Creature Benny is a project by music industry professional Benton Oliver, who works in management helping artists, bands, and producer clients manage their careers. Benton has also worked with live music organizations including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Preservation Hall, and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Prior to launching Creature Benny, Oliver recorded and released music under the name “goodie.” Goodie music was conveyed primarily through rapping, almost entirely over self-produced beats made with YouTube drum loops layered with self-recorded acoustic guitar and other instruments. Songs also took the form of instrumental piano pieces, introspective caterwauling over violins, bongos, and harmonicas, and FL Studios-produced beats.
What was going on in your life when you wrote this song?
I wrote this song in Jan/Feb 2021, as we were coming up on one year of Covid-19 turning life upside down in the U.S. overnight. As we were coming up on that anniversary, I began to notice that everyone I knew, including me, was getting really squirrelly and just being weird as the despair became routine and we all became accustomed to hearing only bad news day after day with no apparent light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It seemed like there was no end in sight, and we hadn’t really begun to experience in a meaningful way the slightly less headline-driven political climate that came along with the 46th President taking office. The Capitol had just been ransacked, U.S. citizens were more divided than ever, and vaccines were always on the horizon, never seeming to actually get any closer. “Pandemic Madness” seemed to be a straightforward enough, albeit lacking, explanation for pretty much all of this, and it was a phrase that began bumping around in my head at that time. Just another case of “Pandemic Madness...”
Did you write this song effortlessly or was it a process to create it?
Writing this song was not effortless, but once I started writing it, I chased it down obsessively every night for 2.5-3 weeks until it was completely written, recorded, and produced. Since the phrase had popped into my head, I knew I wanted to find a way to write a song called “Pandemic Madness,” and that I really didn't want it to be a punky song because that sounds like it would be awful. I wouldn’t want to listen to that song anyway. Once I realized that kind of a torn-up doo-wop sound with a 6/8 time signature would be an well-suited vehicle to say the things I wanted to say with this song, I was of a one-track mind.
At the beginning of the process, all I knew was how I intended to sing “Pandemic Madness” at the top of the song. Next, I came up with a few guitar things that could probably work together, got excited and recorded the guitar parts, and began programming drums and bass before I had really written a song. Lyrics were written as I pieced the song components together and determined which guitar parts were verses and which were interludes and what the sequence of all the segments would be. Once everything crystallized and I knew I had it, I recorded the vocals and mixed it down and there you go.
Does the final product sound like you thought it would when you began or were you surprised by the end result?
Writing this song was a process of finding it as I went along, so I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but sort of had a decent idea of where it was headed in terms of a few concrete ideas- 6/8 time signature, lighter at the beginning, heavier at the end, introspective but also tongue-in-cheek lyrics/narrative perspective.
The biggest surprise for me was how deep and real the lyrics got. Creature Benny has not been a project that relies on the actual personal feelings of me, Benton Oliver, so for this to be the song that I “broke character” on meant that I really had something to get off my chest. And writing this song really helped me to think the thoughts I had been avoiding for the entirety of the pandemic up until that point.
I had been putting one foot in front of the other with my head down for such a long time on the sort of idea that life would go back to being real again at some point, and that I wouldn’t be typing emails from my closet working remotely for the rest of my life. This song helped me pick my head up and examine my heart and cry out in anguish for the lives lost and the innocence lost and the illusion that had been broken. Of course I’m happy that the illusion of the U.S. being an aspirational country has been broken, as it’s truly the only way forward for this country. But there’s still so much bullshit, and hinging your mental well-being and life path on what’s happening around you simply is not the move. There is more than one way through the valley, and that’s something I’ve realized more and more throughout 2021.
Do you have a favorite moment or section of this song?
I’m pretty pleased with the song overall, but my very favorite part might be the little monologue during the second guitar solo starting at about 2:31. From the moment this song took the shape of a doo-wop/R&B/soul-influenced deal, I really wanted to include a classic 1970s breakdown moment with a little heartfelt soliloquy à la Lenny Williams or Latimore or Bobby Womack. The fact that I found room for that, in combination with the fact that I finally found a place for “Melancholic World-weariness” in that section, which is an out-of-favor term for depression I encountered and made note of quite a while ago, makes that my favorite part of the song. Plus, the soaring tone of the guitar lead is cool too.
Where/How was this song recorded?
This song was recorded in my closet studio in Koreatown, Los Angeles. I played guitar and sang, programmed bass and drums, mixed and mastered, and uploaded to Streaming Platforms under my own Life is Sick Records. Vertical Integration!
What is it like for you to listen to the song now?
I am pleased to report that when I hear the song now, I’m still stoked on it and happy with the sonics and the overall package. The mix could probably always hit harder, but you can hear everything that’s happening and the right elements are prominent in the right moments, so the effect is as intended. One of my better finished products I think.
What do you hope that people experience when listening to the song?
I hope the song evokes the time of isolation, uncertainty, and hopelessness that was the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. And also the unhinged, directionless, pent up energy that characterized that time. But hopefully only for the duration of the song, because we all experienced that and it fucking sucked.
What’s on the horizon for you? (upcoming gigs, recordings etc.)
During the period of 2016-2019, I wrote and mostly recorded/programmed about 40 Creature Benny songs, so I plan to finalize and release those until they all see the light of day. I’ve also written more Creature Benny since then, but that period was particularly prolific and I was fully in Creature mode during that time. My next release will come out in Q1 2022 and is called The Crooked Man EP. That will kick off the beginning of Creature Benny phase II, which will comprise five EPs and culminate in an album, just the same as CB phase I. Phase III will follow.
Where can people go to purchase/hear more of your music?
Creature Benny is on all streaming platforms, plus Instagram and Youtube @creaturebenny.
Is there a video or other song new fans should look for?
I shot a music video for “Pandemic Madness” completely DIY with my friend, Director and Editor Jeremy Trombetta, and a few very close pals as my actors. I rented all of the film and lighting equipment, created/sourced props and costumes, and we shot at my house all in one long shooting day. It turned out really sick and I’m very proud of it:
@creaturebenny on Instagram and Youtube.