At 21 years old, Benny Sings recognised an unwieldily force, drawing him back to a past sentiment. He sat and listened to the voice now nestled into an old tape recorder. It was sweet; nostalgic. The voice was his own, from some 10 years prior, singing songs that only childhood naïvety could cultivate.
"I was fed up with all the extreme music. I wanted to return to the nostalgic sweet lullabies I made when I was young to make myself calm again," Benny says, cracking open a can of Heineken in his dressing room, two hours before he’s due to play Eurosonic Festival. Behind him, his supporting band of backing singers, drummers, and one trumpeteer take turns practicing their parts.
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Benny Sings is the alias of 42-year-old Tim Von Berkestijn. "That’s my Dutch name, so Benny Sings is an anagram of that. When I was a beatmaker, the anagram was Benny V Kreamtits," he laughs, just as the trumpeteer starts playing.
Since the 1980s, Benny’s life has been playing out on a musical trajectory. Delivering techno sets at illegal house parties seems like a far distant memory now – particularly when Benny’s current sound is quite the opposite. "Benny Sings started when I was 21, and it was pretty clear what I wanted. Light-hearted music with a lot of hip-hop influence. I guess that’s never really changed".
"There was a certain period around 2008 – 2012 where I was a bit confused, it was a much darker time for music. There was that whole new-wave era and Depeche Mode was the sound, you know. My sound didn’t fit in with that at all. But in the past three or so years, it’s come in vogue again to be soulful and light with people like Chance The Rapper and Anderson .Paak."
A master of disguising sentimental lyrics through the rouse of upbeat pop, Benny’s lo-fi sound perfectly compliments the feeling of nostalgia that resonates through both his discography and music videos. When trying to muster up a word for his genre, Benny says; "I guess it’s like weird soul. I don’t know what it is, I’m trying to make soul but not succeeding. My music is the end product of that."
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His recently released single and music video titled quite self-explanatory, ‘Music’, sees Benny as a child in his hometown of Dordrecht, Netherlands. "Music, help me through this…" sings his fluffy vocals atop jazz piano. But for Benny, music isn’t all about keeping up with current fashions.
"I’m totally unaware of pop culture at the moment, I’m a father so I only really listen to Peppa Pig," he laughs. "I’m always listening to Andy Schauf, Mac Demarco…"
"It really amazes me how engaged the audiences are in other countries like France, England, America, Japan. They’re totally focused and enjoy the ride. Dutch people including myself, they tend to talk more during concerts, being with friends and making jokes," says Benny, contemplating the reception to live shows in his home country.
"When you’re on stage in France, you notice they’re like wow, ‘THE ARTS!’," he shouts, mimicking some progressive French millennial. "They’re totally in awe – and England is where pop culture started, so everyone is really involved. Holland is a tough crowd."
While there’s a proverbial saying about old dogs and new tricks, Benny’s breakthrough success is beyond the usual format of "attitude laden 20-something". At 42, he’s approached his recent recognition with the amount of thankfulness that a lot of musicians seem to lack.
"Last year was an extraordinary year for me, which I didn’t expect any more. I’m 42 and I’m like done, you know," he says nonchalantly. Now, with six albums under his belt and a signing to Stones Throw Records, Benny Sings is generating ripples via the crutch of his musical background.
While he’s set to spend 2020 writing his next record and taking a well-deserved break with his wife and kids, his fans can eagerly await a seventh studio album, soaked in nostalgia and honey-flavoured soul.
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Words: Gemma Ross
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