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How BENEE Channeled Her Inner Badass, Found Happiness, And Made Her Experimental EP 'Lychee': 'You Can Just Hear How I Changed As A Human'
BENEE

Photo: Lula Cucchiara

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How BENEE Channeled Her Inner Badass, Found Happiness, And Made Her Experimental EP 'Lychee': 'You Can Just Hear How I Changed As A Human'

Two years since her smash hit "Supalonely," BENEE is, as she puts it, "living my best life." With the help of a psychiatrist, new producers, and powerful female idols, the pop singer/songwriter landed on 'Lychee,' her most diverse project to date.

GRAMMYs/Mar 3, 2022 - 06:02 pm

In just five years, Stella Bennett — better known as the pop singer/songwriter BENEE — has gone from a pizza-making, dishwashing teenager to multi-billion streaming star. But her success didn't come without woe.

As "Supalonely," her bouncy breakout hit, took off in 2020, the world was shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic. On top of the fears setting in around the world, BENEE's own anxieties took hold, ultimately culminating in an OCD diagnosis last year.

While her debut album, 2020's Hey U X, divulged several of her worries — from dying on a plane to being used — BENEE's latest project sees her coming out on the other side. Arriving March 4, Lychee makes an empowered declaration: "I'm a bad b<em></em><em></em>."

The seven-song EP also showcases a more experimental sound from the Auckland, New Zealand native, bringing in wavier vibes on lead single "Beach Boy," techno-inspired beats on "Soft Side," and booming, trap-like production on "Make You Sick." It's all a result of the positive personal and musical changes BENEE has made in the past few years.

"You can just hear how I changed as a human," the 21-year-old says of her sonic evolution. "I've definitely grown a lot as an artist, but I've also realized you can do whatever you want. Once I realized that, that's when that's when I [started] making the stuff that I love the most."

In a candid chat with GRAMMY.com, BENEE discussed the changes and people that helped her get to this happy new place, and how it led her to some of her most boundary-pushing music yet.

You've said that the music on Lychee was "inspired by the thoughts that are always jangling around my brain." Can you elaborate on that?

I never really have a specific theme that any of my EPs or whatever are based on. It's more just like, whatever is going on in my mind. Just random, random s<em></em>*.

So you're not a concept album person?

You probably won't see that coming from me. I like the idea of it all being quite eclectic, and having depth, and a lot of thought — but also like, not, when it comes to putting it all together. I always just like it to be all the songs that I'm most excited about, putting them all together, and making it work. Not thinking, like, "Is this gonna sound really good with this? And is it telling the same story?"

What's special about your music is that you can cater to two different audiences: The people who love to really feel songs, because of how honest your lyrics are, but also the people who are more melody driven and like more upbeat songs. What inspired you to present such vulnerable lyrics with a sound that's more happy and positive?

I feel like a lot of it is just, like, the way that I roll. If I'm sad, I try to kind of act really happy. With music, I love writing about sad stuff. And I think that that's when I'm at my peak, when I'm just laying out the realness. But I don't want to make a whole lot of slow sad songs, because I just feel like I'm boring when I do that. [Laughs.]

I love listening to slow sad songs, but it's more fun to make crazy-sounding stuff with deeper lyrics. When it's too heavy and too upbeat, it's too cheesy. And then when it's too slow and too sad and deep, it's boring. So I like to make it in between.

You've said you really shook up your creative process during the creation of this EP. What played into that?

The main thing was working with different people. Previously I've basically only worked with Josh [Fountain, a fellow New Zealander and her go-to producer] — maybe a couple of other producers, but with Hey U X, pretty much all of the songs I made with Josh.

I think that that was what allowed me to complete the EP. I had been working [in New Zealand] with Josh — and he's great, and we work really well together, but I think it was more a me thing. I was kind of too comfortable, and making stuff that I liked, but I wasn't super stoked about. It just didn't feel very exciting. I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Now that you've had the chance to work with other people, do you think working with Josh will be different? In a good way, like, you'll feel rejuvenated or something?

Imagine if I was like, "I'm never working with him again!" [Laughs.]

I'm gonna work with that dude until he doesn't want to work with me. But I definitely think that I've got a lot more confidence now, and I feel a lot more up for going into a room with someone who I don't know and making a song with them.

Now knowing that I do love working like that as well is really encouraging for me, because I don't feel so much like I need to rely on Josh as heavily. I started with him when I was 17, and was only working with him for a very long time. I've definitely grown a lot as an artist.

Greg Kurstin is one your main new collaborators. He's produced a lot of major pop acts <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/kelly-clarkson/11249">like [Kelly Clarkson and Pink] — what do you feel like he brought to your sound?

I didn't really know exactly what he had created before going into the session. I didn't really do too much research on the producers that I was working with. But then when I found out, I was like, "Dude, did you write 'F<em></em>* You' by Lily Allen?!"

Everything he came up with or suggested, I just loved. He's a pro and knows what sounds really great. I definitely learned some stuff off him — I don't know what I learned, but I definitely learned something. [Laughs.]

You start the EP with a whimsical, romantic song in "Beach Boy" and then end it by stating "cannot have this, no you can't have a bad b<em></em><em></em>" on "Make You Sick." Is there a reason for that sort of 180?

Not really, but now that I think about it, I guess there was kind of that independent, bad b<em></em><em></em> vibe throughout the EP — I wasn't really intending it to be like that, but I'm always up for independent woman stuff. So I'll say now that that was planned.

You opened up about your experience with OCD in "Doesn't Matter." Why was it important for you to release a song about that?

"Doesn't Matter" was one of the songs I had first for this EP, and I was in a bit of a hole at the time. The only music that I was making at the time was really sad, and that's when I was kind of bored of what I was making.

Then I made "Doesn't Matter," and it felt really nice to write about it. It was quite a big moment in my life, where I got diagnosed and went to a psychiatrist, and got prescribed Fluoxetine. It was a turning point where I was like, "It's gonna be up from here."

Including that song and then putting the new songs [on the EP] is like a little journey, because it's like these complete polar opposite moods. It's my last year summed up, basically — like a little timestamp.

I always think that it's important to be really honest and vulnerable. Something like OCD or mental health disorders, you know, a lot of people have struggled with them. And a lot of people haven't talked about them in the past. Now, it's such an important time to do so, given everything going on in the world. It makes you realize how many people are struggling, and how many people need to be reminded that it's okay, and that it's normal. We've got to make it feel more normal, because that's the only way that it's gonna get better.

You went from writing a song where you're sad and coping with all of this, and now you're like, "I want to marry myself."

You can just hear how I changed as a human. It was a complete boost in energy and, like, fun for life. It's so important to document — I think that's also a thing, putting all of the moods into one project. It's like, "I was here, but I'm also here now." I was sad, but I now feel like a bad b<em></em><em></em>.

Is there a story behind the name Lychee?

Just that it's my favorite fruit at the moment. I never like coming up with a name. Well, I do like coming up with a name for a project, but I also don't, because it's like, what do you even call this bunch of songs? I love writing songs, and it's a lot easier for me to do that than come up with a project title. So I just thought I can't go wrong if it's like something that I love.

Are they a big thing in New Zealand?

No, you can't even get the physical fruit here, you can only get canned lychees. But I had it once when I was in Indonesia, and from that day onwards, I was like, "I can't live in New Zealand much longer."

Now that you're five years into releasing music, how do you feel like you've grown as an artist, and where do you see things going from here?

Aside from growing up and maturing, experiencing things, and, you know, getting into the bigger world, creatively, the confidence thing has been a huge part of it.

I think that I've evolved as a songwriter and as an artist, and become more experimental. I've also realized you can do whatever you want. Once I realized that, that's when that's when I [started] making the stuff that I love the most.

It's such a huge world, but it's also a tight little industry. So it's been a journey. But, hey, I'm just living my best life. This is my dream job. So I'm hoping that it lasts forever.

I figure that the growth you've had and this newfound confidence played into the more experimental sounds of this EP?

I think it's also being inspired by what's going on around me in the music scene. Especially watching a bunch of female musicians doing random s<em></em><em> has kind of been like, "Oh, okay, so we don't just have to make this, like, super conventional pop song anymore." We can do whatever we want! We can swear, and I can autotune my voice in a song, and it sounds f</em><em></em>ing cool.

I think I heard this thing about Charli XCX being dissed for the autotune in a project or something. You hear so much stuff, as a woman in the industry, that just rocks you. It just makes you so sad.

But then it's also like, actually, it just makes us want to do more, and do stuff to piss people off. I feel like I'm still very sensitive, but I also don't care.

Are there any particular artists that have inspired you to push boundaries a little more?

I thought about the Japanese House when I was making "Beach Boy," that kind of happy/sad indie vibe. James Blake is an artist who I have constantly listened to and still inspires me the same amount that he did when I was 14. I've been listening to a lot of Afrobeat, and a lot of trap, because when I'm really sad — and I'm not sad now, but I was last year — I found myself listening to a lot of [more upbeat music].

PinkPantheress, I love; I think she is awesome. I love Kali Uchis, she's so cool. TiaCorine and Baby Sosa, they're both these really cool badass b<em></em><em></em> [artists]. I think that I've adopted this bad b<em></em><em></em> [energy]. I'm very much not a bad b<em></em><em></em>, but you just gotta keep telling yourself you are.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Koven’s Katie Boyle Explains How Having A Picture Of A Happy Dog Backstage Makes Her A Better Performer
KatieBoyle

Photo: Chelone Wolf

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Koven’s Katie Boyle Explains How Having A Picture Of A Happy Dog Backstage Makes Her A Better Performer

As one half of the EDM duo Koven, Katie Boyle’s tour rider includes items that keep her in a positive headspace — and one nostalgic British snack from childhood weekends with her dad.

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2022 - 04:55 pm

Koven bandmember Katie Boyle recently added one important item to her tour rider, and it's not a favorite snack or drink of choice: It's a photograph of a dog enjoying life.

While keeping a photo of a dog backstage might seem like a quirky choice, Boyle explains that it actually goes a long way toward helping her put on the best show she can.

Because when you're gonna perform, you need to be in a positive, outgoing, energetic state of mine, and it's not always possible," Boyle explains in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

"And this is just something that — come on, look at that! It just makes you feel better," she continues, holding up a closeup photo of a smiling pit bull. "Look at that picture of a dog being happy. It just makes you instantly happy. So that's why I've recently added it."

In the snacks department, Boyle says she tries to ask for "basic" items that will be easy to procure: Chips, dip and peppermint tea, the latter of which she says immediately puts her in a calmer headspace.

But when she can, she loves to snack on Monster Munch, a baked corn snack that hails from her native UK. "I don't know if they have them in a lot of places, so I try not to demand them too much," she relates.

Monster Munch is more than a tasty snack to Boyle: It's got a big nostalgia factor, stemming back to the weekends she used to spend with her dad as a child.

"One of my earliest memories, I used to go to my dad's on a Friday night, and because he was, like, weekend dad, he would let us go to the shop and just buy all the crisps and chocolate that we wanted, basically," the singer recounts. "And I would always get Flamin' Hot Monster Munch."

To hear more about Boyle's love for her favorite childhood snack — plus more details about her must-haves on the road — press play on the video above.

Keep checking back to GRAMMY.com every Monday for more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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Country & Western's New Generation Is Defiantly Of The Moment: Meet Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Bella White & Others
(From left) Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Vincent Neil Emerson, Charley Crockett, Bella White

Photo: Little Jack Films, Alysse Gafkjen, Courtesy of artist, Bobby Cochran, Bethany Johanna

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Country & Western's New Generation Is Defiantly Of The Moment: Meet Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Bella White & Others

A diverse and talented new generation of singer/songwriters are steeped in the genre's oldest stylings, but telling stories of a modern America struggling with its identity. GRAMMY.com explores what this movement says about country music — and America.

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2022 - 04:42 pm

Seismic shifts in music the kind that reverberate across the social landscape to reveal something essential about the moment, that challenge a dominant narrative, or herald the start of a new era — often rumble the ground for a while before the cultural gatekeepers start to feel it. When the shaking can no longer be ignored, the movement is recognized, and a consensus forms that something important is happening.

Follow Charley Crockett around for a few days and it's hard not to conclude that, well, something important is happening. The itinerant songwriter grew up shuttling between Texas and New Orleans, and calls his music "Gulf & Western" — crisp, hard, insightful songs that blend old country and folk, blues, Tejano, Texas swing, and Dixieland. Crockett is selling out shows everywhere he goes. And the audiences pouring in are from across the cultural spectrum.

"We're breaking through. I got young kids, old timers, s—tkickers, good 'ol boys, hippies, LGBTQ all right up in front," Crockett says after a sold out performance in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In one week in September, he opened for Willie Nelson in New York and played Farm Aid. Now he's headlining a coast-to-coast tour and a European run in support of his new album, The Man From Waco, which dropped Sept. 9.

When asked his thoughts on his surging popularity, Crockett says he hears the same two things all the time: "Number one thing they say is, 'I'd given up on country music until I found you.' Which is really sad to be honest. And two, they say, 'I didn't know that I could like country music.'"

Listen to GRAMMY.com’s playlist for this piece on Amazon Music, Apple Music and Pandora.

Crockett is part of a diverse and talented new generation of singer/songwriters who are steeped in country music's oldest stylings and traditions, but telling stories of a modern America struggling with its identity. Their songs feel both timeless and strikingly original — defiantly of the moment.

Alongside Crockett, Colter Wall is the most widely known artist in this new cohort. The 27-year-old cattle rancher from Saskatchewan has nearly 2.5 million Spotify followers. His music appears on the popular ranching drama "Yellowstone" and on the playlists of Post Malone, Lucinda Williams, and Jason Momoa. All of his releases have been critically acclaimed for their exquisite songwriting, musicianship and old-soul depth. He is a living monument to the genre, making his way across the landscape and timeline before our eyes — and ears — leaving behind music that sounds both everything and nothing like what he recorded before. Two new singles, released Sept. 21, are the latest time capsules.

Other artists are breaking through too. West Virginia's Sierra Ferrell is an otherworldly vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist making a seductive blend of country, bluegrass, and jazz who came up busking on the streets of New Orleans and Seattle. Vincent Neil Emerson is a Texas artist heavily influenced by his tragic upbringing, his Choctaw-Apache heritage, and his early days playing honkytonks in Dallas' Deep Elem. At just 22, Bella White is a songwriting prodigy and emotional alchemist.

It's difficult to put a precise label on this music. By classic definitions, it is both country and western, so perhaps it's best to dust off the term used by Billboard in the late '40s and 1950s, when music from Texas, California and points in between nudged its way into a genre that up until then had been largely Southern. But as Craig Havighurst of MiddleTennessee's WMOT radio says, "Genres are marketing categories. Music organizes itself in communities." He's right.

This revival of traditional country and western music is made up of a community of artists and fans, and it's playing out alongside, and at times intermingled with, other communities supporting a parallel surge of new folk, bluegrass, and old-time mountain music.

So far, the revival has not been embraced by the mainstream country music establishment. Most people you talk to say it's "too country for country," an admission of how far the pop country sound has traveled from the genre's founding ingredients. But in the six years since Sturgill Simpson took the industry to task for "pumping formulaic cannon fodder bulls—t down rural America's throat," an entire ecosystem of independent labels and music platforms has sprung up to support the music, giving it a chance to reach broader audiences, and foster that sense of community.

Independent label LaHonda Records was started by Connie Collingsworth and Travis Blankenship in 2019–as the revival was beginning to coalesce–to put out Vincent Neil Emerson's first record, a collection of jewels that established labels wanted to release the "traditional way," which would have meant waiting a year or more. The two friends hoped their complementary skillsets and work ethic would be enough to do right by Emerson. The album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women, struck a chord and LaHonda has since established itself as one of the movement's centers of gravity. In just three years, the label has also released records by Colter Wall, Riddy Arman, and the Local Honeys.

The community has spawned a litany of supportive entities. Gems on VHS and Western AF are two digital channels posting performance videos by artists from this music community. Both sites see themselves as archivists, preservers of history and seed banks for future generations to draw from. In the meantime, they're acting as vessels for discovery and gathering places — a Grand Ole Opry for a new generation. W.B. Walker's Old Soul Radio Show and Kyle Coroneos' website Saving Country Music are playing similar roles, as is a vibrant festival circuit.

The timing of this revival is a story unto itself, and key to understanding why the resurgence is such an important cultural development. Country music first rose to commercial prominence during the Great Depression, when America was in transition, and crisis, and millions of people sought solace from the uncertainty by tuning their radio dials to the familiar music. In the late '60s and early '70s, when the nation was again sharply divided and in transition, the music circled back in a revival that got branded as "Outlaw Country."

While all music has the power to empathize and heal, this music has always been a barometer measuring the depths of America's shared anxieties, a leading indicator marking our hardest times, and a tonic to treat the pain.

"People find comfort in familiarity, in simplicity," says Dr. Lucy Bennett, an assistant professor of music, media, and culture at Cardiff University in the U.K. "They turn to the traditional, to things that evoke the past. Living in a technologically advanced society as we do, with so much misinformation and not knowing what to trust, there's a yearning for truth and authenticity. This music isn't faked. We can feel the sincerity."

Bennett notes that this current revival isn't a U.S.-only phenomenon — the music is popular across the Atlantic, too — though part of the music's appeal is its emphasis on place. Drawing on tradition, these artists are adept at telling emotionally resonant tales that are deeply rooted in their home regions. In these songs, we feel the connection — not just to their home, but to ours as well.

No one in this generation embodies that tradition better than Colter Wall. Back in 2016, when he was 21 and first garnering attention, he played at an installment of the Skyline Live series in Nashville, and earned a standing ovation from those in attendance, which included Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. After the show, Harris encountered Wall and asked him, in awe, "Where did you come from?" Those present weren't sure if she meant geographically, or something of a more ethereal, spiritual nature. A man of few words, Wall answered either interpretation of the inquiry by simply saying, "Canada."

Listening to Wall's catalog is to immerse yourself into the towns, ranches, traditions, history, and ethos of western Canada. It is to spend time at the Calgary Stampede, in Speedy Creek, Manitoba, with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, to tune your ear to Ian Tyson and the other great country and western artists of the region. It is to understand a different kind of love story.

Indeed, this revival has a decidedly Western tilt to it. Bella White grew up not far from Wall in Calgary. Riddy Arman is in Montana. Kassi Valazza was born in Arizona but is now part of the Portland music scene. Margo Cilker has roamed the rural parts of eastern Oregon and Washington, as have Seth Brewster and Kate Eisenhooth, the duo who make up Buffalo Kin.

"Yellowstone" Music Supervisor Andrea von Foerster believes the inherent sparseness of Western art is also a factor driving interest in this music. She and show creator Taylor Sheridan use music from this cohort in part because of its austerity. "We have very busy lives. Every instant feels overscheduled. This music is the opposite of what we're living," she says. "Our show has the same appeal. Most people don't get to live in these kinds of lazy landscapes and open spaces. It's a quiet in the storm. It's restorative. In times of turmoil, you don't look for bells and whistles, you want bare bones."

It could also be the astounding songsmanship that's drawing in these audiences. Sonically, and stylistically, there are wide variances between these artists. But one thing that unites them all is their songwriting command. Maybe it's what happens when an entire generation, on top of whatever personal trauma they had to endure, were forced to come of age through a string of civilization's brutal failures — 9/11, school shootings, the opioid crisis — but were given Townes van Zandt as an artistic influence. A thousand poets bloomed. When I ran the van Zandt hypothesis past Vincent Neil Emerson, he agreed: "Yeah, it would be like painters discovering a whole new set of new colors."

The truth is, the digital age makes it possible to draw upon just about anyone as an influence, and that's apparent with this cohort too. Despite their relative youth, there's a deep understanding of the country music's niche stylings, sounds and regionalisms. As a result, a new canon is being created alongside the old one, filled with extraordinary songs that are raw, sparse, honest, gut-wrenchingly sad, punchy, hopeful, bare, good-natured, and that feel as if they're rising up out of the ground, infused with something ancient and holy.

Rodney Crowell, a contemporary of Townes van Zandt and one of the Texas songwriters who helped drive the Outlaw revival, believes this new generation is going about it the right way. "They're sticking to their guns. It reminds me of what Guy Clark used to say: 'Focus on being an artist and the rest will take care of itself.'"

The word that most often comes up when talking to people about the appeal of this music is "authenticity," the great yearning of our time, and musically speaking, something fans aren't finding in mainstream country. Anthony Mason, senior culture correspondent for CBS News, and one of the establishment gatekeepers to first recognize this movement when he profiled Crockett back in April says, "There is something pure and genuine and accessible about the music. You can't help but respond."

For many music fans, it's the sad songs that provoke the most powerful response. After years of trying to understand why listening to sad music didn't make people even sadder — something psychologists call the "sadness paradox" — we now know that sad music can relieve a depressed mind. In this light, the music of this revival could be considered urgent care.

Fluent in the language of mental and emotional health, this generation has produced a litany of deeply resonant and sophisticated pain songs, where stories of addiction and grief, suicide, loss and longing are not masked with niceties or polite euphemisms.

When I complimented Bella White on her strength as a writer of pain songs, she laughed and said, "I only write pain songs." Just 22, she demonstrates a remarkable amount of wisdom in her first record. "People my age had to navigate scary things, and we got grown up fast." Her song "Just Like Leaving," for its preternatural self-awareness, is one of the revival's anthems. "Well maybe I just like hurting/Building up walls and then ripping them down with my own disposition." In these unsettling times, perhaps the most universally relatable insight in the song, or any song, comes when she sings, "The bars on my window didn't leave me safe at night."

There's a desperation in lines like that, and across songs such as Wall's "Sleeping on the Blacktop," Margo Cilker's "Kevin Johnson," songs that are more like cries for help, pleas to a world drained of its caring and empathy. At times the desperation shows up as contempt, moral disdain for a system that has failed them so often, like Crockett's "Are We Lonesome Yet," and Emerson's "Letters on the Marquee." If you believe songs can be allegories, listen to Colter's Wall translation of "Big Iron" and imagine the Arizona ranger as a modern-day insurgent, or social movement, sent to topple a power structure, deliver justice, and free people from their fears.

Yet also present in this music, alongside the heartache and rage, is a resilience, a weary confidence that a better, uncloudy, day is ahead. Vincent Neil Emerson's "The Bad Side of Luck" warrants its own consideration as a generational psalm, especially knowing Emerson's heartbreaking personal story, which included losing his father to suicide and a younger brother to a house fire. Listening to him narrate lines such as "I was ashamed to say that I am somebody's son" and "I wasted my time waiting for change" — it is impossible not to feel the weight of sorrow. Until he concludes, "But I came out clean, and there ain't too much I regret," and "Sometimes what you get, ain't the same as the things you expect, so I guess I'll keep fightin' on the bad side of luck till I'm dead."

Maybe that's why the audiences keep growing, why people who don't normally associate with each other are gathering together. It’s three chords and the truth for the volatile 21st century. The music allows us to linger in our pain, which beats being numb, and somehow, measure by measure, line by line, it eases the hurt. And it reminds us, and bolsters us, in spite of the anguish, to keep going.

"It's been a long time coming," Shooter Jennings said of this movement. "It's really inspiring and cool to see it working. We're not even at the peak yet." Shooter is in a unique position to assess its status. Not only is he a country music scion — the only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter — but as an artist he was part of the Red Dirt wave in early 2000s, a musical community helping keep the independent country scene alive during a time when, as he put it, "the landscape was pretty empty."

Today, among many other musical hats he wears, he's producing albums for this rising generation, including for Jaime Wyatt and Kelsey Waldon, and is confident in the direction they are headed. "The country music establishment is soon going to be tasked with a choice. Either get on board and open up the old format, or the old format is going to die.  Because these artists don't need it," Jennings says.

Given the infrastructure that has been constructed around them, not to mention a social media and streaming environment that didn't exist in earlier eras, it seems entirely plausible that the movement will continue to grow organically. Earlier in September, Sierra Ferrell won Emerging Act of the Year from the Americana Music Association, a prize that went to Charley Crockett a year ago. All these artists are young and will keep honing their craft, and because of their achievements, more will be coming up behind them. A weary population will continue to need it.

But even with the momentum—and favorable conditions ahead—this generation is intent on defining its own success metrics. Crockett says he now gets calls from people in the business telling him that he can sell out stadiums.

"As if that's what I'm wanting to hear. It's absolutely not," he says. "There's a lot of people selling stadiums out right now that I don't think people are going to remember very much in 20-30 years. Willie Nelson was never the biggest country artist, never, not even at the height of 'Red Headed Stranger.' Bob Dylan was never selling out those stadiums. But all these years later, who are we talking about? Who are we remembering?" 

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Positive Vibes Only: Chad Lawson Leads A Trio Of Classical Instruments In His Tranquil Performance Of "Fields Of Forever"
Chad Lawson

Photo: Neil Krug

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Positive Vibes Only: Chad Lawson Leads A Trio Of Classical Instruments In His Tranquil Performance Of "Fields Of Forever"

Lawson extends an invitation to listeners to discover the healing power of classical music in his idyllic new song, the piano-led "Fields of Forever."

GRAMMYs/Sep 25, 2022 - 02:42 pm

Composer and pianist Chad Lawson shares his luminous, tranquil take on classical music in "Fields of Forever." The new single, which Lawson released this summer, comes from his new double album breathe, released Sept. 23.

In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Lawson invites listeners into the idyllic world of the song, cast as a live performance version and taped in a recital hall. Lawson helms the performance, sitting at his piano and smiling as he begins to play.

Soon, a cellist and violinist join in, augmenting the peaceful vibes of the song. For part of the performance, the violin line takes center stage, with Lawson's piano temporarily fading into the background as a higher register takes the spotlight.

The recital hall is mostly bare in this close-up performance, but spherical lamps decorate the foreground, adding a bit of extra visual magic.

In "Fields of Forever," Lawson hopes to provide a calming and warm musical backdrop for all listeners, no matter who they might be or where they might be in their lives.

The music video for the song, which was shot in Los Angeles, emphasizes the universality behind "Fields of Forever." Set in a roadside diner, the clip follows a variety of young people, each in the middle of their own unique journey, but who are bonded despite their dissimilarities by the music playing at the cafe.

Press play on the video above to immerse yourself in the world Lawson creates in "Fields of Forever," and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Sunday for more episodes of Positive Vibes Only.

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Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's 'American Symphony' At Carnegie Hall
Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022

Photo: Stephanie Berger

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Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's 'American Symphony' At Carnegie Hall

At Carnegie Hall, Jon Batiste finally unveiled his long-awaited 'American Symphony.' And from its realism to its range to its limitless imagination, it didn't disappoint.

GRAMMYs/Sep 23, 2022 - 08:53 pm

An industry darling paying tribute to the land of the free in what's arguably the most prestigious room in said country. The title: American Symphony. Does this sound dry, erudite, staid? Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is Jon Batiste we're talking about, he who exudes creativity, thoughtfulness and charm with every piano trill, with every shout-out to Duke, Nina, Billie and Louis, with every impish, camera-ready grin. Even sans piano, his hands tend to dance, fingers extended southward, his locks projecting in all directions.

And on Sept. 22, when Batiste strode, clad in royal blue, down the aisles of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium to its Perelman stage — which those four progenitors graced — his mind was visibly whirring. (Even in his ride to the gig, he was noodling on a synth, mulling over ideas.)

After the standing ovation ceased, it was time to behold a new kind of American symphony — not a bland, flag-waving one, or one that papers over the strife and ugliness and outright horror of the nation's founding.

No, this one has banjoists and steel drummers and Afro-Latin percussionists and Indigenous vocalists and drummers. It has a hefty-looking modular synth. It has screams and police sirens and disembodied conversations. It has ominous, decaying runs at the bottom of the piano's register.

This glorious cacophony acts as the answer to Batiste's questions in the show program: "What if the symphony was invented today in America? Who would participate in the modern American orchestra? What would it sound like?" And as the five-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee explains, those prompts sent him on this composerly journey more than three years ago.

Batiste was supposed to debut American Symphony back in May, a month after he swept the 2022 GRAMMYs, including a golden gramophone for Album Of The Year. After the maestro contracted COVID, the show got kicked forward to the beginning of fall; perhaps that extra time enabled him to further tighten the screws.

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Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Because even during the parts where American Symphony seems to float like mist, it's tightly written and conceived. And due to its force of imagination, musical economy, and sheer diversity of sounds and ideas, there wasn't a dull moment in the performance's intermission-free two hours.

Subdivided into an overture and four conceptual movements — titled "Capitalism," "Integrity," "Globalism," and "Majesty — American Symphony takes the masked, black-tie-clad audience on a journey through the United States' manifold, oft-contradictory nature through music that majestically heaves, tormentedly deliberates, and joyously soars.

Using the monumental collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as a lodestar ("They consistently synthesized cultural lineages through the lens of a pluralistic and noble worldview," Batiste writes), he captures America's cultural multitudes through an intertwining of a vast range of African diasporic traditions — Caribbean, Brazilian, Yoruba, Haitian, Creole.

And given that New Orleans represented a nexus of these influences, the performance felt like a jubilant tribute to the Big Easy — Batiste grew up in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans — while framing it as a wellspring and living source of American excellence.

By putting the Black experience front and center, Batiste rendered American Symphony realistic, not jingoistic. The symphony balances interpolations of patriotic mainstays like "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with songs invaluable to the civil-rights movement, like "We Shall Overcome" — all with musical suggestions of disharmony and struggle shadowing the margins.

The overture suggested a form taking shape from welter and waste, Book of Genesis style. As its vast diversity of instruments and traditions commingled, the composition swirled semi-shapelessly, until it coalesced into melodies and motifs. This isn't meant to evoke pre-colonialization American continent being, absurdly, some kind of blank slate; the conspicuous Indigenous elements drove that crucial point home. Rather, it suggests a budding republic.

In the program, Batiste cites "essential elements of the American democratic system" and "the U.S. Constitution as a reference point," stressing that "this score is a living document that will evolve over time." Likewise, the audience felt the American experiment evolving, experiencing growing pains, and reckoning with the stains of its past. And great blasts of percussion punctuated it like cannonfire.

"Capitalism" focused on "the building of cities and structures that have long since shaped the way we relate to one another and to the land." Incorporating a din of clashing electronic tones — and giving way to shimmering, Phillip Glass-like clusters of notes from the composer's Steinway — this movement shattered any preconceived notions that this would be some kind of American Revolution exhibit.

This blurred into another counterweight — an educated guess would place this in "Integrity." (The movements weren’t announced, and didn't always begin and end in straightforward fashion; often they blurred into each other.) Fiddlers suggested nascent country music, the everyday citizen, the Great Plains.

"Don't give up/ Don't give in," a gospel section sang, waried yet calming and resolute. Soon after came the clap-alongs, the exhortations, the benedictions, which kept American Symphony from ever tripping into anything lecturing or tiresome or polemical. Most everyone was on their feet.

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Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger

After a tranquil and diffuse middle section where the intermission might have been slotted, American Symphony went lighter on signifiers and heavier on simple, strong flavors, threading wheedly synth lines into splendorous strings. Batiste kept the proceedings in something of a Goldilocks zone — charmingly ramshackle and kitchen-sink, but never sloppily so.

Following the piped-in sounds of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — ending with "Amen" — American Symphony concluded with an orchestral tantrum that could make one's heart leap in their throat. For an encore, Batiste took to the piano, concluding with a "Star-Spangled Banner" full of jazzy, winking syncopation and substitute chords.

If the performance seemed to weave around genre distinctions, or traditional ideas of what a symphony is, that's no accident at all. After all, this is Batiste we're dealing with; at this juncture, he's possibly mainstream music's most public and voracious omnivore.

"I don't even think genre exists," Batiste told GRAMMY.com back in 2021, upon the release of his last album, WE ARE. "Self-curation and the free exchange of information and content creates a lack of genre adherence. That kind of diversity and access changes listening habits and changes the way people perceive music."

Perhaps that's the most lasting effect of American Symphony at this stage, before it evolves and mutates and sharpens itself — like the highly variable nation of its namesake.

Without hectoring or over-explaining or shoving a reading list at you, Batiste's ambitious suite can rewire your thinking and sharpen your gaze as a citizen. All while capturing the essence of this incalculably messy yet stubbornly optimistic home of the brave.

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