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Benee’s Big Energy

The 19-year-old on vulnerability in the studio, international tours, and $10 haircuts.

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When I call Benee, she’s spending her day in bed at her home in Auckland, New Zealand. “I’m a bit jet-lagged because I just got back… last Thursday,” she laughs. I count the days and realise it’s been a week since she returned from her first headline tour in the USA. “I’m recovering still—going with the flow.” 

Last month, Benee released her debut EP, FIRE ON MARZZ. In 2017, she released her first single ‘Tough Guy’—a ballad lamenting teenage boys and their facades, sung over waning guitar licks and low basslines. The release earned her comparisons to Billie Eilish, a support slot for Winston Surfshirt, and headline shows in London, Berlin, Stockholm, and New York. Last year, she played the Auckland leg of Laneway—in an outfit she designed no less. As is her want to do, Benee named her EP FIRE ON MARZZ simply because she wanted something completely unrelated to every song on the release. Reminiscent of Syd’s Fin, FIRE ON MARZZ is a blissful take on a woman leaving her adolescence, evolving, and moving on. A kinetic sound, it’s music to walk to, dance to, love to.

Benee talks in snippets: animated bursts of ideas, moving quickly from one question to the next. In our short fifteen minute conversation, I learn that she can’t binge watch TV (getting bored by the second season) and she’s more of a Spongebob than a Patrick (Spongebob is “more annoying”). Benee’s energy is infectious; a taut expression of her devil-may-care attitude. Here, she considers $10 haircuts, studio vulnerability, and her love affair with Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist.

Hello! First things first—how was tour? Tour in itself is pretty hectic right?
You know what? It was pretty heckers. I’d never been on a big tour before. First time!

Do you burn out on tour?
Nah. It was all good. The adrenaline was pushing me the whole way but now I’m back and I’m crashing a little bit. 

Did you do any sight seeing?
Like, not really. We literally had no time there. Actually, no that’s a lie. In Berlin, we went on a three hour graffiti tour.

I read about that!
Dude. It was so cool. There was this abandoned airport and it was massive and it had this refugee thing and it was crazy town.

Do you paint?
I’d like to think that I can paint but I’m not very good. I don’t show anyone my drawings. But that’s alright. I like to.

Your secret drawings.

I read that you like to make clothes or that you already do for your performances. When did you get into that?
Like, I can’t actually make clothes. But it would be [more] to design them. For Laneway New Zealand, I designed a skirt and top. It was basic stuff. But I like the idea of making clothes one day. I think it’d be quite fun.

Who sewed them?
My mum’s friend. [Laughs]

That’s so cute! Would you ever go back and study? I know you did two weeks of a communications degree.
Mate! I’m hoping that I don’t have to. If [it] all flops, I’ll go back and become a marine biologist.

Were you into science in high school?
I was into geography. But I didn’t actually do a science or anything. But you know what? I’ve read the facts and geography counts as a science.

Is it also maths?
I’m not that great at maths. So I don’t know. I just hope that I don’t have to go back and study.

Do you have too much energy for study?
I don’t know. I really liked high school and I really liked learning. But I didn’t last too long at uni. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Who’s on your recently played on Spotify?
I have an all-time guy who I’ve listened to since I was fourteen, James Blake. I literally say his name in every interview. And then there’s Still Woozy, I recently found out about him. I like Mallrat. I’m a fan of Kaytranada, The Internet, Steve Lacy. There’s this chick called Joy Crooks who I’ve been obsessed with. It often changes, but I listen to everything.

Were you listening to a lot of music while you were writing the EP?
I think I’m always listening to music. I use Spotify, so I’m always on the ‘Discover’ page. I’m someone who downloads the whole playlist. Some of it I [don’t] like, but most of it I do like. One of the songs on the EP, ‘Wishful Thinking’, I wrote at the end of 2017. I wrote it in the same session as ‘Tough Guy’. It’s been a big, long build up. All the songs were made at different times.

Are you a fast songwriter?
I guess so? I mean, I think that it will take a session to get an idea down that I like. Usually it’s pretty fast. But going back and then tweaking lyrics and then me over-listening and hating something that I said… the post-editing [of] the lyrics takes a long time. But I guess that’s counted as writing?

Well, ‘Take Me Back’ was written as an improv in the studio, right?
Yeah, that one was a different story. I only wrote that at the end of last year. That’s one of the most recent songs I’ve written. It literally took a session and I pretty much wrote every lyric to it. That was different and there wasn’t that much back much going back and changing it. Overall, it took about two sessions, then I was like “Yeah, it’s sad as and I don’t really want to go back and change it.”

I feel like, for me as a listener, that song is the most vulnerable we’ve heard from you yet. How did you find going into that place and then releasing it on the EP?
Well, it’s obviously a break up song. But it’s about having broken up with someone and then having [them] coming back into your life and popping up with the “Oh, I want you back”, all of that BS. I mean I think at the time, it was this day that I went into the studio and it was a really sad time. I said to my producer, Josh Fountain, “I’m going to write a really sad song today and I’m just going to live in it”. 

I feel like because there were so many emotions going into creating the song, it flowed really easily. I hadn’t made a sad song before, but I was enjoying the making of it. When it came to releasing it, I was like “Shit. This is actually real sad. I don’t know if people that like my other music, will like this one.” I think it’s because it’s so personal and because I was so vulnerable, that song means the most to me out of all of them. Knowing that, I wasn’t that interested in knowing what other people thought. But I was excited to get that side out there.

Absolutely. I like that it’s different. What kind of cartoons did you watch as a kid?
Well, I didn’t have the TV station that you had to pay monthly for—the one that had all the good cartoons on it with Disney and that. So, I was stuck with the bad cartoons that were on at awkward times after school. The one good one was Spongebob. It was madness.

Are you a Spongebob or Patrick?
I think I’m definitely a Spongebob. I think he’s a little more annoying. Patrick is too laid back. I’m not really like that. Oh! I also loved Cat Dog. And Hey Arnold!

I noticed that you got your haircut around August last year. Who cuts your hair?
So I go into the centre of town, and I get it done by this chick for $35 bucks. But recently Stephen Marr’s cut my hair and he’s this real bougie guy.

Have you ever had a really bad $10 haircut?
All throughout primary school, my fringe was on entirely different levels. Mum used to cut my hair for a bit when I was little.

What’s your ideal sheet mask. I see you wearing them lots on the Internet…
I always get the hydrating ones for the airplane because my skin gets so dry.

Are you really into skincare?
Um… yes? I love to wash my face and then moisturise it! I don’t ever go to sleep with my make-up on….

Do you like to get your make-up done?
I tend to do it myself. Just because I’ve had so many cases where I’ve had my make up done and it’s just been a disaster. But there are some really good ones! I had a shoot in Sydney and this girl did my make up, Rosanalie make-up.

LA or New York?
I can’t choose! They’re good for different things! The speed of New York is top-notch. But the relaxation and the sun of LA is a constant holiday. I’m in between.

Catch Benee live on her Australian East Coast tour this November:

Brisbane Nov. 22: tickets here

Sydney Nov. 28: tickets here

Melbourne Nov. 29: tickets here

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