He’s a talented multi-instrumentalist with a rich voice and an ability to weave sonic tapestries on the fly, and he’s no stranger to the stages of the Gold Coast. Benny D Williams spent eleven years at Draculas and more than a decade at Staging Connections which means he’s seen gigs, productions and festivals from all angles.
“I quit Draculas to go to Woodford,” Benny laughed, while giving me his potted history. “They were like family to me, those guys. They took it quite well. I was Dracula for a year.”
You’ll be familiar with Benny’s name. He has to be one of the hardest gigging musicians on the Gold Coast. His new album, recorded live at the Sunhouse Coolangatta in August last year, is just about to hit the streets and he’s eager to tell me all about it.
“It features myself as well as a sax player – Pop-up Pat – he just pops up from time to time. He’ll call me two minutes beforehand and I hadn’t seen him for five years before this show.”
This one had an energy about it – that’s when Sunhouse is really happening and you can hear it on the recording.”
“Everyone was up and dancing and I played things correctly.”
Benny said he’d originally toyed with the idea of a double-album with a mix of his music and re-interpretations of others’, but he “didn’t want to go through the whole licensing thing.”
“So I just have my stuff on there, versions of a couple of things I’ve released before, long improvs, sax and percussion and there’s some long tracks on there too – 9-10 minutes.”
“I’m just trying to capture that live energy that you don’t get in the studio. I’m going to record a lot of stuff and try to make (videos) more elaborate every time I do it.”
This new album, named Digital Caveman isn’t the first release from Benny D. In 2010 he released a 17-track album which he himself says was “pretty crap”. “I did it all myself and it’s a real hodge-podge of things recorded over a period of time.”
He has a concept EP under his belt too which he says was made “heaps better” with funny interludes between each song and the release acting as a sonic collage.
There’s been a two year gap between that release and Digital Caveman, which I have to say is a wonderful name for a Benny D Williams record. Because to me, Benny takes the most simple beats and sounds and then twists them in a ditital cosmosphere. It’s the simplicity of cave-living in the age of bytes. He himself calls it junkyard soul, but it’s been dubbed everything from trip funk to psychedelia.
“The elevator pitch though, imagine if Prince, Lenny Kravitz, John Butler, Michael Jackson and Nina Simone had a sex orgy at a world music festival and made a love child,” Benny explained. “That would be me.”
“I just play whatever comes out.”
Announced a finalist for Emerging Artist of the Year just last week, Benny D has a strong fanbase across the Gold Coast. And not just that, when he does play festival sets (like Surfers Paradise LIVE), where the crowd is new to his music, they’re quickly responding with stomping feet, swaying hips and big grins. And he has a knack for combining technology not just at the aural level but at the visual level too.
“It’s just so accessible now. I worked in AV for eleven years and so I know easy way to do stuff,” he said, crediting Greg McBlane as a second father cum personal visual technician.
“He works at Neo Audiovisual and his thing is mostly corporate but he’s an old rock god from way back,” Benny said. The pair used to work at Draculas where Greg taught Benny how to do the AV.
“Whenever I have a show and it has a nice wall behind it, I’ll ring him and say ‘dude, wanna come along?’ Sometimes it’s for beer, sometimes money, and he’ll come help me out.”
“We bounce energy back and forwards, sharing the juice. He’s done all my Burleigh Brewing Co gigs, the old place had such good walls for projections.”
“The best thing he does is the live to screen thing. He does that with two briefcases and projectors and bam bam bam. We’ve got this thing going on – the most amount of return for the least amount of effort.”
From theatrical performances to production work and all the odd jobs in between, Benny is proudly a full-time musician now. Although last year he also added student to the list. He’s half way through a Bachelor of Popular Music at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
“When it rains it pours. Uni gets really busy, gigs get really busy and everything just snow-balls,” he said. “But it’s going quite well – can’t complain about that.”
“The more gigs you take, the more gigs you get. Now I’m doing four or five a week I can actually let go of some.”
We talk about the local music scene. Benny reflects that it went from one or two little cafes and surf-clubby type cover gigs that was quite regimented.
“If you did covers, you did certain songs. There’s like 15 dudes all doing the same songs,” he said. “Gold Coast used to be like that. But more people live here now, so you can establish a fan base. It’s not massive, but you can.”
“I mean, look at Hanlon Brothers and go to NightQuarter when they’re playing and you’ve got most of Coomera there,” he said.”
“The main thing I’ve noticed is that crowds are afraid to be themselves. You go to northern NSW and you get amazing rounds of applause – sunshine coast the same. But Gold Coast is tricky – but that makes it a good breeding ground for musicians to get good at what they do.”
One of Benny D’s recent big shows was Surfers Paradise LIVE, where he played to more than 1000 people right in the middle of Cavill Mall. He’s still raving about the experience.
“Lots of people were buying CDs and wanting me to sign them afterwards,” he said. “It was packed – had a good energy about it. It was so well organised and all on time,” something he is quick to credit to Christophe Broadway, the event organiser at Surfers Paradise Alliance.
That’s not the biggest audience he’s played to. He’s done TedX a few years back, Australia Day on the Green at QPAC and Draculas had 500 people a night. He’s also played the Apple and Grape Festival at Stanthorpe which attracts some 20,000.
While Benny continues to forge new links with bigger and bigger audiences, his fan base, he says is incredibly diverse. He’s already sold 200 copies of the album prior to launching. All of those at gigs.
“I’ve gone through two lots of 100 – that’s quite good,” he said. “I sell it for whatever price people want to pay. That’s normally $20.”
It’s one of the things I love about the Gold Coast. That you can see artists like Benny D playing venues like Sunhouse and the Burleigh Brewery one week and then smashing it out of the park for massive audiences at a festival the next week.
So, what’s on the horizon for Mister Benjamin Daniel Williams (esq) the Third?
“To keep playing gigs, keep listening to music, keep making my own videos and music and just keep doing it,” Benny said. “Just keep playing music for people and whatever I write getting out there before I die.”
_ _ _
Benny D Williams has like a million gigs a month on the Gold Coast. Check our gig guide for details.
We love him so much we’ve booked him to play the #gcmusicawards after-party, hosted by Hark Rock Cafe, from 10.00pm, Thursday 16 June.
He also launches his album Digital Caveman at The Avalon Miami, 2 July. 4.20pm to be precise.