Ahead of his sold-out show at Holocene, Vortex caught up with rising songwriter and self-described “narrator” Alec Benjamin. Benjamin sat with his MacBook and iPhone, just finishing a tweet to his fans as we started our conversation. The likes came in immediately.
“When you see a thousand likes, you don’t really picture a thousand people,” he said. “But then when you’re in a room and there’s 500 people it’s like… wow, that’s real.”
For Alec Benjamin, the internet has been a major platform. Taking a largely DIY approach to the launch of his career, playing parking lots outside concerts and events and posting songs to YouTube, social media helped the 24-year-old artist gain fans and stay connected. However, as he’ll tell you, the stage is where his music truly lives.
“I like singing for people,” he said. “I think something that’s cool about a live performance is that it doesn’t last forever. And when you put something up on the internet, it’s immortalized online. If you sing for people in person, even if you mess up, it’s gone once the song is over. It’s not as nerve-wracking as it is for me to be present online.”
Benjamin’s Portland date was just one stop of seventeen on his debut North American headline tour, dubbed “Narrated for You,” after his just recently released mixtape. The tape puts his strengths in songwriting in clear view. To him, lyrics are the most important aspect of the music. Taking inspiration from artists as diverse as Paul Simon and Eminem, Benjamin’s music blends hip-hop, folk, and pop in a completely unique and captivating way.
Watching him perform, it’s clear that Benjamin feels most like himself on stage. But though he may feel more comfortable in a live setting than in the online landscape, he still does feel a bit of pressure to live up to his fans' expectations during his shows.
“I have high social anxiety,” he said. “Being social and being extroverted has been difficult for me. But also, opening for other people is easier sometimes, because if the audience doesn’t like you, there’s no expectation. But if you put on a bad show and it’s your tour, people took time out of their day, they bought tickets. You don’t wanna disappoint them.”
Luckily for Benjamin, and for the sold-out crowd at Holocene that night, his performance delivered. Hundreds of fans packed into the small stage room sung along to every line, from the faster flows of “Boy in the Bubble” or the heart-wrenching story of “Now She’s Getting Married.” With his lyrical ability fully on display, Alec Benjamin’s performance had just the impact he hoped to achieve, providing an escape, a fleeting and special moment, narrated just for us. —Brendan Swogger