by Hero Magnus
Steve Benjamins, electronic singer-songwriter, just released a new song called “Symmetry.” In the press surrounding the new single, Benjamins has talked a lot about the concept of this song: “partnership without possession.” Alchemical Records got the pleasure of speaking to Benjamins this week, and we discussed why this issue is so important.
There are so many examples of songs that display creepy dating behavior. The Police’s famous hit “Every Breath You Take” was intended to be seen as creepy, but it ended up being a frequently-chosen first dance wedding song. Sometimes these songs are beautiful and complex, like Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” which explores toxic relationships, love, and abuse without romanticizing it. The same is true of Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love.” There’s also the other side, like Lennon Stella’s “Golf on TV,” where she states that she’s “done with romanticizing / dysfunction and compromising.” And then, of course, there’s the question of Eminen and other artists who use dehumanizing language in their music. Music and art should of course be evaluated on artistic terms, but if the songs reflect what is a deeply normalized misogynistic violence, then perhaps they aren’t even artistically interesting anymore.
Benjamins is interested not just in remaining free of this toxic language but with replacing it entirely. “There is a dimension of desire that can lead to coercion or convincing. There are love songs written about this.” (We also talked about “I Will Possess Your Heart” by Deathcab for Cutie.) “But we should be careful around this kind of language. We intend it to communicate longing but it can be predatory. I wanted to write a love song that was about partnership instead of possession because it’s an ideal I try to aspire towards in my own marriage.” Benjamins is smart, kind, and his falsetto is glorious.
In this slow-moving electronic ballad, Benjamins promises to “refuse love lacking symmetry.” We talked a bit about how some of Benjamins’ songs seem inspired by religious titles and themes: “Bill Libels,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” “Christmas Eve.” Benjamins agrees. “Religion and spirituality are definitely growing themes in my music. Part of it comes from my love of sacred composers. For example, I really love John Tavener. I feel moved and inspired by his music. Religion and spirituality have just always been part of my life. So it’s the language that I naturally go towards.” Other pop artists such as King Princess also incorporate religious themes into their music as a backdrop. It is such a rich and texturally complex subject that has a lot of meaning to people. When used in a way that avoids cliche, religion can be a lovely component of a song.
I asked Benjamins how he makes his songs. “I always start with the music. Once the song is done I move onto lyrics. It rarely goes the other way. A song can be written very fast or very slow, but it almost always comes out of sitting around and noodling, just trying stuff and seeing how it feels.” This song reminds me a little bit of the other song that uses Benjamins titular word– Arcade Fire’s eleven-minute masterpiece “Supersymmetry.” They, too, probably got much of the song from noodling; I think it’s where the best musical content comes from. The ending of “Symmetry” is substantively different than the rest, utilizing unusual production techniques and creative sounds.
Benjamins also runs an occasional blog talking about how he upholds a part-time Spotify career, so I asked for his advice for young artists. “Just get started!” he announced. “Just post one song on the internet. Just see what happens. You don’t even have to tell anyone— you could do it anonymously. But do it.”
Steve Benjamins hasn’t yet been to DC, but he says he keeps hearing great things about our wonderful city. He knows a lot about the importance of place: “Lately I’ve been shooting videos for my songs,” says Benjamins, “and I’ve been using a lot of the conservation areas around Southern Ontario. For example, the video for Morning Prayers (see below) was shot in Rouge Park. I’m not sure why, but these places just feel right.”
Check out “Symmetry,” and keep an eye out for Benjamins’ upcoming work and for the places in your life that just feel right.
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