It’s been a breakthrough year for Alec Benjamin.
The singer-songwriter scored his first Billboard Hot 100 hit earlier in 2019 with his single “Let Me Down Slowly,” which has accumulated nearly 300 million on-demand streams in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. The 25-year-old then saw his album Narrated for You — his debut for Atlantic Records — hit the Billboard 200 chart. So far, the set has earned a quarter-million equivalent album units in the U.S.
Currently, Benjamin is busy promoting his new single, “Jesus in L.A.,” which is a taste of his forthcoming new album, which could surface in early 2020.
“I send him my new songs,” Benjamin tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen to his interview, below). “When I write a new song… He’s basically the one that decides the songs that go on my record. I mean, you know, that’s not true. If Atlantic listens to this, they’re gonna be like… [laughs]. I’m really lucky to have an amazing team of people. But, I would say that he’s on the team, just because I send him the songs, and if he likes it, I go, ‘no, this is coming on [the record].’ And one of the reasons why I put out ‘Jesus in L.A.’ was because he was like, ‘I love this song.'”
“He’s the reason why I started playing music,” Benjamin says of Mayer. “He’s the best.”
As for the song itself, Benjamin says the tune is “about a couple of things” and — despite its title — “not just about L.A.”
“Two stories kind of came together,” he says. “Without revealing too much — because it’s not my story to reveal — I know somebody who is close to me, who was struggling with some things. They were like, ‘Oh man, you know, you’re not going to find what you’re looking for in the clubs or whatever…’ and I was like, ‘Oh that’s true,’ so initially it was going to kinda be about that. And then I thought, ‘Well, how does that apply to me?’
“When I was growing up in Arizona, I’d always wanted to come to California. And I always felt like… I was on the outside. And I was like, ‘One day, I’m going to go to L.A. and I’m going to be a really big star. You wait and see!’ You know what I mean? [Laughs] And I kind of came out here and that’s the exact opposite of what happened. [Laughs] And even now, even though I’m starting to kind of finally get my music out there, and it feels like I’m at least kinda a little bit in the game… I realized that through all of this stuff, the one thing that really does make me happy is just like being at home with my family, and I had that the whole time.
“So [the song is] not just about L.A.; it could be anywhere where you feel like, ‘Oh if I just get this,’ or ‘if I just get that.’ It’s not about that.”
When the conversation turned to Benjamin’s songwriting process, he says that he writes “a lot by myself,” though he does have a “couple of people” that he really enjoys writing with.
“I think the lyric side of things always has to come from me 100%. Maybe a couple lyrics here and there where someone’s like, ‘Oh maybe you should rhyme this instead of…’ But the idea of the song has to come from me, and melodically it mostly has to come from me as well…
“I mean, I do a lot of [songwriting] sessions, so I’ll try writing with a bunch of people, but that’s to find the right person that I can continue writing with in the future.”
On the topic of working with writers in a session that he may be only meeting for the first time, Benjamin jokes: “Not a lot of people are really willing to write a song about ‘Jesus in L.A.’
“You walk into a session, and [say], ‘I have a great idea, guys. This whole song is going to be about trying to find what you’re looking for and not finding it. It’s going be staged as a conversation with the devil, and the chorus has to include “Jesus in L.A.” Let’s write that.’ And everyone is the room is like, ‘I’m sorry, what?’ [Laughs] But the L.A. way of saying that is [in a dismissive nasal tone], ‘That doesn’t sound like a hit.’ [Laughs]”
As for Benjamin’s upcoming album, he says, “It’s not ready yet. I still have more to say. … Hopefully I’ll be ready to put it out in January or February.” Might Mayer pop up on the album? “You know, I hope so, I hope so. I’ll keep asking him,” he laughs.
Benjamin says, “He is one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever been in the room with… I think more and more people are starting to find this out about Charlie, but the way his brain works is insane. … He is so good. It’s mind-blowing.” (At the time of the Pop Shop interview, there were discussions of Benjamin and Puth possibly writing a song together.)
In addition to the interview with Benjamin, the Pop Shop team discusses Drake’s ninth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart (with Care Package) and Ariana Grande’s latest top 10 single on the Hot 100, “Boyfriend,” with Social House.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)