When Kenny Beats met Benny Sings: “There was a simple understanding between the two of us.”
Kenny Beats and cult Dutch pop favourite Benny Sings joined forces for Benny’s eighth album, Young Hearts, forming a buzzing bromance that spanned from Amsterdam to LA
Benny Sings and Kenny Beats. Image: Pierre Zylstra
Under a medieval bridge on an Amsterdam canal, Benny Sings’ personal music studio is tucked away beneath the world. Inside, the Dutch singer-songwriter and favourite for playful pop fans, says hello to us through a laptop screen.
He’s compellingly relaxed and level-headed, glossy-eyed, arms folded high on top of his beloved Rösler piano, upon which his head and wiry mess of hair lays nestled. Behind him, a glimpse of canal boats silently drift from left to right.
Once used for storing boats, the studio is a simple, streamlined creative hub that centres around the piano – a “whole orchestra in one instrument”, he says admirably. Then, there’s a drumkit, a few microphones, an Apollo interface, a Fender jazz bass, and a Fender Telecaster electric guitar going through a Roland JC-120 amplifier.
This handful of key components makes up Benny’s rejuvenating combination of West Coast soft rock, retro R&B and hip-hop. He’s released eight albums and worked with notable artists, including Mac DeMarco, Tom Misch, and Rex Orange County, producing successful singles and albums, such as the platinum-selling hits Lovin’ Is Easy and Who Cares.
Notable supporters of Benny’s distinct sound include the likes of John Mayer and Anderson .Paak. This list includes Kenny Beats, who’s worked with Vince Staples and Freddie Gibbs to Remi Wolf and Denzel Curry, nabbing a Grammy nomination for his work with IDLES. In 2022, the New York-born producer-of-the-moment dropped one of the year’s hottest albums, LOUIE, which won MusicTech’s album of the year 2022.
Kenny reached out to Benny via Instagram, confidently promising to give his next album “that extra slap”, he says. What resulted was the stunning, uplifting album, Young Hearts, which sees the marriage of Benny’s clever earworms and Kenny’s punchy production.
“It was really funny,” Benny laughs. “We had a good chemistry, I think, but I was suspicious. He dropped big names. I was overwhelmed, like ‘Wow, if this is real, it’s awesome!’”
Soon enough, the two were writing the album in the Netherlands, with a plan to record it in Kenny’s studio in LA. Below, you can see a video of the two scouring the cobbled streets nonchalantly for inspiration, while frankly discussing writer’s block and dud collaborations.
Away from the calm of Amsterdam, the real chaos began in LA in Kenny’s unassuming studio, with instrumentalists, singers and songwriters popping their heads in to offer their musical talents. “He still has the studio at his house in his garage,” Benny tells us. “It’s just a small setup: a computer setup, a piano, a drum kit you would dream of, and a vocal booth.”
With Benny usually adopting a beatmaker process, this was a new level of collaboration. In fact, it was the first time in his career that the Dutch singer-songwriter had worked with a single producer in the studio for a whole record.
“What [Kenny] did, basically,” Benny begins, “was make the beat better. What else, you know? He’s called Kenny Beats. You make songs here in the studio and you think that the beats are pretty awesome. Then, there’s a whole world of improvement.”
Benny tells us about his love/hate relationship with collaboration, admitting that he can feel “hesitant” when working with others incase they differ musically and “try to reach something that is just… different,” he says.
When working with Kenny, however, Benny instantly felt welcomed and respected. “I never worked with someone that got the Benny Sings vibe better than him,” he says. “He described my music in one sentence. There was a simple understanding between the two of us.”
The songwriting on Young Hearts is a move away from the autobiographical norm for Benny Sings. While usually his lyrics tell the story of an inward reflection, and centres around themes of love – “who doesn’t love a good love song?” He laughs – tracks here see the musician slipping into the shoes of external, multi-faceted characters. He wouldn’t have the confidence to try this if it wasn’t for putting in the “10,000 hours” of writing music, he explains, and, of course, the small matter of becoming a father.
“I’m in a place in my life where it’s not about me anymore. I’m a father of three kids. I don’t feel inclined to write about myself anymore,” he adds with an air of mature acceptance. “Now, it’s way more easy to find words and find meaning without having to constantly fall back on that ‘love’ aspect.”
Benny’s advice for anyone wanting to become a full-time musician like him, he says, requires a combination of “working your ass off” with the 10,000 hours he has and modesty about your own product.
“Make so much,” he advises, “and be humble about it. Don’t think after you make 10 beats that you have made a masterpiece. Nobody’s waiting for you. I haven’t got there yet, you know? I’m writing 200 songs a year to find that gold and that’s why I can survive in this business because I’m not frustrated. So, yeah, my advice is just work your ass off, basically.
“My goal has always been to be an unsuccessful songwriter – to be a struggling artist.” He admits surprisingly. “That was the romantic image. So, I’m never frustrated and never give up when everything is against me.”
Listen or buy Benny Sings’ new album Young Hearts, produced by Kenny Beats, via Bandcamp.
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