Sometimes you need to roll the dice and take a chance on something or somewhere to get where you eventually want to be. It’s what Benji Compston – aka Jelly Boy – did last year when he and his partner, who was six-months pregnant at the time, upped sticks and headed out to the West Coast. The purpose of the trip? Well, it was his gamble moment.
The pair were expecting their first child and Benji’s former band, London dream-pop trio Happyness, had been put on the back burner. He had some songs kicking around and was keen to explore opportunities in soundtrack work for film and TV. Naturally, it was time to go to LA. You can feel the energy of such a decision coursing through the EP. Namely, lead single ‘Give Up And Gamble’, where Benji puts it all on the line, surrendering himself to a possible change as fizzing garage-rock riffs whizz by.
The full result, ‘Everybody Is A Universe’, is out on Friday (April 5), and immediately reveals itself as an inspiring and gorgeous piece of songwriting that sees Compston move into new territory. He utilities his long-love of folk and country on opening song ‘Terminal Island’, while ‘Coffee Without End’ is a piano-led wonder coursing with caffeinated lines about God and his impending fatherhood.
Now, back in London with his partner and 10-month old son, he’s looking at taking the band on the road with the help of some friends, with an album being mooted too. We jumped on the phone to chat about that name and how Mac DeMarco’s pool-house studio provided the inspiration for the gorgeous collection.
Jelly Boy, then – is it an alter ego?
“I don’t think so. I don’t really see it as an alter-ego. More just like a creative identity – people can take or leave what they want from it. And similarly, I can take or leave what I want from it.”
What were the circumstances going on in your life when this project started?
“I was expecting my first kid, which is obviously a pretty terrifyingly big moment – a bit of a shake-up – and kind of evaluating where I was creatively dipping my toes into new things. I’d moved temporarily to Los Angeles, with my girlfriend who was about six or seven months pregnant at the time, and basically wanted to create something for myself. I had a whole bunch of ideas floating around. I was lucky enough that Mac DeMarco essentially gave me the keys to his studio, and was like, ‘Here you go, man, do with it what you will’. He was incredibly generous and supportive and kind, and I think that really gave me the space to be able to actually take these really loose ideas and put them into songs.”
Was there a particular reason you chose Los Angeles?
“I’ve always found L.A. quite stimulating, both in positive ways and negative ways. I think whenever you ask anyone about L.A., they’re either so desperate to tell you how much they love it, or how much they completely hate it, and I find that really amusing about it. It’s such a polarising city, and I think that made it actually really great for writing music.”
Is Happyness on the back-burner at the moment?
“For me, it’s not something I’m gonna be doing in the future. As for Johnny and Ash, I actually don’t know if they’re making music or what their plans are really. But yeah, for me, this EP kind of came about at the same time that I realised that Happyness wasn’t something that I wanted to take with me into the future, and I wanted to do other things. So it was big moment of change in all sort of different ways.”
Was it weird going from that to solo?
“Yeah, absolutely, I’d always been in a band, so it’s been kind of hilarious to – I’ll be looking round over my shoulder like, ‘Is someone else ready to answer that, or to do this?’. Then I realise that it’s just me, which is both really exciting and really fulfilling, but also really terrifying at the same time.”
Has it allowed you to embrace a new sound?
“Yeah, I’ve kind of always been really into that slightly more gentle-y folk rock and country thing, but was never quite sure where that sat with Happyness and with the other stuff that I did. And I think that part of not really knowing what was going to happen with the EP allowed me to do songs like that, where I could just kind of do it. I was in a deep, deep Elliott Smith place – I don’t know if that’s coincidental, being in L.A. and listening to records that were made in L.A. Then from there, I went, and am still going, really far down the Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst, Jess Williamson, and Jen Cloher road.”
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How did the Mac DeMarco offer come about then?
“I’ve kind of known him for a while. I very tentatively mentioned that I was gonna be in LA for this period of time, writing, and it’s a testament to his generosity and kindness that he just was like, ‘Oh cool, use my studio’. It was as simple as that.”
What’s it like?
“It’s awesome, it’s like a pool house filled with some amazing gear. It’s a very comfortable, easy space to work in. I was completely amazed that I was allowed to use this space that was really tucked away and filled with all this amazing equipment, like 90% of which I was too terrified to touch because it looked way beyond my skill-set.
“It feels like a kind of haven, I guess – a place where you could happily lock yourself away for a couple of months and come out with something really special. It’s definitely got a kind of unique and a very special vibe to it.”
Is working with TV scores something you want to keep on trying to do?
“Yeah, I really love doing that. To be honest, in Happyness, a lot of the stuff, I think, had a cinematic-y feel to it, because I think all of us were quite into that area of music. It’s something that I’m doing more and more of now, and really enjoy. So yeah, keeping those two things going alongside each other. To be honest, sometimes they kind of dip into each other’s worlds quite well.”
Jelly Boy’s new EP ‘Everybody Is A Universe’ is out on April 5 on Cannibal Hymns