Penning worldwide smashes that will live on in the hearts of millennials and gen-Zers for the rest of their lives, Virginia-born Benny Blanco has had music fans enthralled for a while. With unforgettable Number Ones like Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Moves Like Jagger’ – both record-breaking tracks — Blanco has proven his place in pop time and time again (even if he doesn’t consider what he makes ‘pop’). Promoting the importance of friendship is what Benny is known for, whether it’s through his anecdotes in his infrequent Instagram posts (if you want to see a sweetly penned tribute to a bud, look at his tribute to singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams) or his album series ‘FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS’, which strictly features his industry pals.
Recently, the ‘Lonely’ producer released the second instalment and deluxe version of his aforementioned debut album, ‘FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS 2,’ where we found him showcasing seven brand new tracks featuring the likes of Justin Bieber and Halsey, plus two posthumous tunes from the late emo rappers Juice WRLD and 6 Dogs. Honouring friendships past and present, it’s a fun, emotional rollercoaster and a perfect addition to the original album. From his home in blazing LA, Benny spoke to NME about working on such seminal hits, his late buds and his love for pop’s golden oldies (apparently we “need to make [music] more soulful,” though he assures us people “make great music every day”).
Hi Benny! So, what’s it like making seminal pop tracks that will stick with a generation for the rest of their lives?
“Honestly, like, any time I get in the room, I can’t remember [how I made them]. Someone was asking me this the other day. They were like, ‘Hey, what was it like doing this song?’, and I’m like, ‘I swear to God, I got in the studio with someone. We just bullshit, we talk, tell jokes – and then somehow there’s a song written’. I guess I check out in the process.”
That sounds like the perfect vibe! You must be quite comfortable to do that…
“100%. I don’t work with people that I don’t know personally. If I can’t hang out with you, or you can’t come over and meet my mom for dinner… what’s the point? Imagine being the most vulnerable you can be. That’s what it is when you’re in the room with someone in the studio. You’re putting it all out on the table even if it’s not a vulnerable song. Let’s say it’s just a song about something happy, but the way it makes you feel, you’ve got to tell someone else your ideas. It takes a lot of guts and courage to do that and then, sometimes the person has to be honest with you. They might be like, ‘Nah, that’s not good’. You know what I mean? It really helps to be in a room with your friends. I don’t know how people just go in with the studio with random strangers. That’s crazy to me!”
No wonder ‘Friends Keep Secrets’ parts one and two exclusively feature your mates…
“They’re also the people who would do the songs with me. If I asked them; they might owe me a favour. They might be like, ’Yeah, I’ll do one with you’. And man, why not? Why would I make music with strangers? When I can make it with my good friends? And that’s how I always feel about it.”
Do you consider yourself a ‘hitmaker’?
“I wouldn’t consider myself anything. I think I’m a loser! I don’t think there’s any world where I’d say, ‘Yeah, man, I’m a hitmaker’. I’m the guy who comes in and tries to approach music from a place of true feeling and emotion and really giving it my all because if I’m not, then what am I doing in life?”.
Do you consider what you make ‘pop’, then?
“I’ve always made music that doesn’t sound like what’s being played. I don’t listen to contemporary music. So I don’t even know what’s happening. When I get home, I’m not putting on whatever’s at the top of the charts, you know? So it’s kind of ironic that what I make does that. When I get in the room with someone, I have to make the best thing I can for them. I have to take part of myself out of it, and be like, ‘How can I get their vision across?’. So when I’m in the room with someone like Ed Sheeran, it’s going to be very different than when I’m in the room with Kanye West. I’m not going to use those same tricks. I look at it as they’re in the gym, and they’re working out. They’re going to try to lift something really, really heavy, and I just got to spot them. I just got to make sure they can still do it. I’m not there to be the hero. I’m there to just help them along with the mission.”
If you’re not as hip to contemporary music as most, what do you listen to?
“‘70s, late ‘60s music – I listen to that. I listen to some contemporary music but [I prefer] ambient music and left-of-centre stuff. I just have a certain type of thing I like to hear because I make music all day, so usually I don’t listen to music that has words in it. If I do, it’s some old [’60s ands ’70s soul singer] David Ruffin song.
“Man, my favourite song that doesn’t have words? I was just listening to an album by a group called Woo called ‘It’s Cosy Inside’ – that’s as far as things from like the ’70s or ’80s. It’s just a real good vibe listening to it. I was just listening to this newer guy who’s really good. His name is Domenique Dumont, and he’s got some really cool music. But yeah – I just float through the day.”
Working with stars like Juice WRLD and 6Dogs must have been great, but putting out their music posthumously must feel bittersweet…
“You know, it’s crazy. I was looking at my album. Almost half of my album is done by people who aren’t with us anymore. And it’s… fuck, man. Both of those dudes; it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re in the studio’. We’re making music, and then we went out to dinner. We talked about anxieties – I’ve been to their houses. It wasn’t transactional. So [their deaths] hit me hard. We had some great music, and I want it to be the way they would want to hear it and make it as good as I possibly can.
“With Juice and ‘Graduation’, he was still alive when we finished it. And the other one [‘Real Shit’] was the first song we ever made. So it’s from all that time ago. Man, I just want the world to hear this song. It’s so special to me, and I know it’d be really special to his fans. It’s a song that’s different for him, you know. It was at the very beginning of his career, before a lot of stuff had happened. I hope everyone else can hear it and like it.
“For 6 Dogs – we made so many songs. [Our collaboration ‘Lost’] just really invoked the emotions I’m feeling about him. It’s a song that can make you feel so hype in the first half, and then by the second half it’s really introspective. You’ll be questioning everything around you – that’s just the type of guy he was. I’m just so honoured to have known both of them, and worked with them, and been a part of their journey.”
We’ve definitely lost two integral stars…
“Yeah, both of them are just so deep. They’re not just rapping to rap. They’re saying things that spoke to the youth and they spoke to a generation. They’ve helped them process their own feelings better and still help them go through life. These songs were the soundtrack of people’s lives, you know. So I’m just happy that I could be a part of it.”
Does it feel like a lot of pressure when you’re making music with meaning, knowing it will soundtrack someone’s life?
“I’ve never thought about that one time in my life. Like, not even once. I think it’s cool. It’s why we do it. I get messages a lot about someone saying, ‘Man, I’m really going through it and this song has helped me’. Those messages always touch me.”
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself going?
“Ah, I don’t know… I kind of I see myself continuing doing what I’m doing and just trying to be happy and staying on my toes. I like to keep myself on my toes. I never like to do the same thing.
“It’s funny – I’ve always pushed my goalposts further and further. When I first came in, I just wanted to make music – great. Then it’s ‘Man, I just want to work in the big studios’ — great. Then it was like, ‘Okay, wait, if I could do this, I could be on a Platinum album… ‘Oh, I got one number one song, it’d be cool to have another one’. And then I’d say over the past four years, five years, my goals list has kind of washed away. It’s become about being content, and having a quality of life. I did exactly what I want to do today, and I think that’s my biggest goal; achieving no goal and just letting it all happen.”