Interview with Artist Benji's Palace
Hello!! My name’s Benji, I’m a musician based out of Poneke, Wellington, running a lil home studio working with friends and other local musos. I’m a guitarist and singer primarily, so try to lean on all the talent that’s out there and work with people that play the hard instruments that I can’t play lol.
How did you get into music? What are your fondest musical childhood memories?
Guitar hero - that game was extremely cool and introduced me to band/guitar music in a big way. Christmas morning came and I guess my parents decided that they’d rather me be a musician than a gamer, so mum and I started going to guitar lessons together. It was a real sweet time that I look back on super fondly, love you mum x
When did you become ‘Benji’s Palace’? Is there a story behind the name?
Ah it’s actually the brainchild of @solomon crook. We were playing a home gig/party on a beautiful plot of land up in coromandel back in 2016 or so, he asked me to play a couple of tunes, then he introduced me as “Genji’s Palace” - Genji wasn’t quite personal enough, but Benji’s Palace felt like it fit <3
How did ‘Benji’s Studio’ come about?
Woo! Benji’s Studio - so stoked it’s catching on. I get a lot out of the “doing” with music - I love recording drums but suck at playing, for example. So, I’ve always wanted to have my own space to record and produce other artists as well as my own music. It started off by just approaching bands that I’ve played alongside at gigs with DOONS / Benji’s Palace and saying “hey, I like your sound, want me to produce your next track?” and now I’m having sessions just about every weekend :))
How would you describe your sound?
Soft, warm, and maybe a little bit heartbreaking? “Indie” “folk” “soul” “jazz” are all fitting so far as genre goes, and you can always expect lots of guitar parts and big backing vocals. The Benji’s Palace sound isn’t very electronic - I always use “live” instruments, so love working with other musicians who are masters of their own instruments.
You’ve made music with Solomon Crook, played under the name DOONS, and play as ‘Benjis Palace’. Can you tell us about your musical journey and finding your own sound?
I was always very much a solo/duo guy in high school, so was super keen to crack into the band scene in uni. Luckily I had some very talented mates (Solomon Crook, Elliott Dawson) that were just starting some great bands that needed guitarists. The Benji’s Palace stuff fell to the wayside, but I learned how to gig and let loose on stage.
Now I’m back to pursuing solo music again, but constantly draw from the experiences I’ve had with other projects - and I like to think the music is better for it. Solomon’s sound, especially at the time, was larger than life, cinematic and spectacular. DOONS has always been hard ‘n’ fast indie-rock. Benji’s Palace sort of became an outlet for the slow burners, sunday mornings and darker stuff that DOONS and Solomon didn’t give me an outlet for.
You released your single ‘Event Horizon’ last year. What did you learn from that experience and what would you change for your next release?
Event Horizon was awesome because it was the first time I’d worked with a “real” producer - Serebii. Serebii is 1. An unbelievably nice guy and 2. Has taste just pouring out of him, so the song changed a lot, which made me realize that it’s okay, and even beneficial, to relinquish some control every once in a while to serve the song. It’s easy, especially when you’re passionate about the recording side of things, to want to “do” everything, but the song should be allowed to develop and change. I also learned that I suck at self-promo lol.
Your lyrics in your single Event Horizon mention a black hole in your mind. Can you give us a little rundown on the lyrics and how you came up with them? What is the song about?
Totally! The song is about stage fright, or more generally about being unable to rise to an occasion and the feelings that go along with that. In a literal sense, it’s being on stage with a spotlight on you and your mind going completely blank - a black hole that’s sucking all of your thoughts away. But, it’s more about a feeling that you’re not on top of your game, and how that feeling can become self-fulfilling; self-doubt leading to a deepening sense of inadequacy - particularly in a familiar setting.
It’s sort of that thing: once you think about something in a certain way or in a certain setting, it’s hard to go back to that place/be back in that situation without all of the associated feelings coming along too. It’s hard to go back to the sort of “dumb confidence” that you had before the negative experience re-wired to be cautious/aware of the ways in which things can go wrong. Black hole mind is my attempt to capture some of those feelings, the dread, isolation, doubt and shame that I feel in those moments.
How do you feel your music translates to a live setting?
Because my music is largely live-instrument based, translating it to a live setting is easy enough! But, because I love studio work and studio workflows, my music usually pushes the limits of what I can play and sing at the same time, or my vocal range etc. Event Horizon, for example, has a note that I can only hit if I’m really on my game. But that’s cool too, keeps things exciting!
What do you think is unique or special about the music industry in New Zealand?
Ah man, the NZ music scene is awesome and I’m so stoked to be a part of it. Just last week the ever-radiant Violet Hirst hit me up to play a mellow Thursday night gig at bedlam and squalar up above rogue and vagabond just off Cuba st - I had thought that it was just going to be her and I, only to end up playing against a backing of beautifully arranged strings, drums and piano. Violet’s not a classical muso herself and neither am I, yet there we were up on stage with classically trained musicians, effectively just having a jam. Sure, some parts of the culture can feel insular and there’s definitely some hard work that needs to be done towards inclusion in the industry, but mostly it’s good people doing what they love and knowing they’re lucky to be able to do it at all. At least, that’s been my experience.
What’s next for you? Any new songs, projects, collaborations etc?
I’ve currently got two projects in the works, both singles, one’s a Benji’s Palace release and the other is for an awesome artist named Freyja who has written yet another killer song. I’m also trying to make the most of having a studio space set up, so am jamming and meeting up with musos as often as I can, and there are definitely some good things happening there too.