Interview: Loren Benjamin
Fans of the piano-driven pop of Keane and Billy Joel should check out this emerging 23-year old singer-songwriter from Brooklyn
izarrely, it’s 2013 and Keane’s debut album Hopes & Fears is voted the second best album of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners, with Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To Head claiming the top vote. But it seems they’re not alone in their appreciation for polite English piano-pop bands, as they’ve clearly made an impression on the other side of the Atlantic – “Keane are one of my favourite bands, I just love the band, the song and the singer.”, says New York-born singer-songwriter Loren Benjamin. “Yeah Keane are a big influence.”
This is no guilty pleasure and listening to Loren’s own music, especially songs like Lonely Boy and Barcelona, the impact of British piano-based songwriters like Elton John, Chris Martin and Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley shines proudly through.
Still living in Brooklyn today, Benjamin is taking time from his home studio to talk to Songwriting about his own debut album which is work in progress, how those piano riffs come so easily, and the lyrics are a little trickier.
How did you first get into music?
“My dad used to play the guitar and sing and, since we had a guitar at home, I just started playing. I taught myself. We had this chord book and I took it and started to play. A year after I also started learning the piano myself, and now it’s a 50/50 thing. I use both and a lot of times if I get stuck on one instrument I’ll usually go onto the next. Sometimes the sound can give you a new way to go, sometimes it works with the piano or the guitar and sometimes I’ll go back and forth.”
Barcelona has a strong piano riff – is that how the song started?
“Yeah I just started playing that riff over and over, and the melody kinda popped. The lyric wasn’t about Barcelona in the beginning. I just thought of a city I really like and about a romantic vibe.”[cc_blockquote_right] I TRY TO WRITE A SONG EVERY DAY… NOT EVERY DAY IT’S A GOOD SONG! [/cc_blockquote_right]Who are your influences?
“I guess my dad is a big influence, as I used to hear The Beatles, Elton John and Billy Joel and that just stuck with me until today. I still find myself going back to those albums. It’s funny because The Beatles and Bob Dylan have so many songs that I’m still discovering new stuff all the time. Paul McCartney is a real role model for me and I studied the way he and Billy Joel wrote songs. So a lot of the time I’ll take a chorus they might do and change it. Like everyone, we’re all influenced by different people but in the end it’s me.”
What sort of techniques have you picked up from studying those songwriters?
“Take the song Barcelona for instance – that was influenced by Billy Joel’s song Summer Highland Falls. He had a riff on the piano and I listened to that and decided I wanted a song with a riff like that.”
How do you approach writing songs?
“I try to write a song every day. That’s what I love and that’s what I do. Not every day it’s a good song! I really see it as work.”
So do you clock-on and treat it like a 9 to 5 job?
“For me the magic happens at night. I have a home studio so I usually just go and take a guitar and start playing something and hope something’s gonna pop. If nothing happens then I’ll take a break, go watch TV maybe, read something, go on Facebook and then I go back!”
Has living in New York City influenced your songwriting?
“Yeah, a lot. New York is such an amazing place. Like Barcelona, it’s a city and a lot of my songs have a city thing going on. You walk the streets, you see people, buildings, you know? It has to influence you.”
Is there a local scene you’re involved with and other musicians you write with?
“No I’m actually quite a loner in town! I tried a lot of co-writes with players, but I found I do my best work on my own. Although I am working with the amazing Steve Jordan. For me it’s a dream come true. I’d been listening to his work, so to work with him is great.”
How did you meet Steve?
“It happened really quickly. We met a few months ago and went to dinner. He was interested but he wanted to meet me and see if it worked on a personal level. So after the meeting we decided we wanted to do it and it was like ‘boom!’ and we just did it. We sent him a bunch of songs at the beginning, as we didn’t know how it was going to work. We’d planned to do just three songs but we eventually did six songs which we recorded live over two months.”
You played acoustic guitar, piano and sang, but how about the back-line on the record? Are they session musicians or do you have a band?
“Steve Jordan played drums – not only is he a producer, he’s probably the best drummer in the world! He’s on tour with Eric Clapton now. Willie Weeks played bass and he’s also a legend – he plays with Keith Richards. And he also got Danny Kortchmar. They’re amazing musicians who Steve called in – they have so much experience and they’re so good. They listen to a song once and they know exactly what to do. That’s how we managed to record six songs so quickly.”[cc_blockquote_right] MELODY IS REALLY EASY FOR ME. I MEAN IT COMES QUICKLY – IT’S NOT ALWAYS GOOD! [/cc_blockquote_right]Did he have an input on the songwriting?
“Yeah, he and his wife Megan, who’s a really talented writer. The music and melody didn’t change, but they really helped me fix and tweak some of the lyrics. Some of the songs were complete, but sometimes it wasn’t perfect, so they helped me re-write some of the sentences. Actually there’s one song called Live And Die where we kept my chorus but Megan wrote everything else.”
Do you find coming up with melodies and chords easier than writing lyrics?
“Yeah, melody for me is really easy. I mean it comes quickly – it’s not always good! But lyrics are really tough. I wouldn’t say lyrics are my thing, but I have to do them in the end, so I try. That’s why I enjoyed writing with Steve and Megan – I knew it didn’t have to be perfect – I could come up with an idea and they could make it work.”
How close are you to finishing the album?
“Right now we’re going to mix two songs and put them out. I have management and a PR company and we’re just building it right now. It depends on Steve with his schedule, but I hope to have it ready by the summer.”
Are you playing live at the moment?
“Not yet, but in May we’re planning a short two-week tour outside New York somewhere. I have no idea where and what venues, but they’re working on it!”
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