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DanielBenyamin2022 05 byLenaMielkeInterview with

Daniel Benyamin

“‘Eral Fun’ is part one of a pentalogy about human conditions. I’ve always had to deal with feelings from both extremes of the spectrum and there - no better way to release them than in music. So, I was curious to find out more about the contrasts of human states in general.” Not only the contrasts, but the load of beautiful sounds is what you will find on the new album by DANIEL BENYAMIN. The artist, who previously performed with SEA + AIR, decided to release a solo album which will be out on 25th February 2022. We discuss not only the new release, but also various forms the art takes and how emotions are is represented in music.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello Daniel, thank you very much for finding time to answer a few questions. First of all, congratulations on your solo debut. It’s mesmerizing, hypnotic, delicate, melancholic and yet vibrating with under-the-skin energy. How do you feel about the album?
Daniel: Hey Karo, thank you! I feel really good about it. It took four years to finish it and I am glad I had so much time to be creative without pressure. There was a natural feeling that I needed to reinvent myself for this new project and I believe I made it. 

RoD: What made you go solo? You have played SEA + AIR so far. Is it your natural development as an artist, or the story you wanted to tell was strictly yours?
Daniel: It’s both. The natural development as well as looking back to where I started. Before and while being in other projects I’ve always worked on my own stuff, most of which got never released. The first SEA + AIR record actually was started as a solo record. Just after the songs were written and most of the music was recorded, we decided to turn it into a duo. And when I started to write the songs that became ‘Eral Fun’ I thought it would become the 3rd SEA + AIR record. It’ s not a circle, it’s an upwards spiral.

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RoD: After listening to the album several times I had one question in my mind - is ‘Eral Fun’ a kind of an emotional release for you? You include various tones and shades on it and a lot of stories. It’s very rich in its soundscape as well. What was the concept behind it? What is the story you wanted to tell to your listeners?
Daniel: ‘Eral Fun’ is part one of a pentalogy about human conditions. I’ve always had to deal with feelings from both extremes of the spectrum and there’s no better way to release them than in music. So, I was curious to find out more about the contrasts of human states in general. I put up the 10 most important phases humans can be in and paired them up in groups of two that seem opposite. For this record it was death and fun. It’s remarkable that the word “fun” is in funeral. Since the first song I ever wrote as a kid was about death and many followed since it felt natural to start with this topic. So, the story came together as 11 individual short stories connected with the topic. Some are very personal topics like the loss of love or the death of my mother.

RoD: The lyrics are indeed very insightful and in-depth - do you feel art should be personal, tell the artist’s individual story of some sort?
Daniel: Yes. I feel like I’ve been misunderstood many times, but in a good way. Cause I want my music to be very personal to me but also for everyone else. Which can only happen if they misunderstand me and give it their own meaning.

RoD: Death seems to have many faces - like little ends we experience every day or significant losses that paralyze us for quite a while. Do you feel art is a way to handle it in a way? What was your own way to represent it in terms of music and lyrics?
Daniel: Definitely! Art is always a language. Especially music is a language that is completely detached to the lyrics. I never cared much about lyrics. Of course, a good set of words can make a song better, but I don’t recognize what somebody sings unless I listened 40 - 50 times. My first impression is always that music is a language in its own right and that’s enough. For some topics, like death and its many faces, music seems the best language to talk about it. I guess everyone knows the speechlessness when it comes to death. That’s a good moment to turn on some music.

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RoD: Some journalists love classifying musicians at any cost. Is “Ghost Pop” your answer to that need? What is it actually? It seems to be entirely yours at the moment.
Daniel: There are actually a couple of other groups that used the term in the last years, which is great. I think what connects us all is the sense of the ghost in the music. Music that sounds haunted, is about being cursed, at least in an emotional sense, music that has a spiritual quality that can’t be found elsewhere or, from a more musical perspective that leaves time and space open. I’ve always liked the idea of blending music of many centuries / decades into something new. For SEA + AIR it was the harpsichord, for ‘Eral Fun’ it’s my voice and the early 90s keyboard I used a lot, which is the keyboard of my childhood which sounds like the home I lost long ago. I actually gave my solo work a different genre description: Naive Music. It’s more a term and one of the sub genres is Ghost Pop. Seems a bit hilarious to me too, don’t worry.

RoD: The first bell that rang when I was listening to ‘Eral Fun’ was STING, like STING of ‘Fields of Gold’ - warm, emotional yet perfectly balanced voice unobtrusive musical line. But then again, gems like ‘Shine Tonight’ get a more sensual, dreamy tone. We also get very modern, club electronic with ‘I Don’t Care’… What were your inspirations actually? Is the music of other artists the factor that makes you create your art, or there are other factors that trigger the artistic sparkle in your case?
Daniel: Oh, thanks! While making the record I actually developed the thought that it would be a good task to get inspired by music that was considered uncool when it was made. So, STING is a good reference, even though I’m not very familiar with his work. But I like the fact that they cared more about what touches them than what’s fashionable. Kind of naive. Twenty years later it was suddenly cool which makes it even better. My inspirations are always the states I’m in. Since music has been the most important thing to me and actually saved my life on several occasions, in many ways my life household is inseparably connected to music. I realized I don’t listen to music while doing stuff. I do stuff while I’m listening to music. So, my inspiration for ‘Eral Fun’ comes from what I would call my musical subconsciousness. I think the biggest influences I have are artists that inspire me to do my own thing. What was first, the inspiration or my sensuality to it? So PREFAB SPROUT, KATE BUSH and PRINCE can be named. But also, older ones like STRAVINSKY or DEBUSSY.

RoD: Is there a song on the album that has a particular meaning for you?
Daniel: They all are dealing with personal experiences of some sort. Usually, my songs start off with a mood I’m in, something I’m reflecting or dealing with at the moment. Then I realize it fits to other emotions and I can develop it into something that’s personal and universal at the same time. I would pick ‘Lights Go Out Tonight’ as one example. It started as a song that tells my lover: hang in there, there’s hope. But it also plays with the shadow of giving up life, seeing someone go after a long disease. Even being happy for them that it’s over and wondering what remains of them. Love?

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RoD: Tell me more about your artistic path - is it true in your case that being an artist requires walking a cobbly, difficult path? What were your ups and downs on the way? Do you feel obstacles make us stronger?
Daniel: To be honest, my artistic path - for myself - has always been easy. No writer’s block, inspiration all the way and producing a lot of art and ideas I enjoyed. The problem is knowing what is essential enough to touch others. I know most artists have that. Often the songs that mean a lot to yourself are mediocre to others. And some songs you write that you think are ok mean the world to someone. My luxury is that I always work on three times more tracks than I can use on a record. That way I only release pieces I really like and hope someone else likes them too. Smile. The cobbly, difficult path on my side that occupies me a lot lately, is the financial insecurity of the life of an artist. Though being happy to make a living from it I never made music for money. I always protected my artistic freedom, changed my direction when I needed to and confused some listeners that way. So, making a living from your art (which you need to do to be 100% free artistically) is really material for many sleepless nights.

RoD: Are you planning to promote your album with any live shows? If yes - when and where?
Daniel: Yes, we are planning three tours this year: one in March, a little trip to Eastern Germany, Leipzig and Erfurt for example. Another round of Germany in May. And a big, All-European trip in September / October. With Covid and all they might be announced pretty spontaneously.

RoD: How do you feel about live shows in general? Do you like them?
Daniel: Me and Zar Monta Cola, who plays drums and synth bass with me live LOVE every aspect of touring. Not only the actual concert. But also travelling, seeing new places, meeting people and evolving the music while being on the road.

RoD: To wrap up our conversation - tell me, what is music personally for you?
Daniel: Music is the closest thing to a spiritual experience. It’s a language above languages and even though the term is abused a lot: pure love.

RoD: Thank you very much for your time!

All pictures by Lena Mielke

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