When it comes to musical journeys, Gold Coast live fixture Benny D. Williams has definitely done the hard yards. Before 10 years of age, he began piano lessons, but wasn’t a fan.
“I had one of those teachers who would smack your knuckles if you got something wrong, so it wasn’t much fun.” As a result, Benny put aside playing music for a while, until he turned 15.
“Basically, I got interested in girls,” he remembers, “My mum had a really nice nylon string guitar and my dad had a really nice steel string one, so I just picked them up and started playing.”
From the beginning, genre-defying Benny strived to be original.
“I never started learning other people’s songs. I started writing my own songs from the get-go, because I wanted to express my teenage heart, you know? I was a very sensitive teenager. What I would do though is sit there at night recording my favourite songs on the radio and I’d lock my bedroom door and sing along constantly. I’d say singing is probably my primary instrument, and everything else comes after that.”
Working as a kitchenhand and then finally wait staff at the long-standing theatre restaurant Draculas, Benny’s fate was sealed the night that one of the performers called in sick. Fortunately, Benny knew the show as well as all the staff did, and he was asked to fill in.
“From that point on I was doing an understudy role, and I was also doing the technical stage-manager understudy as well, cause I was keen to do anything. They actually put me through singing and dancing lessons cause I sucked, really… I even did ballet for a while… Then I ended up doing Draculas for like 12 years.”
In Benny’s music, you can hear a melange of wide-ranging influences and genres in one set. Benny credits the music his parents listened to with helping to develop his current style, with Hot August Night by Neil Diamond getting a special mention.
“My style really is so diverse, it’s hard to describe, one minute I’ll go from eastern to kind of a tribal African thing and then I’ll go back to a techno vibe, then it will all mash together in one song! Then there’ll be a country thing, and a blues thing. For a while it really concerned me. I thought ‘I’ve gotta nail down my style. What’s my style?’ but recently I’ve decided why do that? Everyone’s taste in music is so varied, and there’s a time and a place for all sorts of music… I used to think I was alienating an audience [by not sticking to a genre], but now I think I’m actually opening it up to everyone, because there’s something there that will appeal to most people.”
Benny believes very strongly that music is a feeling. He recounts a story about his daughter watching Garfield when she was really too young to understand what was happening.
“There was a scene where Odie gets lost and they played this sad music and she just cried and cried, no idea what was actually happening, it was just the music that made her feel that way. That’s something I never forget.”
For years, Benny has worked the singer / songwriter scene on the Gold Coast. One of a cast of thousands, he acknowledges that sometimes it’s a really tough gig.
“There are so many people doing the singing and guitar thing around, some do it better than others, but yeah it can be tough to stand out. It’s really hard to get people out of their houses too, with their surround sound and huge TVs. You have to create a reason for them to come out and listen to live music.”
His use of technology in his live sets is what is really starting to get him noticed, and it’s only been happening for the last couple of years.
“You play a three to four hour set with just your voice and guitar and by the end of it you get so sick of hearing it yourself. Then a couple of years ago I saw this guy using a harmoniser at a gig and I was like ‘wow’ right away. I’ve always felt that harmonies make songs, so I ended up getting a digitech one that could put four other harmonies over your voice, and the looper.”
2015 is looking pretty exciting for Benny. Not only is his reputation growing among live music fans on the coast, has he been accepted into Griffith to do the Bachelor of Popular Music at Griffith. In addition, he also plans to record and release an album.
“I guess the single will be its own entity, but the album will bring together a whole bunch of different sounds to challenge people’s listening ability and their perception of music.”
6th February at the Burleigh Brewery, Benny D. Williams will be playing a three-hour set from 5.30pm – 8.30pm and launching his new single. Entry is free.