Spooky America: A Chat With Dark Campfire Punk Rock Songwriter Creature Benny & A Look At His Newest Single & Music Video For ‘Rock And Roll (My Face Off)’

Though New York is the city infamous for its unreasonably small apartments, Los Angeles can be credited for the formation of avant-garde artist Creature Benny, who got his start in 2016 in a closet-sized room doubling as his studio in Koreatown.

Benton Oliver, aka Creature Benny, just dropped his debut album, Tales Moste Wretched Vol. 1, bolstering its promotion with a music video for the single “Rock and Roll (My Face Off).” It is a compilation of his previous five EPs, each titled C.B.2 through C.B.5 following his first-ever release for this project, The Spooky America EP. In addition, there are four bonus tracks, an intro and an interlude that are brand new to the album.

The massive 18-track collection is filled top to bottom with bold, energetic songs that push the boundaries of familiarity and comfort, offering a fresh take on what singer-songwriter music can take form as. Oliver isn’t shy to admit that he has an “amateurish approach” to both the guitar and lyrical components of his work, but this is because it contributes to his identity as “kind of a campfire, punk singer-songwriter.”

With heavily distorted electric guitar and vocals, the listener is free to bask in the rebellious-rock nature of the songs or to listen closely and consider the shameless truth covered in a range of topics Oliver is not afraid to speak out about.

Oliver worked with digital artist Kelvin Ite to bring the animated lyric video to life, who constructed an impressively realistic version of Creature Benny as he’s often done up, complete with the makeup that looks like something thick and viscous is running down his face. The song itself was first started with a guitar portion written by his brother in 2016, but was never finished until this album.

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Oliver, who is also a manager in the industry, took the time to tell us about his unique perspective gained from experience on both sides of the stage, the new music video, and more of what’s to come from Creature Benny.

So who or what first got you into writing and performing music?

My mom put me in piano lessons at age five or six, and my older brother put a guitar in my hands and taught me how to play “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer when I was 15. But no one necessarily encouraged me to write or perform, specifically. Teenage emotions are what got me started, and a love of the craft is what’s kept me at it. My family has always been very supportive so that’s really nice. Shout outs to them. 

Your previous alias, “goodie,” released more rap-based music. What made you transition to your current “campfire, punk singer-songwriter” style?

Honestly, I read the book Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad back in 2017, and got super into the American, independent, underground, DIY punk output of the 1980s. And by extension, stuff from the 50s, 60s and 70s that was heading that direction. Growing up in Atlanta, I was listening to mainly hip-hop as a kid, and that’s why it felt natural for me to record it in high school when I first started recording music. However, I was also always maintaining a strong foothold in recording songs outside the sphere of rap music. I put out an EP as goodie & Tha Bad Boys in 2018 called Rose-Colored Shitshow that’s all punk-inspired music, so that was the beginning of the shift in my recorded output. But hip hop music is still very much a part of what I’m listening to now and how I approach music. It is very present in Creature Benny, whether or not that comes across to the listener. Also, goodie’s not done – I’ve got more to do under that moniker. 

For each of these personas, how did you go about choosing a name to represent yourself?

Well, “goodie” came out of just aspiring to be a “Good Boy” and conducting myself as such, despite being a cool kid who might occasionally find/put himself in some risky business. And, R1CAN, the dude who started me rapping in the first place, plus the friends I’ve met through him, all call me “goodie” when I see them, so the shoe fits.

“Creature Benny” came about in two parts. “Benny” because my paternal grandma, who died in 2015 (just before I started writing for the project), used to call me “Benny Boy.” And then, in the last few years – entirely independently of that, several people in various friend groups started calling me “Benny.” And when it’s a close friend calling me that, I like it. I think it’s sweet.

“Creature,” because I had a good friend in the first few years of college whose parents were born in South Africa, and she would refer to being in a weak, tired, bedraggled, pathetic (probably hungover) state as being a “Creature.” I was under the impression that it was something she’d grown up with and gotten from her parents, but maybe it was her own thing.

During the years, I wrote the majority of Creature Benny’s first three phases, only the first of which has been released, I was living in a closet/foyer, smoking a ton of weed, watching Ancient Aliens (which I love), and pretty much being a Creature. Also, a “Creature Feature” is monsters, so it works for me in that way too.

What has it been like living in the buzzing music hub of Los Angeles as both an artist and manager, and being so immersed in the industry?

Los Angeles is really cool and incredible, for sure, but in a lot of ways it also feels like a bad joke. Hopefully you’re laughing and the joke’s not at your expense, because it’s one or the other. I, for one, think it’s hilarious in a really dark way. LA is a tough nut to crack, but once I hit maybe the two-and-half-year mark, I’ve only enjoyed living here more and more as each day goes by. It’s a wild place to live.

I’ve worked at the same music management company, looking after both artist and producer clients for just over five years now, and it’s been really, really cool. Coming up in terms of responsibilities and pay grade, while being exposed to a lot of different situations from the business side of things has been both personally gratifying and educational, and has definitely informed the approach I’ve taken with the Creature Benny rollout. 

How does working on the management side of the industry shape your own strategies and decisions as an artist?

I wouldn’t say the music has been affected by industry knowledge, but the release plan has definitely been informed by keeping a critical eye on what’s going on. For my rollout, I combined the influences of 1) American punk bands in the 80s releasing 7” vinyl records and 2) the hip-hop convention of releasing singles between album cycles. 

I decided to release a four-song EP followed by four digital 7” singles leading up to the Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 1 album. I decided to number the two-song releases instead of naming them, so I didn’t have to pick a side A and a side B. I’ve also always wanted a bunch of cover artwork to result from Creature Benny, so having a lot of releases serves that intention.

Tell us about your recent album, Tales Most Wretched, Vol. 1 and the overall inspiration and influence behind it.

It’s a completely DIY album that I put a lot of work and care into, and I think it sounds pretty damn good, and is a lot of fun to listen to. In terms of inspiration/influence, I listen to a bunch of punk and pre-punk music with punk leanings and also have a serious penchant for doo wop, the 60s girl group sound, 50s/60s rock and roll and R&B. Also, Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal are great bands that I’ve kept up with. And I grew up on Atlanta hip hop, Lil Wayne, Linkin Park, Mindless Self Indulgence, and Slipknot. I wouldn’t know how to break down how the music I love fits into Creature Benny, but a little bit of everything is probably in there somehow.

What about the single “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)” stood out to you that made you decide it should be one of the first to film a video for?

Once I had put a few things out in Fall 2020, this dude Kelvin Ite sent me a DM on Instagram from South Africa– I have no idea how he located me on, but I was impressed by the hustle –and we started him working on a still image for me. After we finally finished going back and forth on that and had it finalized, he suggested that we make an animated video of some kind based on the image. 

That sounded like a cool idea to me, so I looked at phase one and thought “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)” was a solid candidate for the first Creature Benny visual, especially given the year 2020, and the fact that the song’s lyrical content applied pretty directly, perhaps even more than to any other year. I jotted down some ideas for stuff that could happen at certain points in the video, and Kelvin and I went back and forth until it was done. I think it turned out super goofy and rad and perfect for the music and the project.

So your brother helped you write the song. Do you two often work on music together?

We wrote our first song together when I was 13 years old on bass and he was 15 on guitar, but we’ve only done music together here and there throughout the years. What became the Creature Benny project was originally an idea for us to do as a band together, with “Rock and Roll (My Face Off)” being the song to kick it all off. It became apparent that I was going to be more lean-forward than him in terms of caring about/working on the project, so I stopped expecting him to be an equal contributor and went for it on my own. But it was never a contentious thing and there’s no weirdness there at all. He’s all over the album in various ways. 

It looks like fans can look forward to Tales Most Wretched, Vol. 2 being released sometime this year. Is there anything else they should keep an eye out for?

Well, I’m going to structure phase two just in the same way that I structured phase one. I released an EP and four digital 7”s culminating in the release of Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 1, and I plan to do the same leading up to Tales Moste Wretched, Vol. 2. I like creating and having all the different album artwork. That’s definitely meant to be part of the whole Creature Benny thing is that it’s all me, DIY.

Photo by Jeremy Trombetta

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