A 28-year-old Phoenix native, singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin writes catchy indie pop songs about his feelings.
“I think there’s just a bunch of different, small things that happened in my life that ultimately ended up in my desire to pursue music,” he says in a recent Zoom interview. Alec Benjamin brings his (Un)Commentary Tour to the Agora
at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22.
Benjamin’s sophomore album, (Un)Commentary
, was released earlier this year.
“When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue to make music or have this as a career anymore. A lot of people weren’t lucky enough to make it through the pandemic with their career intact,” says Benjamin. “I wrote this album with no expectation of if it was even gonna come out or not. I just made the music ’cause I wanted to.”
This new approach led Benjamin to making his most honest album yet. The title came from the social commentary the album contains and the fact that it’s uniquely from his perspective.
“I didn’t feel like people were having a nuanced conversation about a lot of the stuff that was happening in the world,” he says. “My album is my attempt at having the conversation that I feel like other people aren’t necessarily willing to have. So, it’s my uncommon commentary.”
The song “Nuance” expresses exactly this sentiment. The album also features tracks like “Nancy Got a Haircut” and “Hipocrite” — both tunes touch on politicians saying one thing and doing another.
Benjamin doesn’t subscribe to any political party, but he wishes that people who did could think a bit more critically about the people on their side of the aisle.
“You can be a Democrat and be like, ‘Hey, it wasn’t cool that [Nancy Pelosi] got a haircut, when she told everyone else to stay home.’ We can all agree on that. It’s sort of less political and more philosophical, and I think that right now that’s an important thing to do because— even if we’re all people who disagree — there’s a lot of places where we can unite,” says Benjamin. “But everything’s became so tribal, where it’s like, ‘If you’re a Democrat, then you have to love Nancy Pelosi and everything that she does.’ And it’s like, when did that happen? Why is everything so monolithic. Why does it have to be that way?”
The track list also contains songs that dive into the intricacies of Benjamin’s personal life.
“The Way You Felt,” the first single that Benjamin released leading up to the album release, is an upbeat song that details a romantic heartache; he later coupled it with a Mandarin Chinese version. Benjamin also dropped “Older” prior to (Un)commentary
’s release date, giving it a Mandarin version as well.
“Older” is a painfully relatable track written by Benjamin, Ryan Tedder, Charlie Puth and Zachary Skelton about the growing pains of transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
Though both “Older” and “The Way You Felt” have amassed over 40 million streams on Spotify, to Benjamin’s surprise, it’s “Devil Doesn’t Bargain,” which he almost left off the album, that has the most traction right now.
“I wrote it about two different things. One is the perspective of me talking to a friend who was in a relationship that I felt wasn’t necessarily healthy for either party,” says Benjamin when asked about the track. “But then, also, my uncle talks to me all the time about decisions that I make in my life. I’m sort of a naïve artist when I go into different business deals. It’s easy to develop an emotional connection with people that you work with—like a mentor-student kind of thing. You have a love for those people.”
Benjamin says his uncle cautioned him to remember that at the end of the day those are still transactional business relationships with a different dynamic to them than other friendships.
“So, it’s like from both points of view,” he says. “Although one is romantic and one is, obviously platonic and a business relationship — the feelings of heartbreak can be equally painful.”
Benjamin is blown away by how many people are making TikTok videos using the “Devil Doesn’t Bargain” audio. He didn’t expect people to relate to it in so many ways. The song talks about never-ending toxic patterns with certain people or things in your life, and how hard it is to come to the realization that you will continue to get hurt if nothing changes.
“As long as they get the emotional thing I’m trying to communicate, I feel like it’s a success, but to see how people have sort of the same heartbreak — like sometimes people are going back to a drug or an abusive parent — it’s like, people feel the same emotion in all these different scenarios. I didn’t even realize like how broadly people would be able to relate to it,” he says.
Benjamin is excited to take his diverse new repertoire on the road and see which songs connect the best with the in-person audiences.
Benjamin and his band got to do a large-scale trial run at Coachella this year.
“It was around the time the album was released. I have a new band, and a new setup, and a new set that I put together with my management, and it was like the debut of all that stuff,” says Benjamin. “It was definitely a big learning experience for me in a lot of ways; [it was] the biggest stage I’ve ever played on, just like physically. It’s just a vibe unlike any other. It was awesome, but I think also, the one thing that I try to remember, as exciting as it was to have that opportunity, it’s just people, and we’re just playing songs like we always do. So, I try not to get so freaked out.”