New York City based Benta is a multi-instrumentalist and producer who pairs hip-hop beats with melodic vocals and 80s influenced synths, coming together to explore dark themes and emotions. He has a mystery about him that mimics the balance between two juxtaposed black and white personas: daytime and nighttime. Benta, who never shows his full face in photos and while performing, exudes this vibe thoroughly in his music. A signed musician at the age of 15, we sat down with Benta to discuss what inspires his unique approach.
[ Vinylmnky ]: Your talent for bringing together all sorts of disparate styles (hip hop, indie, R&B) into something beautiful is incredible, especially using of the 80s-influenced synths. Where do you find inspiration for pulling this off so effectively?
[ Benta ]: Thanks so much. I think it comes together as a result of the specific influences I tend to pull from for each part of the composition.
For instance, my drums are heavily hip-hop influenced; big, analog, MPC style punchy drums and percussion. Timbaland is a tremendous percussive influence for me. I love how he blends drums machines with live percussion to achieve his sound and also love the syncopated percussion he sprinkles throughout to give each track a unique groove. For my melodic instrumentation, I tend to pull from retro synth-inspired sounds and samples. The influences there are a combination of legacy acts like Queen and Justice, but also are super inspired by more modern producers like SOHN and James Blake.
And then at the core of it all are the lyrics and the vocal melodies. I’ve always been particularly drawn to melodic hooks in one way or another, so tend to gravitate towards writing vocals with memorable, recognizable melodic motifs. I pull from everywhere from Phil Collins to Bryan Adams to Coldplay to Bon Iver and more, vocally.
Where does crafting the song begin for you?
[ Benta ]: When I began writing and producing as Benta each track tended to start in the drum machine. So I’d layer a vibey beat together and then begin to pepper in the beginnings of a vocal melody and build the instrumentation and then track around that skeleton, pushing in and pulling out pieces to make the track sway. Now, after writing two EP’s, having done a bunch of B-sides on top of that and having an LP underway, the tracks kind of begin in all different places. Some with a vocal motif, some on the piano and many still in the drum machine. But that’s the fun of it all. Once you’ve started to settle into your sound with confidence, you begin to really enjoy experimenting with composition, production techniques and sounds to push the boundaries and work to outdo your prior material.
We love how Lover in Dark builds, please tell us what inspired this?
[ Benta ]: It’s a dark track of passion, energy, rage and love. I think the lyrics tell a lot of the story and I wanted to allow them to do that without having too much dense instrumentation in the way. So it starts relatively simple, but then as you’ve pointed out, the track continues to build until the final chorus which to me, signifies this incredible emotional release or exhale. A track should take the listener on a journey. Some of those journeys are more pleasant and contained while others are more manic and abrasive. Lover in Dark would exemplify the latter.
Tell us about your new single Road With Seven Lanes.
[ Benta ]: I wrote the track very quickly. It actually came to me while driving a U-Haul truck, helping move somebody’s furniture. The drums, which are the foundation of the track came to mind initially, while the vocal melody quickly followed. I recorded the essence of what’s now become the verse and chorus into my phone, brought the track into the studio, and quickly arranged it. Lyrically, it speaks to how in today’s world, we might be physically distant from others, but we’re all actually so connected and can be so close, regardless.
How was working with UK-based producer Liam Howe?
[ Benta ]: I’ve known Liam for years. We’ve become good friends and have worked together on other projects in the past. When I was putting the finishing touches on my first EP, Noir, I sent him a few tracks to get his thoughts. He was really stoked on Lover in Dark at the time and said that I should get over to his studio in East London and we could give it a “tough mix” together. His studio is incredible and lined floor to ceiling with analog synths and experimental gear. I ended up getting out there a couple of weeks later, and we worked the mixes for five tracks in five days together. We didn’t break for lunch once. It was just this incredibly energetic session where we were both vibing. He’s a great producer and friend, so it was a pleasure to work on some of the Benta stuff with him.
Your songs have this dreamy yet haunting vibe that is so appealing. Where does that come from?
[ Benta ]: Hm. Dreamy yet haunting. Sounds about right. Haha. I guess the dreamy part comes from the fact that I enjoy consonance. I enjoy beautiful, heart tugging melodies and harmonies. But there is definitely a dark sound and feel to Benta that comes through in the music. And that’s because the music I create through Benta is unfiltered and it’s true. And reality can be dark or aspects of it can be, at least. And music, for me, is the outlet to express all of that and get it out there. Without music, all of it would be trapped inside of me.
You never show you face in photographs. Can you explain why and how do you perform live?
[ Benta ]: I don’t find it important to do so. Ultimately, as Benta, I’m trying to create art and music and then curate a multi-sensory experience through sound and performance for people to enjoy and also for me to be able to have that necessary expressive outlet. The music and the experience is meant to be for and about everybody who chooses to consume it, so I don’t feel that persona matters in that equation. When I play live, the stage is set with very low light. It stays dark because that’s the vibe and atmosphere of the music and the art. I want people to feel a certain way when the experience it. I want a sense of uneasiness and mystery, because that’s real and that’s how life works. And sometimes, when it becomes too much about an individual or group of individuals rather than the experience and the vibe and mood, an audience gets taken out of the moment. I want to keep that moment alive and well.