Alec Benjamin Talks Touring, Fan Connections and Fearing COVID Would End His Career: 'I Feel Lucky'

Alec Benjamin is currently on his (Un)Commentary tour in support of his album of the same name, which came out in April

Alec Benjamin Interview Can we tool? Credit for the indoor ones is Connor Gaskey, and credit for the other two outdoor ones is Matty Vogel.
Alec Benjamin. Photo: Connor Gaskey

Alec Benjamin has built a career on being relatable. His sing-along, heartfelt songs relay universal moments, while his close connections with fans keep his boy-next-door charm intact, even as he plays to thousands each night.

So it actually checks out that as the singer-songwriter, 28, readies himself to dive into a question on the topic of fame while talking to PEOPLE from his tour bus, he's interrupted by a familiar face: his mother, blowing up his phone.

"My mom has tried to call me three times in the middle of this interview," he says. "Oh my gosh, if she tries me one more time…"

Just like Benjamin's lyrics, having mom check in is a moment any millennial can relate to — even if the show he's about to play hours later in Austin, the first stop on his (Un)Commentary tour, is not.

Alec Benjamin Interview Can we tool? Credit for the indoor ones is Connor Gaskey, and credit for the other two outdoor ones is Matty Vogel.
Alec Benjamin. Matty Vogel

"Music for me is just the vehicle to connect with people," he says. "I talked to a therapist and he asked me, he was like, 'Hey, if you were doing what you were doing, but you took the live portion of it out of it, would you still want to be a musician?' The answer for me is no. I do it so I can perform to the audience—to get to know them is the best part."

For the "Devil Doesn't Bargain" singer, who recently released an acoustic version of the hit song, the chance to play 28 cities in support of (Un)Commentary, his second studio album, is a dream come true, and something he feared he may never get to do again after COVID.

"During the pandemic when everything shut down I thought, 'OK, my career could potentially be over.' And you know what? That's a fair thought. I think a lot of people's music careers didn't survive the pandemic," he says. "I feel lucky to have made it out. So I think that was the time in my life where I seriously contemplated doing something else."

It was during peak pandemic (May 2020, to be exact) that Benjamin released his debut album, These Two Windows. Raised mainly in Phoenix by parents who played him Billy Joel, Paul Simon and the Beach Boys, Benjamin taught himself to play the guitar at 15 with the help of YouTube videos, and later enrolled at the University of Southern California to study music. He left school "almost immediately" after signing with Columbia Records, but had his plans derailed when he was dropped by the label shortly after.

"Even when I got dropped from my label and stuff like that, all those things were disappointing to me," he says. "But I think I was probably too young and naïve to know that that could actually really be a death sentence for my career, so I just kept going. I think I had the benefit of my naïvety."

Benjamin continued to write, and his career got a boost in 2017 when a young contestant on America's Got Talent danced to his song "I Built a Friend." Then, two years later, he broke through with "Let Me Down Slowly," a song that's been streamed more than 1 billion times on Spotify.

Alec Benjamin Interview Can we tool? Credit for the indoor ones is Connor Gaskey, and credit for the other two outdoor ones is Matty Vogel.
Alec Benjamin. Matty Vogel

Fans quickly latched on to Benjamin's deeply personal lyrics, which tackle everything from love and the struggles of growing up to watching a friend endure an abusive relationship. Sometimes, like in "Devil Doesn't Bargain," he plays the narrator of other people's stories.

"I'm not in a band. My name is my artist project, but the music that I make really is me. There's really no separation between any of the stuff, but my personal life is my career," he says. "Sometimes it makes it easier to talk about somebody else's situation, because you can be more objective about it. Sometimes when something is happening to you, it's too hard to talk about because it's too close to you."

There's not much that seems to ruffle Benjamin's feathers — except, of course, social media, which he is more than happy to tell you he really, really, really doesn't like ("Everything is controlled by an algorithm… I just hate it, hate it, hate it," he explains). And while many artists use social media to connect with their fans (his favorite part of the gig), he's found other ways, like taking part in group chats with fans.

"That's why I made music in the first place, is to connect with people, to find other people and send out a message like, 'Hey, I'm here.' You're sending out a signal and hoping that other people receive it and resonate with the message, and then connect with you so you feel less alone," he says. "I put my heart and soul into music and I also talk about things that are important to me. I'm looking to connect with like-minded people, and the audience, I feel, are people that have things in common with me. So why would I not want to talk to them and be in touch as much as I can? It's nice. It makes me feel not as lonely."

With his tour well underway, Benjamin, who counts John Mayer as a friend and has co-written songs for stars like Jon Bellion, says he's looking ahead, and plans to start writing new music once things wrap in Phoenix on Oct. 16.

"I like to write when I feel like I've got something to say," he says. "I did write on the road in the past, but I'm trying to have a season for everything and right now I'm just boring."

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