to how this idea guides the stories behind your music?

I wanted to define myself in that way just because, well, it made it easier in my music videos because then I didn't have to act in them. I could just tell the story. I'm really not great in front of the camera. I also think that sometimes it's nice to take words that you don't necessarily hear in the context of music and repurpose them. I mean, I'm a singer/songwriter, essentially, but that was the thought process behind it.

You released a new version of "Let Me Down Slowly," bringing on GRAMMY winner Alessia Cara, resulting in a great pop duet. How did that collaboration come about?

That came about because one of her fans sent me a message and was like, "She's doing promo right now and she was talking about your song!" So I tweeted her. I'm a huge fan of hers. I was like, "Yo, I love your music. We should work together." And she was down, like, "Oh, that would be great." Which was really exciting for me and I was surprised. We couldn't organize a time to write a new song together because we were both on tour. I was like, "Would you wanna do a verse on this song?" So she sent me a voice note of her verse. I was like, "That is amazing."

She has the best voice I've ever heard, ever. On a voice note with no editing. It's crazy. She sent it to me and I was like we should just put this on the song. It's super easy to work with her. She's just a good person.

That's so cool. Have you guys met in person yet?

Yeah. The first time we met was when we made the music video together. It was her and her friend that she travels with, and then I bought them both dinner. I was like, "This is the least I can do." The crazy thing is that we went to Downtown L.A. to get food. And we walked past the GRAMMY Museum, where they have all the people that have won GRAMMYs and one of them is for Best New Artist, which she had won [at the 60th GRAMMY Awards]. We took a picture next to her thing on the sidewalk, which was really cool.

Are there any other artists that you have your eye on working with?

I like it when it's a surprise who you collaborate with. When I thought about it after the collaboration had taken place [with Cara] I was like, oh, that makes sense. But I haven't really been thinking about it that much. I just want to improve my own music and then if the right collaboration comes along that would be great.

You've talked about how John Mayer is one of your biggest inspirations. Do you have any other musical inspirations who made you want to pursue music?

I really love Eminem. I love his storytelling. I'm a big fan of Paul Simon. I love Leonard Cohen. I like Citizen Cope a lot. I listen to a lot of different types of music, I also really like System of a Down. I listen to a lot of rock music and stuff. [Pauses.] Oh, I love Coldplay too.

Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory behind your song "Death of a Hero" and getting to perform it with John Mayer?

Yeah. It was really cool. I was just sitting in my van at that time, we were on tour. One of my friends was like, "Yo, wake up, man. You gotta check Instagram. John Mayer is posting about your music." It came out of nowhere. It was crazy. I had sent him a message in 2017 or 2016 just being like, "I love you. You don't understand. Thank you for everything." And then he saw it and responded to it. That was so cool. So he invited me over to his house to do "Current Mood," the show that he does on his Instagram. We just kept in touch since then and hung out. He came out at my show at the El Rey and performed with me; it was awesome.

You grew up in Phoenix and live in L.A. now. What was the moment that made you want to move out here? And what was the biggest shift you felt once you then were in L.A.?

I moved from Phoenix to L.A. because there's such a great creative community out here in California for songwriting, and there's a lot of labels and studios and things. When I decided to move my parents were like, "Well, if you want to go to California you have to go to college." So I went to school for a year and then I dropped out because I got a record deal. I was signed for two years and then I got dropped. So I moved back home, but luckily my parents had actually moved to California. Not because of me, it just worked out that way. My parents moved to California for work. So I moved back home and I started playing parking lot shows on the street in front of other artist's concerts to get fans. The last six months of 2016 I played 170 different shows. So I printed out tens of thousands of cards at Staples and handed them out anywhere I went.

It took a long time before I really felt a shift, like oh, this is the right decision. I think sometimes I often even now that I've been on tour and I'm not playing in parking lots anymore. Even though I still would. I'd do whatever I had to do. But even now sometimes I have doubts. I'm like, was this the right choice? But I think when I got to meet John Mayer, the person I looked up to and who he's the guy who inspired me to make music. So when he was like, "You done good," I was like okay, cool. That's dope. Because I was like, "I want to be you." And then he said, when I was doing his "Current Mood" Instagram show, "You're kind of like a version of me." I was like, "Dope." That's what I'm trying for. That moment I was like, okay cool. This was not a terrible decision.

I feel like that's part of being a human, no matter what we do.

Especially in this industry. It can be very fickle. You never know. I don't necessarily always feel like I'm on firm footing. This could all go away tomorrow. But that's the same with anything, you never know what's going to happen in life.

"People can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them."

What's the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone at the start of their career?

One thing that I can say that was very hard for me to do, which I wish I would have understood sooner, is when you're writing songs and it kind of feels weird to show off your music. You don't want to be like, "Oh, check me out." You don't want to be that person, but at the same time, people can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them. They're not just going to find it magically. It took me four years to get that. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, show people your music. Post it, even if it's not perfect. Because it's never going to be perfect. Even the music I put out now, even my favorite songs that I put out I'm like, "They're not ready. Wait." I'm happy that I have people behind me being like "No, it's time."

Even if it takes you finding someone in your life to motivate you to just get your music out, just get it out there because even after it's out and it's solidified even if people like it or whatever, you're still going to be like, "Oh, but I could have... if I was only." It's never going to be perfect so you just have to go and show people and sing for people. If people at a party hand you a guitar, sing. You never know who's going to hear your stuff. Even if it's hard. Just do it.

GRiZ Talks Pride, Snoop Dogg Collab, Detroit's Music Scene, Giving Back & More

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

news

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

Seattle's Museum Of Pop Culture To Host Pearl Jam Exhibit

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

news

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

news

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More

Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

Mariah Carey

Photo: David Crotty/Getty Images

news

Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

The sultry R&B/pop superstar has announced she will release her 15th studio album next month – what will she bring us this time around?

GRAMMYs/Oct 17, 2018 - 05:39 am

Never one to do things quietly, the GRAMMY-winning R&B/pop diva with the angelic voice Mariah Carey came boldly onto the scene in 1990 with her GRAMMY-nominated debut self-titled album. At the 33rd GRAMMY Awards she took home her first two wins: Best New Artist and for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Vision Of Love," which she performed on the GRAMMY stage. The song was the album's first single and Carey's first No. 1 song. Since taking center stage at the beginning of the '90s the star hasn't looked back, releasing 13 studio albums and plenty of hits over the years. Four years after the release of her last album, she has announced that her next one is a month away. What will she serve up on her 15th LP?

The star recently shared on Twitter that her latest album is called Caution and will be released on Nov. 16, 2018. We first got a hint of a new album on Sept. 13 when she announced an album was in the works and released the lead single, "GTFO." The album's second single, "With You," followed on Oct. 4.

On "GTFO" she confidently asks a soon-to-be-ex lover "How 'bout you get the f* out?" in breathy vocals over a slow, melodic beat by GRAMMY-winning producer Nineteen85. "With You" feels like a classic Carey R&B love song with her angelic vocals backed by snapping and a melodic slow jam groove produced by hip-hop beat maker DJ Mustard, who lets her voice shine on an uncharacteristically mellow track for him. These songs hint that her latest release will give us songs that not only showcase her incredible vocal range and versatility, but also give us both nostalgia-inducing tracks as well as radio-ready hits.

"GTFO" gives us a taste of some of the new flavor that she is bringing to her new album, singing the song's coy lyrics completely in more-understated breathy vocals without belting any big high notes, not even during the chorus. It's a catchy, playful breakup song, as she confidently sings "get the f* out/how 'bout you take your tings and be on your merry way?/Fly off with the wind, bye bye baby/How 'bout you scusami, Mimi'll call you a valet."

The song was co-written and co-produced by Jeff Jefferies aka Nineteen85, who is half of OVO R&B duo dvsn and is responsible for producing some of Drake's biggest hits, including the GRAMMY-winning mega-hit "Hotline Bling." On the Drake's song "Emotionless" from his latest album, Scorpion, he samples Carey's lyrics from remixed classic hit "Emotions." Hopefully Jefferies has some catchy hits up his sleeve for Carey, and maybe even brings in some OVO artist surprises.

Carey has released some great collabs over the years, a majority with R&B and hip-hop artists, including Boyz II Men on heartfelt slow jam "One Sweet Day" from 1995's Daydream and Jay-Z on the upbeat classic belter "Heartbreaker" from 1999's Rainbow. We can only hope that the new album will offer some new, soon-to-be-classic hits with some of our other favorite artists.

Her most recent album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, released in 2014, had more collab tracks than usual for her, which could perhaps point towards some hot features on Caution. The deluxe edition of the 2014 album had six songs with other artists, including rappers Nas, Fabolous, Wale and R. Kelly as well as R&B singers Miguel and Mary J. Blige. The  album's lead single, "Beautiful," has Miguel and Carey singing a soulful, feel-good duet, while "Dedicated" features a bounce-y, electronic-infused hip-hop beat with a verse from Nas. Seeing that she worked with big-time hip-hop producers on the new album's lead singles, we can only hope that they not only offered their production genus to more of the tracks, but perhaps brought some of their friends into the studio as well.

Fans only have to wait a month for the full dose of new music from Carey, but until then we will send our prayers to the music gods that the album will feature all of our dream collabs, perhaps some old and new friends, and offer up some new favorite songs, with some to slow dance to and others to belt out in the shower.

Missy Elliott Is Ready To Get The World Dancing Again