Benny Sings talks Outside Lands, Influences, Sonology, and More
Benny Sings is the vivacious indie pop project of Amsterdam-based songwriter, producer, and artist Tim van Berkestijn.
If the name Benny Sings sounds familiar, that's probably because you've probably heard it before! In addition to the recent 2022 Remastered Deluxe re-release of his popular album Art, van Berkestijn also co-wrote and produced Rex Orange County's hit song "Loving Is Easy" and chart-topping album WHO CARES?. These projects, however, were far from van Berkestijn's first collaborations. His work spans across a multitude of genres, with partnerships including Goldlink, PJ Morton, Emily King, Cory Henry, and Kenny Beats. His critically acclaimed 2021 album Music has accumulated over 55 million streams and houses hit singles "Rolled Up" (featuring Mac Demarco), "Nobody's Fault" (featuring Tom Misch), and "Sunny Afternoon".
Van Berkestijn's music has also graced various HBO and Netflix series, including Girls, Love Life, Nasty Cherry, and Easy. He has composed for brands such as Apple, BMW, Louis Vuitton, and Microsoft, as well as creating the score for the Japanese Netflix series Carol and Tuesday amongst others like Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Mocky & Erlend Øye. Van Berkestijn won the 2017 Zabut Award for Best Original Soundtrack (for his work on animated film Zeezucht). The music video for his song "Not Enough" was nominated or selected for the Berlin Music Video Award, Leed International Film Festival, Netherlands Film Festival, LSFF, Byron Bay Film Festival, Shorts Awards, and the Raindance Film Festival. Additionally, it won "Best Music Video" at the Dallas Independent Film Festival and the La Guarimba Film Festival.
Benny Sings' dynamic discography is perfect for fans of Mac Demarco, LEISURE, Still Woozy, and Omar Apollo. His sound is simultaneously strikingly spirited, with a bouncy signature drum, and mellow. Swelling synths and dulcet vocals contrast with bouncy bass and mirthful melodies to create an effervescent, individualistic sound. Perky horn sections and guitar solos frequently add another color to van Berkestijn's positive palette. Some of our favorite tracks include "Music", "Rolled Up", "Big Brown Eyes", and "All That You Wanted".
The sonorously smooth Benny Sings arrangement has captured the hearts and ears of fans around the world. Although Amsterdam is van Berkestijn's home base, his global tour brought him and his band to the US, where he performed at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego, and finally Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco. He'll be flying to Japan next for September dates in Tokyo and Yokohama, then to one final show in Mexico City.
One of Outside Lands' highlights, Benny Sings stole the show. The stand-out performance amassed a crowd that extended out nearly to the edge of the Sutro field, the entire audience dancing, swaying, or humming to their favorite tunes. Van Berkestijn's set was especially suited to the festival's idyllic backdrop and beautiful weather; his light, radiant music may have outshined the sun!
We caught up with Benny Sings after his Outside Lands performance last weekend to hear about his festival experience, influences, and background in sonology. Check out the full interview below and listen to Art. Let us know what you think!
How are you doing today?
I'm doing great. We had the show already and it was one of my favorite shows ever.. It was awesome. The energy was awesome–it was super high. The audience was loving the music and everything just looks so beautiful with the trees and nature here. It was perfect!
Tell me a little bit about where you're based. What’s the music scene like there?
I don't have a life of a musician. I would say that I'm actually just a father who loves to make music. I have three children and I make my music on my own in my studio, which is near the house. I don’t have the usual approach to the scene, but I like the people I work with a lot and it’s very beautiful.
At what age did you start playing music?
I was around seven years old when I started playing the clarinet. I really wanted to play the saxophone because we were in the times of George Michael and other artists who had these huge saxophone solos. I was like, “wow, I wanna do that.” I was really inspired by seventies and eighties pop music and even though we lived in Holland, I was into American pop culture; it was just something that I gravitated towards.
At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I think it was when I finished my studies, which were these really complicated, odd studies at the music conservatory called sonology. Basically, you make super weird soundscapes. It's about atonal electronic art music, and when I finished that, I knew it wasn't my thing, but I knew I had to make money and do something with my life. That’s when I decided to give it a shot to make music that is the exact opposite of what I learned in school (more dancing and less atonal craziness).
"That’s when I decided to give it a shot to make music that is the exact opposite of what I learned in school."
Do you ever see that kind of influence still coming through in your music or do you make a conscious effort to avoid it?
It broadens your perspective, you know, so you can tell what’s really out there and what you do and don’t like. Maybe sometimes here and there’s a little electronic blip or something in there.
How would you describe your sound?
It's really hard to define it because not everyone knows a lot about music. I could easily say it's soul or something… The last thing I said to someone who asked me this was that it’s sort of a mix between Pharrell Williams and Paul McCartney.
How do you feel post-performance?
I feel really good. You never know what to expect–I didn't know if I was going to play for three people or 300 people, but the whole field was just packed and the festival was the perfect vibe for this kind of music.
Did you have a favorite moment from the show?
I think it was the beginning, when I noticed that it was going to be a big party. I thought, “this is gonna be good.” People were genuinely into the music we were playing.
Did anything surprise you when you got to the festival?
The whole event was so thoughtful, easygoing, friendly, and really well arranged. It felt warm and everyone was so welcoming. This is the second time I've been to San Francisco ever, so I'm thinking that this might be a San Francisco thing, too.
What other acts are you most excited to see perform tonight?
Parcels, Mac Demarco… I just saw Robert Glasper play and it was awesome.
What was your favorite song to play in your set?
Probably “Rolled Up” because it's just a crowd pleaser. My background vocalist is amazing and she has a beautiful part in the song, which is perfect because I'm not really mainly a singer myself. She’s very expressive, so I love when she sings and then I can just play the guitar. You can tell when everybody's feeling it. It was a great, great moment.
"You can tell when everybody's feeling it. It was a great, great moment."
How did you get the idea for the name Benny Sings?
I came up with Benny Sings because it felt so weird that I was going to sing. It reminded me of musicians like Chet Baker because he was a trumpet player, but he also made a few albums where he sang, which was quite odd because he wasn’t necessarily a singer. It feels like a newspaper headline that says Benny Sings!
Do you produce all of your own music?
Yes, I do.
Why do you love music?
I think it's just a biological urge–kind of a massage for the brain. It just focuses you, it relaxes you, it makes you think about something outside yourself, and it lets your thoughts not be wild and uncontrolled.
Is there anything else that you'd like people to know about you?
Just check out my music and see if it’s for you. Stay tuned!