Eddie Benjamin insists that his first word was “guitar.”
“I know that sounds really stupid, but even before I played music [my parents] told me that was my first word,” the 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist tells Variety from his tour bus somewhere in Florida. “I was never really pushed into playing or practicing, or ‘we want you to be an artist or musician.’ I just had the instruments all around the house, and the music that I was brought up on led me to that at a really natural time.”
Growing up in the Bondi Beach neighborhood of Sydney, Australia, Benjamin’s parents — his father a touring and session drummer and mother a choreographer — immersed him in the music of Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bach and Black Eyed Peas, among others. Benjamin began playing the guitar at age 13, but the performance bug didn’t truly bite him until his parents brought him to a Prince concert.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what I want to do forever,'” Benjamin says. “I asked them for a bass and it all started from there. I was instantly obsessed. And honestly, since then I’ve just wanted to play music all the time.”
That mix of classic and current influences is obvious in Benjamin’s music, which marries catchy pop with the musical complexities of jazz and R&B. Take, for example, his viral song “Weatherman”: its simple yet joyous chorus made for a perfect TikTok hit, while the verses feature layered harmonies and a soul-driven mix of piano and percussion. And new single, “Only You” featuring Alessia Cara, proves Benjamin is a formidable duet partner with its breezy melody and inward-facing lyricism.
Benjamin caught the eye and ear of Justin Bieber early on via Instagram, and he’s spent the past four months opening on his “Justice” world tour and getting a masterclass in being a pop star. But despite that social-media-powered on-ramp, Benjamin is a musician through and through, with a hand in every part of the recording process.
“I remember hearing a quote when I was really little and it said, ‘The key to longevity in music is to learn as many facets as possible.’ When I read that, my mind exploded. Not only did I start getting jazz trained, I started getting classically trained and writing Bach chorales; I started orchestrating for orchestras,” Benjamin says. “One of the things I’ve observed in the industry… is I think there’s kind of a writing circuit and it gets so similar. Not many people play [instruments] and they’re very much sticking to a formula, and I think you can so clearly hear that in so many things.”
That’s why, when it came to working on his debut album, which is coming soon, Benjamin and his executive producer Kid Culture (also 20 years old) decided to play every single instrument on the record themselves. Before even starting the recording process, the duo spent nine months living together and getting to know each other.
“When I was going and writing with all these people, I was like, ‘They barely know me, they have zero perspective. How can they help me tell this story?’ And when I met Kid… He kind of just lived with me for months and got to really know me, and that’s how I allowed my trust in him.”
Benjamin says one of the hardest parts of the process has been deciding which tracks to include on the album, with fears that some might be too emotionally heavy. One particular song was especially hard to grapple with, but Benjamin ultimately decided to keep it on the record after showing it to his family and girlfriend, Maddie Ziegler, star of many Sia videos and the film “Music.”
“Seeing their reaction kind of made me like, ‘Maybe I do need to put this out, because maybe this can help a lot of people,'” Benjamin says. “I think I’m just being really honest, and it was hard for me to put it on there. A bunch of times I thought about taking it off, but honestly, I’m going to die one day and it’s just a song. If anyone wants to scream along to a ballad, that might be a good choice.”
Benjamin finds that same encouragement to be vulnerable from Bieber, who has become a mentor to him while on tour. “He tells me that it’s an injustice to not be yourself and speak your truth. That’s definitely one of the most vulnerable and valuable pieces [of advice] he’s given me,” Benjamin says.
And Bieber is not the only industry heavyweight who has put his support behind Benjamin — producing legend Mike Dean mixed his album. For a music nerd like Benjamin, it was beyond a dream come true.
“I remember walking into his studio — you know, I know how this man’s house looks before I’ve been there — and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrifying.’ He comes in, he has a joint in his mouth and he’s like, ‘Hey Eddie, look at this new shit I just got!’ and he starts playing ‘Thriller,’ and he’s like, ‘This is the exact synth that they used.’ Instantly, we just hit it off,” Benjamin recalls. “He’s been making the craziest music for so many years and to see him so obsessed still, with just some random kid in his studio, really filled my heart with love.”
For Benjamin, this forthcoming album is just the beginning.
“We just want to push music in a really groundbreaking direction. I think these songs are the start of it,” Benjamin says. “I’m already working on my next album. I just really know what I want to do, and these songs are the first introduction. I think we’re definitely cracking onto something.”