Brooklyn-based vocalist and songwriter Joe Benjamin is setting out to dazzle local, national and international audiences with what he calls “Funk Fantasia.”
Inspired by bands like Jamiroquai and Earth, Wind and Fire, Benjamin is ready to release his new album “I’ll Never Die,” a funk extravaganza that he will debut at Bushwick’s House of Yes on Saturday, September 7.
Growing up outside of Munich, Germany, the 29-year-old arrived in NYC ten years ago to pursue his musical dreams at the New School, where he studied vocal performance, songwriting and musical arrangement. It was there that he took his first steps as a bandleader of several ensembles and began shaping his own idiosyncratic artistic style fueled by his love for musical theater, big bands, glamorous Broadway shows, swing and funk.
In a personal conversation, we had a chance to learn more about him, his new album and the glamorous world of “Funk Fantasia.”
The Brooklyn Reader (BKR): Joe Benjamin, tell us how a young man from a suburb of Munich ends up in New York City?
Joe Benjamin (JB): From when I was a kid, at the age of 12, I had been working with big bands, musicals, musical theater and even opera. After I finished high school in 2009, I knew I wanted to study music. And I was really keen on going to New York City; I wanted to get a good education, and I felt like this city is the heart and birthplace of so much great music. I got accepted into the New School, where I put together my first own band, an 18-piece big band called “The Joe Benjamin Project.” We performed for about a year, before I dissolved the project to focus on creating and writing my own music.
I wanted to create bright, new swing music, and three years later, I released my debut album and formed a new, 13-piece band, “Joe Benjamin and the Mighty Handful” to perform all of my own, original swing music. For a couple of years, we toured all around Europe and the U.S. Then, in 2017, I felt I needed to take my artistry into a new direction, away from swing music. Again, I locked myself away to write more music, and I resurfaced a year later with a smaller, seven-piece band for this new, full-on funk record “I’ll Never Die.”
BKR: How did you develop your love for swing and funk music?
JB: I fell instantly in love with swing when Robbie Williams [a former member of the U.K. boy band Take That] released an album titled “Swing When You’re Winning.” I was 14 years, old, and it changed my life forever. Listening to this album, I was mesmerized by the theater element of his music, also because I was always a little flamboyant myself. I love acting out music and doing big, glamorous shows. And later, I discovered Jamiroquai, which led me into a funkier direction.
BKR: You call your sound “Funk Fantasia” — what is that about, and how does it come to life on your new album “I’ll Never Die?”
JB: The Funk Fantasia journey takes the listener through the stories of a Brooklynite millennial, without ever knowing what turn he and his music are going to take next. Funk Fantasia merges my love for funk with elements of musical theater and Broadway. The theatrical element of music has always been a major part in my work, which, at times, is quite flamboyant, dramatic and even random.
For example, on the new album, we have one very political song called “The Wrong Side of History,” which is a stance against what is going on right now in this country and the world overall. And then we take a bizarre turn with a track like “The Funky Tree Song,” where I share a personal “conversation” I had with a tree outside my window, which turned out to become a freaking great song.
But the overarching theme of this album refers to the youthful arrogance with which I’ve lived the first half of my twenties, thinking that no one ages, no one ever dies, and I will be forever young. But then you suddenly realize that your parents are getting older, and they won’t always be around. And you see that you’re getting older, too, as you discover your own first gray hair. So you start to think about all these developments and compare them to the moments when you were younger and just felt invincible.
BKR: You are getting ready to celebrate the official release of your album at House of Yes on September 7. What can the Brooklyn audience expect from that show?
JB: The motto of the show is “Let the Funk Shine In.” We’re hoping the audience will let some funk into their hearts and get infatuated with music they have not heard before. The show is going to be a real throwdown, with three different sets, dancers and drag queens. It will be a massive dance party, culminating in a grand medley where 15 musicians will play a 30-minute mashup of the biggest dance hits.
Joe Benjamin is celebrating the release of his new album “I’ll Never Die” with Kiss my Brass! Live Funk Show at House of Yes. For tickets, go here.