Interview: Arrow Benjamin Speaks of the Truth, Dream Inspiration and Vulnerability
Do you yearn for intuitive, from-the-heart lyrics, gritty yet sincere vocals, and a killer style? Meet Arrow Benjamin, a singer/songwriter who put a mark on the international music world September of this year. As co-writer of the Naughty Boy-produced, Beyoncé-assisted "Runnin’ (Lose It All)", Benjamin was introduced in grand style with the single sky rocketing to the top 5 on UK charts and garnering over 27 million views on Youtube. Now, Arrow works to build on that momentum for his own solo project by releasing his first EP, the five-track project titled War. Led by his soulful single “Look At Me,” Benjamin seems perched to be a big name in 2016.
There was a certain aura emanated from Arrow that we felt from all the way across the world. The way we've watched him handle his life in music, the way he's approached his presence and, most of all, the elegance and honesty of the music he's made was enough to make us admirers. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Arrow and we dove right into a whole vortex of creativity and wisdom.
How do you feel about the importance of vulnerability in terms of songwriting?
The truth is everything to me and you can’t be honest without being vulnerable. Everybody is vulnerable, regardless of if they make it public or not. Vulnerability is one of the most important things to me. It’s an access point; it’s a universal access point.
So how do you channel that vulnerability when you’re writing?
I think I do it firstly by not thinking that I know what I’m doing. I spend more time just waiting... waiting in hope that i'll get the words to say and the right melodies.. I just want to access heart and soul.
It’s a very organic approach…
Because I am a very determined individual, even though we have organics, we also have a kind of very result-driven type of mindset… I’m intense, but I’m waiting... if that makes sense.
That’s a good balance - making sure that you have a beautiful product. In terms of collaborating with Beyoncé, did you feel a sense of anxiety or pressure?
Not at all. I think the way things have panned out, she knows what she wants, she knows what resonates with her... I put out the truth and that resonated with her. And as an individual, she loves music so much and she's at one with it so much that it’s just the music that takes control of the situation - there’s no ego.
And if you’re vibing on the same wavelength as her, it's great.
Exactly. And if you’re really just about the music, there really is no tiers to it, no extra to it.
Shifting gears... If you had to choose a movie or TV character that best represents you who would it be and why?
Not Tarzan! This is a good question. Hmm, is the Tin Man the one that’s trying to find his heart?
Ok, then yes. The Tin Man. Because I know what it feels likes to lose contact... and now I got it. I want to communicate with everybody I come to contact with from my heart to their heart. He is also like a robot. He needs oil... Without a heart, it's bad...
Whoa... That's a really intuitive answer... Moving on, do you have a vinyl collection?
I mean I should, right? I think somewhere in the attic there is a whole load of 1980's records - new wave, some disco, some big pop/rock ballads, some reggae, maybe some vintage records I picked up somewhere that I didn’t realize I needed a gramophone for.. I do think there’s some vinyl gathering dust.
So you don’t spin them?
No. I mean, I do from time to time flip through them because I think it's important to actually own a part of that legacy. It's just like when you hold anything old - it has a different weight to it.
What is the relationship between audial art (music) and other forms of art (like visual)?
I think art is creativity and I think creativity is one thing. Apart from the fact that people are audiovisual full stop now, I even think people who work with numbers are artists, because anything that requires creativity is art. I don’t think there’s a separation. When I create art [music], I create paintings, scripts... That’s how I look at it.
What is one song that makes you instantly happy?
Apart from Pharrell’s “Happy”... It’s funny that you say the word happy, because sometimes even when I cry I’m happy.
Okay, so what makes you really feel then? Intensely?
I actually listen to a lot of gospel music… I think I find that whenever people sing about something they really believe in – no matter the language – I’m attracted to that. Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” really hits me; I just like listening to songs that unify and keep in mind that everyone goes through something. I don’t really like when its so much “I, I, I” in songs.
If you could go anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, for a whole year - where would you go, what would you do and why?
One place, all expenses paid… I think I would go somewhere that didn’t have the Internet. Somewhere I could dispatch from my addiction of scrolling through social media and actually remember what life was like before that. It would have to be a place where I saw real birds and real animals! I want to see some clear blue water, where I can look through it and see jellyfish and dolphins... A place that’s alive without a need for modern technology. It’s a true inspiration.
I'm sure the music made on that expedition would be fantastic... Anyways, Do you see a difference in songwriting for yourself and other people? Or do you approach it the same?
Well, my attention span is the same. My drive is the same. I’ve always had a certain discipline when it comes to songwriting. I’ve gotten to the point when there's a substance of it that got so intense that it haunted me – those songs that haunt me, belong to me. But in reference to the creativity, I don't have a situation where I'm thinking "Oh, I would say this here," or "Just for this person, I will say that." Because then suddenly you're being dishonest. I try to respect whomever I work with, figure out what they need or have and what they want to do... I would never not be me in order to achieve the goal. Sometimes it takes some time and communicating and talking to win people over. Just human things. We don't have to talk about your last break up or what's happening in the world, but what's happening in your world? Because what's happening in mine might be completely different. But I always put my own into it because then it is the truth.
What is your worst habit?
After scratching my head and reviewing melodies and harmonies a million times, I sit back and have the piece... And everybody is like "yes! yes! yes!"... I sit back even more, and I look at it again... And at that moment it's not about technicality and where the notes fall, it's about how that line was such a meaningful line and it was said in a way that is unique to how I write... What the hell does that mean? I think very deeply about this and I have these moments and it can scare everybody in the room! It takes a long time to have peace. It could just be four hours or so, but inside it's like four thousand years. I don't like things like "and" "but" and "to", just to fill the space. So I might get rid of "but" and some might think I've ruined the "perfect sentence" but I'm not looking for the perfect sentence. I'm looking for the truth. So I suppose that my worse habit is I will filter it, right to the end.
But is that a bad thing?
For everybody else... *laughs* And sometimes for me as well because in the filtering process, I could start dismantling everything and I might end up going back to the original. I never want to feel in the end that I never tried all the possibilities. It's a good or bad thing.
Do you always have dreams at night?
There’s seasons where I can’t remember my dreams.
Yeah, there’s sometime where I can’t remember them. And then there’s other seasons when it’s very vivid - I can touch it, smell it... I mean, sometimes the dreams are so real I’ll argue with someone in real life about something they did in my dream!
Do you think your dreams are relevant to your creative process or your life?
Yes. Absolutely. I think dreams are visions. It’s really important to stay connected to your ability to visualize and to share your visions because sometimes what I dream may not be for me.
Have you ever used any inspiration from your dreams musically?
Oh yeah. Sometimes I'll wake up while everybody else is sleeping and I clearly hear a song... There was once I had a dream that I was in a gym. I walked out of the room and I heard the "new" John Legend song... The whole song existed, I swear. All the parts were there. I was almost hiding listening to it, humming the melody and trying to remember the words. But all I could hear was mumbling... It was so quiet and nothing came out. It did hurt though, because I knew that it was going to be the song that changed his life.
Ha! Arrow has the song that's gonna change John Legend's life! I'll keep that in mind. At this point in your career, how would you define success?
Success is making sure I always have a message, making sure I believe in that message and I’m ready to stand for it.
Success is inclusive, not exclusive.
Success is not being afraid to show my vulnerability.
Success is not spending the rest of my life trying to perfect everything in an imperfect world.
Success is sharing and being able to shine even when the lights go off.
How do you handle stress?
I used to just... sleep. Until I realized the danger of sleep means time means stress. And now I don’t wait for it to become stress, because it doesn’t stop, the stress. I sing, I find the songs that make me remember the simple things in life. Just remember that life will take care of itself. No matter how hard I try to be the "master of my destiny." I'll never be able to know if tomorrow will come.
What keeps you going? A quote or a mantra or even people or memories?
What keeps me going is knowing that what I have is a gift and I didn’t make it myself or create it, as it’s a gift. When once shared, it multiplies and changes lives... A surgeon can study for maybe 15 years on how to heal someone and god forbid it doesn’t work out and they have to explain to the person that they have to lose a limb or tell the family that they’ve lost their loved one... That surgeon doesn’t have a real way to console them. But somehow a three-minute song can get the person through. If I can create that three-minute song that keeps someone whole, stops them from committing suicide, giving up... what keeps me going is knowing that through just one song, I can get people through.