“At the end of the day, I love making music,” Alec Benjamin says to me over the phone, a little over two weeks ago. He’s humble and honest, and at times throughout the interview, he considers my question and admits, “I don’t have an answer.” But this statement, “I love making music,” is a declaration that he makes without pause. 

After being dropped by his first record label, instead of quitting the music industry, Alec began playing concerts in the parking lots of local venues to fans waiting in line for other concerts. He was determined to build up his music career and happily played for anyone that would take the time to listen. Today, Alec releases his debut album, These Two Windows, a poetic body of work detailing times of disappointment, love, and heartbreak. Between the smiles and tears you’ll shed when you first listen to his new record, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to truly sink into his lyrics. You won’t want to miss a single line. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! Can you introduce who you are and what you do?
Hi, I’m Alec Benjamin. I’m a songwriter. I’m also a human being. I have thoughts and feelings. I get happy sometimes. I get sad sometimes. I’m trying to have a positive impact on the world. 

With this album release, you’ve come a long way from where you started. I know that you were dropped by your label in the beginning era of your journey, but that didn’t stop you. When looking at this album release and then looking back at the heartbreak I’m sure you experienced, how does it feel? Is it a sense of accomplishment?
I feel really good about it. I’m excited to have my music out. 

What was your mental dialogue like when you were originally dropped by your label? Did you automatically know you had to keep going or was it a lot of convincing yourself?
I didn’t really have a choice. I had dropped out of school and didn’t want to go back. I forced myself to do it. 

I know you played a lot of parking lot concerts to build a following and get the word out about your music. What was the process like of doing one of those small shows? What were some of the reactions you’d get?
I just printed out some business cards and sang for people on the street. There wasn’t too much of a process behind it. That’s why I was able to do it. It was just me. Some reactions were good. Some weren’t so good. It didn’t matter to me because it was fun to go out and play for people.  

Do you know if the artists of those shows you were performing in the parking lots of know about you and what you were doing?
Some of them did, yeah. I met Khalid a few months ago, and I told him. He knows now because of me. 

Fast forward a bit and you worked with Jon Bellion and even toured with him. What kinds of things were you able to pick and learn from him about the industry?
I learned about the importance of making music. You can’t get hung up on all the little things. The important thing at the end of the day is making songs. Keep making songs. I look up to him in a lot of ways—his work ethic and commitment to songwriting. 

What was your initial thought when you stepped on that first stage of the tour?
I was excited. It was my first time on a tour bus. I was thrilled not to be in a parking lot. 

I mean, you have legendary musicians like John Mayer as a fan. Billie Eilish covered your song. You really put everything into building a wonderful career. What kept you motivated?
I’m just not sure what else I would do. At the end of the day, I love making music. 

You can’t get hung up on all the little things. The important thing at the end of the day is making songs. Keep making songs.

Looking specifically at your new album, These Two Windows, what was your writing process like for this album?
I did a lot of it on the road. I tried to write as many lyrics as I could, and then I put the lyrics into the music afterward. 

In your song “Just Like You” you intimately speak about your relationship with your father. What’s the emotional process like writing these songs? Knowing your opening a little bit of a personal window for your listeners to look through?
I don’t really know how to talk about anything else. I like being honest and talking about those kinds of things that other people aren’t really talking about. It’s something they can relate to. 

Your song “Match in the Rain” talks about putting energy into something that has probably already passed. Whether it’s love or a closed door in the industry, how do you peel yourself away from the past and move on?
I’ve never been good at that. I don’t have an answer.

Obviously you can’t control a listener’s reaction, but what is one thing you hope every listener feels or picks up on when hearing this album for the first time?
I just hope they see my perspective on things I’m talking about. Whether they like it or don’t like it, that’s up to them. I hope they understand my point of view. 

I’m trying to have a positive impact on the world.

If you could sit down with the version of you that was dropped from the label years ago, what would you say?
I don’t know. It depends, right? It depends on… you know, I don’t know. I don’t know how it would affect reality. If I could go back and the physics worked out… oh, man. I don’t know. What would you tell yourself?

I think I would tell myself it works out eventually. I don’t know if I’d give an exact direction, but I would tell them it works out somehow.
You would just tell yourself to stay relaxed and stay the course? You wouldn’t tell yourself to do “x” or “y”? 

Like you said, I wouldn’t mess with physics. I would provide reassurance.
I would maybe do the same.

And if you could talk to your future self, what’s one thing you would say or ask?
These are hard. I don’t think I’d ask anything. I’d tell him to surprise me. 

For those who are struggling with their own creative passions, what’s some advice you can offer?
In what way?

Let’s say they are putting work out into the world but they aren’t receiving love and energy back. What advice would you give them?
I often feel that way. I would say be grateful for the energy you are getting back, even though it’s easier said than done. Just know you may feel that way forever even if your art is great. I would say it’s very rare to be appreciated the way you feel you should be appreciated in your time. I don’t know. 

Other than the album release, do you have any other exciting things fans should be looking out for?
It’s hard to think with everything going on, but I’ll hopefully be making more music. Maybe I’ll put out part two of the album at some point. 

 

STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
PHOTOS SAM FISHER
EDITOR ANNA ZHANG

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