The Benjees: The Mutts of Manhattan

Words by Bill Romba

The formula for a band to become popular is pretty simple. Write and record original songs that your fans will find entertaining and relatable, perform them live in front of a few thousand of those fans, send a few tweets and maybe appear on some late-night talk shows. Very seldom do we see bands stray from this time-tested method.

But every so often a group like The Benjees will come along. They are one of those bands that is challenging the status quo and doing things their own way. And they are making it work.

Defining their sound as “mutt music,” the New York City-based group is much like the Big Apple itself. They are a melting pot of different musical styles and influences, their songs move at a pretty quick pace and both the group and their music are as unpredictable as rush hour traffic. They love to have fun and they have a few comedic shorts on YouTube that help showcase this fact. From writing a song about what it would be like to receive a suitcase full of cash, no strings attached, to dressing up as Star Wars characters at their record release show, The Benjees are all about breaking the mold.

Lead singer/guitarist Ben Roberts checks in with us to discuss the new album, Alright, Alright, Alright, and the band’s non-traditional formula for success.

You guys have a very distinctive sound. Do you have any musical influences that led you to develop such a unique style?

Ben Roberts: Each member of the band brings a little something different to the table which helps contribute to the mash-up sound.  I grew up listening to a lot of old soul, hip hop and funk.  Joe was more punk and rock.  Martin brings a lot of rock and funk, and Graham has a jazz background.  It’s fun to switch things up stylistically throughout songs and keep people on their toes.  But… it makes it more difficult to accurately and succinctly describe our sound.  We’re a mutt of music.
Tell us about the new album, Alright Alright Alright – how would you say it represents your hometown of NYC?

We don’t really stretch things out or take a while to get into anything… ’cause who has time for that?    Most of the songs are around 3 minutes or less, and most of them are fast paced, punchy and over before you know it.  New York City is similar.   It’s really loud and bright, sometimes really dark but it never slows down and it doesn’t make excuses for what it is.  If you don’t like it… there are fewer tolls on the way out for a reason.

I noticed you have a few YouTube shorts like the Knitting Factory that are pretty much you guys doing little comedy sketches. Did you always want to be musicians or did you consider doing standup or something along those lines first?

Glad you saw some!  I’m actually an actor as well as musician and have indeed tried stand up before but it takes a lot of time and nightly dedication and I just don’t have that.   I mostly do commercials, but did have an indie film in the Tribeca Film Festival this year called, “Come Down Molly”, about this young mother who visits her old friends at a Colorado country house, while day tripping on mushrooms.  It was fun shoot!  Joe is also a production assistant with Saturday Night Live and other shows in New York. 

We decided to try something new and make the promo videos as a way of connecting with our fans on a different level and show another side of our personality.   Hopefully it doesn’t detract from the music… I don’t see other bands making videos like that and I don’t know why not.  Maybe we’re making a huge comical mistake haha!
What kind of experience do you strive to create for your audience in a live setting?

If we aren’t having fun on stage, you probably aren’t having fun in the crowd.   At our record release show I came out dressed as Darth Vader with paternity test results, which Joe read to the crowd,  “…You are NOT the father!”  At the end of the day, we just want you to have a good time.  

Your video for “Filthy F$cking Rich” was very creative. How did you come up with the idea and get the people involved to shoot it?

I didn’t want it to be about fancy cars or excess, because that’s not really what the song’s about and it would be a cliche video anyway.  I just thought it would be more interesting to have a story about being “filthy f**king rich” from the perspective of a very poor and underprivileged person and what they might do immediately, if they became instantly rich.  We knew we wanted him to be handing out money to strangers, we just have to craft a story around that.  In terms of casting, I knew the “homeless” man through his daughter, who I met at school.  We filled the rest of the video out with cameos from the band and friends that I knew that would fit the role we needed them to play.  Everyone involved was awesome and absolutely killed it!  

Can you share any details about your upcoming East Coast tour? What’s in store?

I wish we could share more details with you.   We are still working out the specific dates and venues.  But it will be an east coast tour, mostly in New England.  We are hoping to get to the major cities and can’t wait to get on the road. | New York City