BENEE grew up calling everyone and everything Steve. Born Stella Bennett, the New Zealand native, remembers being a little girl in Fiji and finding a hermit crab to call Steve. She could summon countless other examples, too, if you had the time. So it’s only right that her latest EP, out today (Nov. 15), is titled STELLA & STEVE.
“It’s always kind of like an inside joke,” she says, “because people knew that that was what I do, call everything Steve, and I just feel like I want to share it with the world.”
The EP is five tracks long, but the project’s range isn’t limited by how many songs it has to work within. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter drew inspiration from a recently dissolved relationship for two songs and a mythical monster for another, and that’s without mentioning the cover art featuring emus and zebras.
We’ll start with the monster. BENEE recently moved out of her parents’ house into the guest house, which she knew only as a sleepout before crowd members attending her Oct. 21 show at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade asked her what she meant. She was trying to explain to them what went into writing the track aptly named “Monsta,” which she had detailed privately a few hours before her set.
“That one I wrote about being scared to go to sleep,” she says, “because recently I’ve been real freaked out—I moved out of my parents’ house to a sleepout. I’ve been scared of someone being outside and stuff, so I used that to write a story about there being a monster outside who is trying to come in and take me into the night. But then I try to twist it and make it happy, and it’s actually a good monster.”
BENEE succeeded in turning what originated as a terror into an escape for listeners. The upbeat sonics are contrasted by lyrics that go much deeper. “What is it that he wants from me?” she sings in the song. “Maybe he just feels lonely.”
There are two other tracks on the EP that more directly stem from loneliness: “Blu” and “Supalonely” featuring Gus Dapperton. Prior to going to Los Angeles for a writing session, BENEE broke up with her boyfriend. “I was with my producer, Josh Fountain, and he was like, ‘Come on, let’s write a happy song!’” she remembers. “And I was like, ‘I don’t feel like that right now.’ … I kind of wanted to also want to play around with it and make it kind of fun and take the piss out of myself at being sad, as you do.”
This is inherently BENEE. She doesn’t know any other way to act than to act on the moment. The last time she was home in New Zealand before embarking on her five-city headlining Lil North American Tour, she decided to dye her hair blue. Just because she felt like it. Before her show at Rough Trade, she peruses the adjoined record store and considers strongly making purchases that didn’t cross her mind before physically seeing the assortment of vinyl. When asked about the stories behind the tattoos dotting her forearm, she states simply that there are none. “I just get them,” she says before playfully adding, “and I regret them all.” She is at least half-joking, as she does not at all seem like the type of person who lives with regrets. Not with how she has lived her life to this point, especially considering how she broke into the music industry.
BENEE quit university after two weeks because she was overcome with not wanting to spend her life that way. She knew she would rather be making music. So, she dedicated the next year to making music while holding down a job making pizzas. It wasn’t long before she didn’t need a job outside of music. BENEE caught people’s attention in 2018 with her song “Soaked,” which landed on Spotify’s Viral Charts with 13 million-plus streams. The song, included on her debut EP FIRE ON MARZZ, reached certified gold status in Australia and New Zealand. BENEE was opening in an arena for Lily Allen, someone she has long looked up to, within months before signing with Republic Records at the top of 2019.
A lot has been squeezed into a little amount of time. BENEE is sure that she has grown, in some way. How could she not be different after being exposed to so many new people, places and things? However, she can’t think of anything categorically different about the version of herself that uploaded “Soaked” and the current version. Perhaps it’s impossible to pinpoint changes when all you’ve ever known is to push boundaries.
“I’ve kind of tried to go into every session trying to do something super different,” she finally says. “I don’t know. I’m just trying to spice things up. I’m trying to learn, and I think that’s probably how I’ve changed is I’ve been more open toward experimenting and trying out new things.”
During her Rough Trade performance, BENEE couldn’t be any more open. Jumping freely, sticking her tongue out between songs, engaging her fans with hilarious banter. She naturally makes the 250 people here, and however many others have seen or will have seen BENEE live, feel like they know Stella well enough for her to call them Steve.
Listen to STELLA & STEVE below: