Don’t be afraid because this Creature Benny is harmless but his music is ferociously original! With musical styles and influences that run the gamut, the listener will never experience a dull moment when consuming the sounds of Creature Benny. “Pandemic Madness”, “Shape of Things” and “Rock And Roll (My Face Off)” are just a few of Creature Benny’s latest creations. What you have is a creative force that pushes the limits musically and an artist who is not afraid to go outside the box. Enjoy the life & times of Creature Benny!
J Rae: You’re set to release two singles this summer titled “Pandemic Madness” & “Shape of Things To Come” with one being an original and the other a reworked cover of a song. Can you tell us more about these tracks and the process in which you created these compositions?
Hey J, nice to be in touch. Allow me to make a friendly, and very minor correction here- I plan to release one, two-song release in the late summer/early fall, the idea being that this format functions essentially as the digital version of a 7” vinyl record, which was known as a “single” back when records were the thing. The release will be titled “Pandemic Madness,” that track will be the A-side, and the cover artwork will correspond to that track. “The Shape of Things” will serve as the B-side. This format choice is a homage to the DIY punks of yore who released music independently on 7” records, though a lot of bands wrote such short songs that a 7” record would fit a whole album’s-worth of material.
Now that I’ve gotten that pretentious, pedantic piece out of the way (sorry)…
The story behind “Pandemic Madness”
Back in Jan/Feb 2021, as we approached the one-year point of covid and lockdown, I noticed that a lot of people I knew who were lucky (privileged) enough to stay home began getting extremely squirrelly, and doing weird new things to artificially implant some joy into their joyless lives. In my head I started referring to this phenomenon as “Pandemic Madness.” For me, one of the symptoms was riding the app-based scooters in the evening just to go do something. For others, it was watching one episode of Vampire Diaries with their roommate every night, becoming self-consciously obsessed with Swedish Sad Boy rap, or something equally uncharacteristic but stimulating. Strange Times.
I hadn’t really written anything about the pandemic yet, and had had the phrase “Pandemic Madness” bumping around in my head for a few weeks, but knew that I didn’t want to write anything punky with it because that just felt cheesy and like something I wouldn’t listen to if someone else wrote it.
I’ve loved doo-wop for years, but I was listening to self-described “Satanic Doo-wop” group Twin Temple (check them out) when the idea of “Pandemic Madness” had been percolating for a bit, and as soon as I began to think of those words in a swung, 6/8 time signature, I knew I’d hit upon something that made sense to me. I then spent every night for three weeks writing lyrics, working out guitar parts, recording, writing some more, working out more guitar stuff, and recording some more as the song took shape, informing and encouraging itself into existence.
I think the song grew as it allowed me to actually think about my thoughts on the pandemic and my experience of it, which I’d almost definitely been shrugging off and intentionally not thinking about until I sat down to write the song. Maybe it was a cathartic process? It was 100% for sure the first time I brought my head up, looked around, and tried to grapple with the reality I was living in. Up until then I’d just been head-down surviving it.
The story behind “The Shape of Things”
“Shape of Things to Come” was originally written to be performed by a fictitious band (Max Frost & The Troopers) in a 1968 hippie movie (Wild In The Streets), and is a sort of rousing musical middle finger to the older generation that “You can believe whatever you want, but minds are changing and so are times, and that’s just the way it is.”
The song has a perennial message and incredible bones, and has therefore been covered by everyone from Paul Revere and The Raiders to Slade to The Urinals. The intention is powerful, but the lyrics felt a little vague to me, so I used them as an outline, retaining the song’s structure and pacing while reworking words and phrases to feel more pointed and applicable to the backlog of problems we currently face.
I’d actually recorded the instrumental and reworked the lyrics for the song back in 2019 before we could have possibly guessed what was coming in 2020. But I hadn’t recorded the vocals yet, so it remained unfinished on my hard drive. I knew I wanted to release a B-side along with the “Pandemic Madness” track, and thought I’d like it to be a cover for a few different reasons. I was trying to find a song about being Crazy or Insane or Nuts or Bonkers, but pretty much everything I was finding was about being Crazy over a love-interest, which didn’t fit. It occurred to me to resurrect “The Shape of Things,” because 1) it’s a cover and 2) the feeling works with the feeling behind “Pandemic Madness,” albeit in a different way than I’d initially been thinking. It felt like a cool fit so I recorded everything, polished it up, and feel like I made the right decision for the overall package and what I’m trying to deliver. And also, certain lines that I reworked back in 2019 before covid and George Floyd took on new significance in light of both events.
J Rae: I read that “Pandemic Madness” will also get a music video and wonder if you can tell the Skope readers what they can expect from a visual perspective?
With the video I want to convey the feelings of fear, stagnation, hopelessness and despair that characterized the pandemic for me and a lot of people, especially in Los Angeles where restrictions have been consistently stricter-than-average, but the numbers over the course of March 2020 to March 2021 reached some of the highest peaks in the country. With the video, I also want to convey the demoralizing effect being chained to the internet, social media, and nothing but bad news on these platforms had on people’s (my) ideas of humanity, the present, the future, the fact that we’ll never learn or do better, etc.. I almost forget at this point that Donald Trump was president for the first 9 months of the pandemic, and that simple fact made not only the pandemic itself, but the news cycle in general, that much more debilitatingly disheartening.
On a personal level, I also want the video to show the reality of lockdown + work from home. Same shit, different day is an understatement, once again especially in LA and southern California where it’s beautiful every day, weather does not exist (let alone seasons), and the only thing to break up the year was daylight savings time, which just made me never see the sun last fall. Work all day at a breakneck pace for my job, eat some food and chill for an hour or two, and then crack a beer and work on Creature Benny until the wee hours. That was my life every day and night from July 2020 to January 2021, and it was cool and I was grateful to have the project to focus on, but god damn was it ever gruelling. I didn’t have a beer every night, but a lot of nights to be fair.
I don’t know if you’ve seen Bo Burnham’s recent netflix special “Inside”, but it’s genius on a bunch of levels and I found it to be very relatable. The “Pandemic Madness” video won’t be that, but I think they stem from similar places of personal and social/societal observation, and live in the existential despair that derives therefrom.
J Rae: How did the name Creature Benny come about and what kind of music does Creature Benny bring to the table?
The name “Creature Benny” was conceptualized in two parts. “Creature” has a story, and “Benny” has a story.
In my life, “Benny” was originally part of a nickname my paternal Grandmother called me from birth (Benny Boy). She died in November 2015 after having had a stroke nine months prior. This happened right as I was trying to settle myself into Los Angeles, and right before I began writing the songs that would eventually become Creature Benny music. As I didn’t have a job in LA yet and had only just graduated from school, I flew back to Atlanta to be with her for a few weeks as she took that one-way ride, so I heard “Benny Boy” a lot during that time, and then came back to LA one Grandma short. Also around that time, entirely independent of my Gma’s or each other’s influence, various close friends of mine in more than one city began calling me “Benny,” which, if we’re close, I think is pretty cute and nice. So that felt worthy of note.
The word “Creature” in the way that I mean it in “Creature Benny,” took on its character in my mind from a girl I was friends with during college. She used “Creature,” “Creature Status,” or some other derivation to refer to the state of being your worst, ugliest, sloppiest, most shameful self. We went to school in New Orleans, so it was often used in the context of being a hungover mess wearing mismatched socks and having three cookies and gatorade for breakfast (for example), but “Creature” could also apply to being sick as a dog, or an unprepared idiot, or lost and confused, or wasted and alone, or all of the above. Her parents were from South Africa, though I don’t know if she got it from them or came up with it or what.
When I first got to Los Angeles I lived in a closet, and began my descent into Creaturedom when the job interview process became routinely a “good interview, didn’t get the job” situation, my Gma and two close friends all died within a month of each other (Oct-Nov 2015), and I found myself at wit’s end jobless, smoking too much weed, and watching too much “Ancient Aliens” (love). I took a Scientology class just because someone was nice to me in line once for crying out loud. It was weird, and they send me mail to this day.
A lot of yet-to-be-released Creature Benny music also consists of kinda scary stories about demons and ghouls, so the association of the word “Creature” with monsters, a la “Creature Feature” aligns with what I’m doing on that level too.
The kind of music I bring to the table is hopefully fun, interesting, and pleasant to listen to. I have songs that span a range of sounds, but it all sounds like CB music, so that feels like connective tissue.
J Rae: You have described yourself as a “kind of a campfire, punk singer-songwriter” and this description intrigues me as it has me wondering if we should bust out the marshmallows and thrash out! :) Can you delve more into this concept for the Skope Readers?
By all means, please bring some Mallows and thrash out with me! That sounds like my kind of party for sure. Pro tip: Always, always get more firewood than you think you’ll need. A lot more.
“Campfire, Punk Singer-Songwriter” has a little bit of a ring to it maybe, but is another descriptor that is simply the sum of its parts.
“Campfire” describes my guitar playing ability. I’ve got the chops of that annoying dude strumming an acoustic and singing Kumbaya around the campfire. Love the song… but that dude can definitely shut up.
I’ve never had a formal guitar lesson, but have been shown a few things here and there by different people along the way. I’ve also figured a few things on my own, but my skills are rudimentary at best, and amateurish would be an even more accurate description. On Christmas day when I was 15 years old my brother showed me how to play Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”, along with a few open chords and the shape of a bar chord to strum. Armed with that limited knowledge, teenage angst, and a desire to howl about it, I started writing songs in which the music functioned as a vehicle for the words, and the guitar was pretty much just campfire-strummed. No riffage or finger-picking or punky down-strokes, or really anything resembling a deliberate technique. This used to just be all I knew how to do, but I used it as a motif in Creature Benny music and I’d like to think it became a hallmark of the sound. I like strumming because it’s easy to do quickly , and also because there can be plenty of character in the way you strum and when you decide to switch things up in this or that way.
“Punk” describes a lot of the music I like, the DIY approach to how I write, record, mix, master, and release my own music, and the ethos/substance of my songs, based on the things I think about. CB music mostly looks at life through a shithead lens, ruminating on the fact that I don’t share many of people’s society’s motivations, musing about doing my best to do my best with woman, and telling weird, scary stories (more of that to come in phases II and III). Much of my music doesn’t necessarily fit the exact criteria of what some people might think of as “punk” music, especially in terms of tempo, but that’s where I feel like it comes from, at least in spirit. Not too pretty and not too frilly, just speaking your piece and going for it with no particularly commercial aspirations.
“Singer-songwriter” just refers to the fact that I write all the Creature Benny songs on the guitar in my closet/studio solo, and all the songs can be performed in that format (perhaps most effectively), as opposed to the full-band sound you hear on the recordings. I made sure to post performance videos of every song from Tales Moste Wretched , Vol. 1 on IG (@creaturebenny) really to showcase that fact. The core of every song is my voice and the guitar, and that sort of lends itself to the 80s American punk influence, since the guitars and bass on that stuff pretty much both hacked it out for the whole song if bands couldn’t play too well. I consider this approach to also be in the tradition of other punk singer-songwriters like Johnny Thunders, Billy Childish, Jonathan Richman, Hasil Adkins, and Reckless Eric. I don’t really write from a band approach much on CB stuff.
J Rae: I’d love to discuss your single and video for “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)”, which is featured on your full-length album titled ‘Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 1’. What has the BUZZ been like surrounding “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)” and what does this song mean to you personally?
It originally appeared on the digital 7” C.B.3! Ha my bad, I only mention it because I released an EP and four 2-song releases before the album, and though all those songs are also on the album, each release has its own original cover art. Part of the idea with Creature Benny was to create a bunch of album art in a specific style that draws on both hardcore punk show flyers from the 80s and the look of Blue Note Records’ jazz album covers from the 60s and 70s. I’m proud that I designed and drew six different covers for phase I, and that they all turned out pretty sick
I can tell you a lot about the song “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)”, but not a ton about the buzz unfortunately, being that I am but an unknown artist adrift in the vast and roiling swathes of the internet, and buzz has been minimal. Buzz would be rad, and a life-changing amount of buzz would be wild in a good way I think, but to be perfectly honest that’s never been the point for me. Which is good, because if it were, I’d find myself pretty predictably and sorely disappointed ;) If a cool kid finds my stuff in 30 years and likes it, my heart will sing and my soul will take wing, because the music exists because i wrote it, and you can listen to it because I recorded it. And that’s the point.
The song is significant to me because it started as a guitar idea and a verse + chorus my older brother Charlie came up with back in 2016. I had chipped away at the writing of it over the years, but when the pandemic hit and I resolved to finally release a collection of Creature Benny music last year, I decided that the time had come to realize this idea and release this song.
An illustrator located in South Africa named Kelvin Ite had cold-call hit me up via IG DM a few months before I released the song on C.B.3, and we’d been working together on a still image when the idea cropped up to do a lyric video for a song too. I chose “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)” because the content of it felt very applicable in a world that was unsafe and out of reach, and an existence that felt bleak and bleaker. Especially the lines about looking at your phone all day and wanting to rock and roll your face off until you physically fall to pieces in a bloody pile. What Kevin and I came up with feels like it falls very squarely within the DIY, spooky-but-sweet, Creature Benny-sphere, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.
J Rae: What other activities are you into when not working on music and what are some things that give you the most joy in this life?
Besides working on music, I like hanging out with friends. I really love having a day where you meet up for lunch or something, have a few drinks, and just wander around people watching and window shopping and doing whatever comes up. Wandering into places. Buying something you don’t need that costs less than $10 because you like it so “why not?”. I miss the spontaneity that was possible when things were normal enough to do that sort of thing.
I have a front yard, which has always been awesome, but has really been a lifesaver this past year. My close friend Jose and I hang out most Fridays, and we’ve kept that standing appointment on the majority of Fridays for like 3-4 years now, usually in my front yard. More friends have been invited and attend the meeting when able, and Fridays have grown through the years. But we just drink beers and smoke backwoods and play whatever we want on the bluetooth speaker and catch up on the week, life, the universe, and everything, so that’s another thing I like to do.
Hearing a song or artist that’s new to me and really latching on and diving in is something that brings me a lot of joy. Riding those app-based scooters. Going to the beach with friends. Cotton candy. Fireworks…
Recently I’ve been drinking a second cup of coffee during the work day and blasting Type O Negative throughout my work day, which has been exhilarating.
J Rae: I noticed that you previously went under the stage name goodie. What was the idea behind this band name and what are the major differences between the music of goodie vs. Creature Benny?
“goodie” is another artist project of mine, and I don’t think it’s dead, just resting while Creature Benny has his day in the sun. I used that name when I first started recording music as a high school junior in Atlanta, and continued to release music under the goodie moniker when I moved to New Orleans to go to school at Tulane University. I’d been writing guitar songs since I was 15, but at 17 I met this dude, now my close friend Matthew, or R1CAN, and he was already writing and recording his own rap music. When he found out I sang and wrote songs, he encouraged me to write some bars too, and invited me onto the track- sing a hook and spit a verse on this Gucci Mane beat type of thing.
Inspired by how possible it was and by how much I enjoyed being able to listen back to the music I’d written, I got a mic of my own and started recording on my family’s desktop computer in the living room. I recorded the instrumentals and any clean lyrics during the day, but would record any profanity-laced bars post-midnight, after getting home from a high school party when my parents were already asleep. My dad worked from home and my mom was a homemaker my whole life, so that was the only time when they weren’t around to hear me screaming curse words. They were super cool for not coming to tell me I better shut up that late at night.
The difference between goodie music and Creature Benny music is everything from where it stems from to what it’s about to the style of music. Creature Benny is sort of punky guitar-band music about alienation and monsters sung in a low register for the most part, whereas goodie music could be anything from singing to rapping to classical or blues piano instrumentals, to frooty loops-produced beats, and has usually been more true-to-life and less stylized. A good deal more raw.
J Rae: I read that you also work with other artists as far as helping in managing their music careers. What kind of satisfaction do you get out of this role and how does it compare to recording & creating your own music?
I work for a small music management company managing the careers of artist, band, and producer clients. It’s great and I like our artists and getting the job done. It’s cool to see everything from recording to touring from the nuts and bolts side of things. At the end of the day, my music is my passion and my job is my job, but I work with great people and we deliver for our clients.
J Rae: You’ve also worked with: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Preservation Hall, and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and I’m sure the Skope Universe would love to hear more about these experiences and how these exciting opportunities came about?
I had great experiences with all three organizations. I interned with each during my time at school in New Orleans, and got to do some really cool stuff with all of them, from selling merch at Irving Mayfield’s* weekly jazz ensemble show at his Jazz Playhouse bar in the French Quarter Royal Sonesta, to helping produce Gumbofest and The Crescent City Blues and BBQ fest with the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, to manning the door and selling merch at Shannon Powell’s* weekly ensemble shows at Preservation Hall downtown. Unpaid internships have had a bit of a reckoning since I was a student I think, which is nothing but positive. But New Orleans Jazz definitely made it all worth my time, given the landscape.
*the creative face of the NOJO who plead guilty in a fraud case last year
*the king of Treme, and a New Orleans Jazz drummer of unparalleled skill and feel
J Rae: What’s next for Creature Benny and what should fans/listeners be on the lookout for?
I’m more comfortable calling them listeners, and there aren’t that many at present ha. I’ll be putting out the two “Pandemic Madness” tracks in late summer/early fall along with a video for the A side, “Pandemic Madness,” shot, edited, and directed by my close friend and collaborator Jeremy Trombetta (@jeremytrombettaa). I will also begin releasing Creature Benny phase II later this fall, which will mirror the Creature Benny phase I run from fall 2020. It will consist of an EP and four two-song, digital 7”-style releases, and will culminate in an album, ‘Creature Benny’s Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 2’, compiling all of the previously-released phase II songs, plus an intro, interlude, and bonus tracks.
I also just put all of phase I on sale the other night as N.F.T.s on rarible.com, so check that out if you’re into that sort of thing (rarible.com/creaturebenny). There are 100 copies of ‘The Spooky America EP, C.B.2-5, and Creature Benny’s Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 1’ on there so what the hey, I’m a relatively early adopter!
J Rae: Ending on a positive note, do you feel Creature Benny’s music can help change lives for the better and as a whole society how can we help in improving the lives of others?
A very positive note! Well, if you hear my music and enjoy it, I would consider your life “changed for the better” in a very micro sense I guess. Not in any substantive or tangible way you could take with you or show anybody, but as a music enthusiast myself, who gets some of his biggest kicks out of listening to something I don’t know and becoming obsessed with it for a few weeks, I feel like music is the only thing. But that’s just me and the other people who feel that way.
On a macro level, I hate to be a pessimist but in my eyes society has a one-way ticket and it’s been punched. It’s gonna take a long time for humanity to wrap things up, but I’ve kinda accepted that there’s no coming back and it’s all downhill from here. I can’t watch Black Mirror, because any time I do I feel like whatever fucked up thing is on the real news a week later. This isn’t my own original idea, but it’s kinda crazy to have been born at the tail end of the “fuck around” century, only to live out the rest of your days in the “find out” century. We can and should still help and be good to each other in the meantime of course. Give what you can, be an agent of change, and stand up to fuckshit everywhere. To anyone who is bigoted or worried about what anybody else is up to in anyway (given that they aren’t hurting anyone duh), please get your head out of your ass, shut the fuck up, and just be cool to everyone. It’s easier than being a piece of shit. Sorry for the language, nice chatting :)
By Jimmy Rae (https://skopemag.com/?s=Jimmy+Rae)