When Tim van Bkerestijn—aka Benny Sings—turned 40, he wasn’t really expecting his music career to go anywhere anymore. “I had sorta given up on myself,” he told American Songwriter. “I just made music for the few fans that I still had, really.”
But when the Dutch pop artist co-wrote Rex Orange County’s “Loving Is Easy” in 2017, everything started to change. “Suddenly, the phone started ringing again,” Benny remembered. “‘Benny Sings’ came back in vogue. Err, happy music, in a way, came back in vogue. It’s just a strange, weird, zeitgeist thing.”
After that boom, Benny capitalized by releasing City Pop in 2019, his most cherished and successful record to date. Now, on April 9, after a couple of years of enjoying his newfound prosperity, Benny Sings is back with his seventh studio album: Music, which comes via Stones Throw Records and features guest performances from Mac DeMarco, Emily King, KYLE, Tom Misch, Cautious Clay and more.
Artistic, nostalgic and emblematic of the unique brand of ’70s-inspired, R&B indie-pop that he’s been known for since he first adopted the “Benny Sings” name in 1999, Music shows us a Benny Sings with more confidence and poise than ever before.
“The process itself has become easier,” Benny explained. “I have more experience now. It’s easier to find something that works, that sparks emotion—I’m just more aware of when that happens. The writing process was the same as the previous album, so it’s not like I was going in a totally different direction. I start with beats and then I mumble over them. From there, I’ll be able to find something. So, It’s the same process—exactly the same—as 10 years ago. But 10 years ago, it was like someone trying to walk while stumbling all over the place. Now, I’m just walking, you know? It’s easier.”
But, beyond being easier to write, the songs on Music have a deeply organic nature, a quality reflecting the stability and effortless creativity of the man who made them. For example, one of the record’s singles, “Here It Comes,” features a melody so simple that a kindergartener could probably pluck it out on a xylophone with just a bit of focus. But when that melody is combined with a punchy production style, hazed-out synth patches and Benny’s inimitable, carefree-yet-precise vocal delivery, the song becomes an entirely different animal—it’s nostalgic, yet strikingly modern. Breezy, yet impactful. Simple, yet evocative of something bigger. It becomes a testament to why Benny and his style have only been growing in popularity. In fact, in a lot of ways, this ease of musical expression actually grew out of Benny’s recent surge in popularity.
“I’ve been really enjoying the ride, it’s been an amazing period,” he said. “‘Growth’ is really the best word for it. I’m working with artists who I look up to, who I’m a fan of. That’s always been a dream, but I never thought it would ever actually happen. It’s been like winning the lottery and I’ve been enjoying it very much. I’m in my 40s—I have children, I’m married, I have a house and stuff—so I’m stable and I can enjoy it in an awesome way. I’m a very happy person. It’s been a complete roller coaster of great stuff after this whole great life I had already lived.”
With that, Benny begins to touch on another thing that’s given him a boost in productivity recently: a shift in attitude of how he thinks about music-making to begin with. See, despite having become a fairly well-known name to certain music circles (as evidenced by the diverse list of guest artists on Music) and the millions who listen to Rex Orange County every month, Benny remains humble and grounded, almost as if he sees his fame as just another by-product of his art.
“Music was always my job, it was my way to earn money and be a part of the society,” he explained. “It was my way to contribute—there’s a baker, there’s a doctor and I made songs, or something. I worked hard for that, I wanted to earn money doing it. I wanted to show myself that it was worth something. So, it was very interesting and I loved the job, but it was very much a puzzle. It was very hard, at times. I didn’t succeed that well, so I was always working, working, working to get ‘that’ song. Though, I was also conscious of the fact that not succeeding has a beauty unto itself. That’s a part of what sparked for people with my music, even. There’s a certain value to something that fails a bit. So, all in all, I was doing the hard work.”
But now, as mentioned above, that work is a lot less hard. Thanks to his success and the natural milestones that come along with being 40, Benny has been able to relax more and settle into a less demanding groove. Nevertheless, he remains steadfastly humble. “I mean, I’m still not ‘there,’” he said. “It’s a very complicated process and I’m still no John Mayer or any other songwriter who just does it. I feel like an amateur all of the time. But, it gets better. So, even though I don’t feel like I’m the next Quincy Jones or whatever, that will always be my goal. It’s very fun.”
This makes a lot of sense for the artist who once described his own sound as “trying to make soul but not succeeding.” This even peeks out above where he mentions that there’s a certain “beauty unto itself” with failure. For his part, Benny would even go so far as to say that “too much talent can become boring.
“When you’re too good at writing songs, the songs just become flawless, but that’s not what music is about,” he explained. “Music is about the breaking of expectation, and the best breaking of expectation is when something is unintentionally different. That often happens with ‘you’ just being ‘you,’ unable to be someone else. That’s why when you go in the direction that feels natural, it becomes more ‘you.’ Music is about the breaking of expectation, and failure is very useful for that. I think there’s a lot of beauty in that.”
But for now, Benny Sings is certainly not failing, at least not in terms of numbers. With millions of streams already coming in from its singles alone, Music is poised to be another big milestone for the now-44-year-old artist. Although it’s coming out during a tumultuous time in world history, the record—like most of Benny’s work—is infectious and light, all while retaining a sense of deeper meaning. While that might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first, in Benny’s view, the zeitgeist that informs music-listening patterns is far beyond the grasp of any one individual.
“I’m always puzzled by the question ‘What is music for?’” he said. “All I know is that I need some light in my music and my art. For me, the darkness is easy. I have a pretty dark side myself, but the dark music doesn’t interest me much. It’s so obvious, or something. When music has a light side to it—though, of course, with some drama in there since there’s still a quality of melancholy—it sparks my interest far more. I get drawn into it easier because it’s not obvious to me, it’s surprising. That’s the whole thing about expectation and the breaking of expectation that I think music necessitates. What I do notice now, however, is that there’s a lot of tension in music—this moment of time, in general, has a pretty tense feeling to it. I think the world is a pretty tense place right now. So, maybe there’s a correlation. Or, maybe it’s as simple as: people just want to hear something light again. I’m not sure. Who knows?”
Benny Sings’ new album Music is available everywhere on April 9 via Stones Throw Records. Watch the music video for the single “Here It Comes” below: