11 Quick Questions for Eric Benét
Grammy-nominated singer partnered with AARP for Black History Month
Talented singer-writer-producer Eric Benét, 55, is busy in the studio recording a new album, and you can catch the show he cocreated, Snap, streaming on AMC ALLBLK. He recently partnered with AARP and performed a virtual concert to celebrate Black History Month and explore the powerful connection between music and brain health.
Neuroscience has established a strong connection between music and the brain. As a musician, how does the creative process make you feel?
When I’m playing music or creating music, I feel like I’m connected to creation. And that is a very powerful sensation — to feel like you are actively connected to the creative source of the universe. It is a very healthy and a very nurturing way to cut out all the noise and the distortion of all of our daily [lives]. It is a way to — I don’t want to say disconnect, because it’s the opposite of that — you’re actually reconnecting with the source when you’re making music, when you’re creating.
What else do you like to do to keep your brain active?
I like to write stories. I actually just sold one of my stories as a TV series to the AMC network. Anything that you can do that creatively allows you to immerse yourself in inspiration and to not give energy to the noise and the distortion but [instead allows you] to reconnect with [your] sources. For me, that’s music and writing. For other people, it’s other things: dance, working out, architecture. Anytime I know that my creative muscle is being worked and connected, it’s not only good for the brain, but it’s good for my body and my soul.
Can you give more information about your AMC network project?
Snap is the show I created with Devin Hampton. It is [streaming] on the AMC ALLBLK [for Black TV and film] channel. It’s an anthology, Twilight Zone-ish show where every episode offers — I don’t want to say a teaching moment — but maybe just offers a perspective moment on lots of the ethical and moral issues we are bombarded with, from gun rights to Black Lives Matter to abortion rights to toxic attitudes towards LGBTQ people. I’m trying to address some issues.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I remember being 4 or 5 years old and listening to Tchaikovsky and being brought to tears but not understanding why. But just knowing that these are not sad tears. These are tears because I’m feeling some very positive emotions. Feeling that at such a young age, I immediately knew there was power there. Stevie Wonder: I don't know any other artist, at least in the contemporary sense, that can have these unbelievably complex and jazz- and gospel-influenced core voicing, but because of his melodies, it’s not too much. A layman can not only understand it but feel it, be emotionally moved. Earth Wind & Fire. The Beatles took that even a step further where their chords were probably the simplest, but because of the way these songs were structured and crafted, they were completely innovative and challenging somehow. I guess my ear and my soul always searches for that when I’m listening to music. First, I want to hear that it’s not too contrived. Then, I want to hear that somehow this melody or these chords are somehow touching my soul. Duke Ellington, the Beatles, Elton John and Bernie Taupin were able to do that on some level. Steely Dan. And vocally, oh my God…
And vocally, who?
Vocally, probably my favorite artist of all time is Ella Fitzgerald. Especially when you live in my world and understand how recording works. This generation — now I’m sounding like an old man — technology is a huge part of their artistry. [The attitude that] … I’ll lay my vocal down and you can fix it all later with computer tricks and smoke and mirrors. But when you realize in that era, the Frank Sinatras, the Perry Comos, the Ella Fitzgeralds, they would stand at a microphone, and usually there was an orchestra right there or in an adjoining studio, and someone would say, “One and a two and a three ...” and what you got was the recording. And when you know that’s how those recordings were crafted, and you listen to them now in 2023, it’s sheer — there’s no other words — brilliance.
You’re working on an album of duets. Tell me about that.
I am in the studio over the next few months writing new material for a duets album with all female artists. ... I just look back at my career, and the duets I have recorded have been magical. They have always been a centerpiece of whatever album I was working on at the time. I’ve had great commercial success with duets, so I thought, I should do an entire album of duets. And I’m finally doing it. Hopefully I can have it wrapped up in the next six months.
Raising daughters, what have you learned by sometimes being the only male in the room?
A lot, incredibly. When you are surrounded by women — and I have been surrounded by women my whole life — I have four sisters; I have three daughters — my oldest daughter, India, is 31 — and what I learned: As men, we need to do a lot more listening to women. Because from an emotional perspective, women are pretty much nine times out of 10 closer to figuring out the emotional puzzle of any given situation than men are. Men just want to find the answer, and it’s not always about finding the answer. It’s about marinating in the issue. First, to discover different perspectives and to have a deeper understanding. You can learn a lot being around women if you just shut up, stop trying to fix everything and listen.
Over the years, India has stepped into the music world. Would you encourage your younger daughters to get into the business?
I would not discourage my daughters [ages 8 and 11 with wife Manuela Testolini] from getting into the music business. I don’t know if I would encourage. Like me, they were musical early. They play guitar and the piano. … But I understand, even though I am a very creative and artistic person, I tend to be pretty practical also. The music industry is one of those industries where the odds are definitely stacked against you. Yet, and still, I’ve always been a damn-the-odds-type person. I’m sure my daughters — probably through osmosis or genetics or something else — are going to get a little bit of that disposition as well.
How have you approached aging in such a physically demanding profession?
Fortunately, when I was in my teens and 20s, I listened to those that came before me. The 40-year-olds who were in the music business told me, “Look, your contemporaries are going to be partying, drinking and smoking. And hey, live your life however you want to live your life. But if you would like to have a voice, and if you would like to have the same stamina where you can go to two, three shows a night, wake up in the morning, work out — if that sounds like something right up your alley, stop drinking, stop smoking, stop the sugar.” For some reason, I listened. So now I have an amazing time touring. In a lot of ways, I feel like I am a better live singer, I’m a better musician and I have even more stamina than I had back then. Now, I feel like I’m able to do what I was doing back then with more prowess. Whatever I do now packs more of a wallop than it did back then. I don’t feel like slowing down at all. I think it’s because my priorities are in the right places.
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