BENEE shares her LYCHEE: "I love meeting the people who listen to my music as much as they love meeting me"
With her new EP of genre-blurring pop perfection, LYCHEE, Stella Rose Bennet takes her next step to musical world domination while remaining as authentic as ever
In December 2019, Stella Rose Bennet, better known as BENEE to us, quietly dropped a little track titled Supalonely featuring Gus Dapperton… and the rest, as it goes, is history. Blowing up in 2020, she dropped her genre-blurring acclaimed debut full-length, Hey u x, catapulting her to international success with fans globally lapping up her fresh sounds that combine a whole range of sounds and styles in addictive pop packages.
After a string of singles and gearing up for a massive world tour, BENEE is ready to reveal her latest creation - the beyond catchy, addictive seven track EP that is LYCHEE. Furthering her passion for mixing genres (not just within a release, but within tracks that veer from poppy to dark trap beats and back again), LYCHEE shows BENEE at her eclectic, experimental best, with one unifying element across the tracks - they’re all catchy as hell.
We caught up with BENEE for a chat where we touched on a whole stack of things including the new release, creative process, collaborations, the impact of your environment on music and her impending world tour. The chat kicked off by me asking about her latest music video for the single Beach Boy, and its very… un-beachy video.
"Yeah, it's completely opposite to the lyrics and what the vibe of the song is. I worked with this guy called Rome who did my Supalonely music video, who I really love working with, and yeah... it's just completely not what I was thinking at the start, but then I was like 'alright well if we're gonna go opposite I want to have a vampire moment' - I wanted to be bitten by this vampire and turn into a vampire, a twilight moment. It was really fun to film, it's still upbeat and it still is playful even though it's dark."
(Just as I went to ask my next question, BENEE caught a case of the “need to sneezes” and warned that she might have to sneeze at any second, which led me to make a terrible-yet-necessary segue saying that the unpredictability added excitement…)
Speaking of unpredictable, on LYCHEE you're at your unpredictable best jumping from indie pop to house to trap to drum and bass to a combination of literally all of that. I wonder if there’s a normal starting point for a track, like if you're more comfortable starting with a nice guitar chord progression or melody, or jumping on more of a hip-hop beat?
"Oooh... I mean I do love a bit of guitar, it's always nice - a song like Marry Myself, that didn't have the drums in it until after I had started all of my writing, like I was writing to just this guitar loop. Same with Beach Boy I think - it's a good start, especially for inspo for lyrics and stuff, it's nice to just be able to write something chill and then build on it. At the same time, I also love writing over trappy, sad shit as well... It just depends on the beat, bit it kind of doesn't matter what genre or what style, I feel like if it works it works. Sometimes it doesn't work - I'll try a guitar thing and just be like 'this is not gonna happen, I can't think of anything I like'".
Have you gotten better at knowing when something isn’t gonna work, when to bail on a track?
"Yeah for sure. It can still be quite frustrating, like if you have an idea and you're tryna start a song or whatever and then it doesn't quite work out - that actually happened with Rostam [Batmanglij, record producer & Vampire Weekend founding member] when I did a session with him. We kind of had been trying for most of the session, doing this more like indie-guitary thing and I kind of just kept going in a cycle of like, really bad ideas, and I honestly was just like to him 'I do NOT like what I'm coming up with right now', and we both just said 'should we try something else?' and that's how Neverending started. It can definitely be a little frustrating when it doesn't work, but at the same time, it's for a reason, ya know?"
Definitely! What about finishing music and not releasing - were there other tracks that didn’t make the cut for LYCHEE?
"Well, there were... I'm definitely sitting on a bunch of songs and I'm looking to do a second EP, definitely, at some point this year - I like the idea of being able to release a constant flow of music. My management wanted me to not put in Make You Sick, but I kind of have been sitting on that for too long - it just felt right to put it in there."
Make You Sick was a hidden, secret track on the CD release of Hey u x, which as someone who’s formative listening years were in the 90s on CDs where the bonus track at the end of album’s was the thing to do I LOVE that it was included. What led you to now putting it officially on the EP?
"I'm pretty sure the secret track was about nine minutes, and it was originally a song for a fashion show, that I then decided I wanted to keep it, and use it... so that's exactly what I did and it didn't make the cut for the album, so I wanted to just put it out there in some kind of way, and we had this idea of making it on the CD, cos that's something that not everyone's gonna get and it's kind of a little surprise for people who do get it.
So there was something fun and special about that, but then for this EP I was like 'it's time that it properly comes out' so people can listen to it on all the platforms instead of having to buy the CD or go on youtube and look at the copy of it that someone posted. Yeah, it was time."
So you’re following up Hey u x with LYCHEE - an EP not an album - I’m curious as to why you wanted to drop a seven track EP - my ignorant/arrogant brain is like “just chuck a few more songs on there and call it an album”? *laughs*
"Honestly? I prefer EPs. Ya know I've only released one album, so I'm not like a pro or anything - I dunno, I just feel like I've been releasing EPs since the start, and I just like this idea of a constant flow of releasing, and I feel like with how people consume music now, they stream it, and they're not gonna listen to a whole album at once, in one sitting... at least I don't anymore.
They're gonna listen to playlists... an EP is like an easy five to seven songs. This was definitely a bigger EP than I was going to make it, but then I was like ‘actually... I don't care!’ I just wanted to have more. These are all the songs that I'm really stoked about at the moment so I'm just gonna put them out now and I'm sitting on a bunch more, so I think at least for the next year I'm keen to just keep releasing EPs cos I like them."
When it comes to the tracklist - I’m imagining sequencing an EP of songs as diverse as are on LYCHEE might have been a bit of a puzzle to fit well?
"I don't really know? I think that the thing that makes them all together is my voice and I guess my lyrics that I write but, apart from that... It's eclectic for sure and I don't know how it works but it does. I feel like genre mixing actually works, it's just that people are only starting to do it, or only just started to do it in the what.. I don't know how many years. I love it as well, when an album or EP has a bunch of different stuff on it where you can be like 'is that... the same artist who just did that?!' and it just sounds all over the place soooo... yeah."
The seven tracks on the EP, I believe three you worked on at home with longtime collaborator Josh Fountain, and the other four were written and recorded in LA with Greg Kurstin (Adele), Kenny Beats (Denzel Curry, IDLES, slowthai) and the aforementioned Rostam - what impact does your physical environment have on making music?
"I think in any kind of foreign environment, there's a lot that comes into play. I love making music at home with Josh, it's very easy for us to make music that I like together, cos we know exactly what kind of styles I like and I'm very comfortable at just kind of getting in and freestyling my lyric ideas and stuff. Then moving away and doing sessions in somewhere like LA it's like... I don't know, it's a little scarier cos you're like ‘OK I really want to make the most out of this session cos it's with this crazy person who I probably won't get to work with for a while’ so it's weird.
It's a little intimidating, but also they're so used to working with hundreds of artists, that they're really good at making you feel comfortable and I think that's definitely a big part of their job - to make the artist feel comfortable and make it flow really well, so I think I got lucky a bit. I also just felt really inspired while I was out of New Zealand cos I was in this sunny, crazy, mess of a place that I'm not used to being in and I hadn't been in for two years or something, so inspo was just sparking, I was making up a bunch of stories. A lot of it was just creative writing, cos I really had been up to not a lot in New Zealand so it's nice to just be out and be able to write a little story up about a beach boy, and about someone proposing to me… which has never happened."
Speaking of environments, you’re getting ready to jet off for a huge world tour - what are you most excited about?
"There's not one thing, it's the whole thing that I am excited about. My band and I, who I'm going to be bringing with me and my crew and everyone have just been talking about this tour for like the last year... probably two years. I think just now though that it's actually happening, everyone's just counting down, everyone's just really stoked.
I think just being out and performing in a different country is the thing that I'm most looking forward to, cos it's so different everywhere you go, and meeting people is just like, the nicest thing ever. I don't know, I love meeting the people who listen to my music as much as they love meeting me, I think it's a really important part of this kind of thing, and that's definitely something I've been deprived of for the last year."
(As we reach the end of our 15 minutes, I still had so much I wanted to ask - mainly plans for her Olive label - but I quickly asked at the end if she could please bring back her BENEEfied series - a series of short videos involving the letter B, e.g. “Baking with BENEE” and “Bedazzling with BENEE”.)
Oh my god I know! Actually, we're going to be in LA for like three months at the end of our tour and I'm definitely gonna film some content with the band.
L.A. plus words that start with B… this says a lot about me, but the words that first spring to mind include “bud”, “bong” and “blaze”, so I can’t help but think it should be “Blazing with BENEE”...
"DUDE!!! You read my mind, you fully read my mind."
Watch this space…