Arrow Benjamin Talks Collaborating With Beyonce, Fashion & Finding Inspiration
Arrow Benjamin appeared on the only song that Beyonce released last year -- and he's just getting started. The South Londoner lent his soulful vocals to "Runnin (Lose it All)," a song he also co-wrote.
The Naughty Boy-produced duet was released last September and has so far gained praise from many music fans. And his latest single, "Look at Me," continues to prove his knack for crafting beautiful music.
With his signature brimmed hat, the crooner is no stranger to fashion either -- especially vintage wear. But overall, he's committed to juicing every ounce of creativity out of all that he sees and hears, whether it's in the letters that he writes or a tone found in the creak of a door hinge.
Benjamin, who's "young enough to know that the truth is the only way to live," came by The Boombox office to talk about his forthcoming EP, the reason He WrItEs LiKe ThIs and why he's likely to show up at your next garage sale.
Get into it below.
The Boombox: So first things first, how was it working with Beyonce on "Runnin' (Lose It All)?"
Arrow Benjamin: Do I have to actually have a song with Beyonce? It’s amazing. It’s a dream, it’s a reality. I don’t need any more encouragement to say that if I believe in something enough I can go for it and there’s a strong possibility it could just happen and I hope that I symbolize that for many because everybody listens to her music. But the idea of listening to her music with you being involved in it, you don’t have to be the artist. Obviously I’m one of the writers, I’m also the artist. It could have just been… I could have just been a writer and I would have been ecstatic. So to have both things as an option I’m just like 'wow.' I’m humbled.
And now you have "Look at Me." What inspired you to come up with that? How'd that come about?
On a lovely tiny island in the Caribbean. What do they call this place? Bequia. Yeah, I was out in Bequia and quite cheekily it was a writing camp for other people and we started doing something and I kind of borrowed it for myself and I didn’t even know that it was going to be for now. But, I kind of just was like, can we just look at that stuff over there? (points as if distracting.)
That's cool. So are you planning on putting that on an album? What’s next for you?
I’m looking at releasing an EP... January, February. We’re not going to be saying March, okay? January, February and it’s going to be titled WAR, which stands for ‘We All Rise’ unlike the war that we see happening in the world right now. We’re going to be doing one, possibly two videos in January and I’m excited about that because I don’t look at music as just melodies and kicks and drums. Kicks and drums are the same thing I just realized. I was meant to say like kicks and snares, all right? (laughs)
For me, the visual has to be more than just a back drop. It has to be something that speaks all by itself, independently. But, combined with the message of the song, amplifies it and just broadens the rhythmic. It has to be able to breakdown social, cultural, racial, whatever it is -- closes the barriers. Yeah, I think about everything, I don’t just think about what songs in the charts, what melodies were really good last year [or] what do I predict will be great in the future. Yeah, I don’t do that. It has to be true to me.
You said you’re not doing March, why is that?
Because then I will cry, because I so can’t wait to share this stuff with the world.
Ah. Do you have other songs you plan on sharing with the world?
Yeah, it’s a five song EP. There are currently five songs that are ready to go but I won’t lie, I’m always inspired and I’m constantly creating. So there’s a chance that after today I’ll think that there was something about you that inspired me. You won’t know that I wrote this great song about you and you'll be like 'there’s something about this song that I really like.'
(laughs) Is there a specific song that you haven’t released but you’re really excited for fans to hear?
I love every single one of them. They’re all my little babies. I love all of them but there is one song. When I think of songwriting, I think of the biggest possible audience all unified singing one statement and that statement has to be a statement that unifies everybody but is also empowering. So there’s one song called ‘One Heart.' Basically it says we're all broken pieces, a billion broken pieces of one heart. Forgotten what we look like, forgotten what it feels like to be dancing with one heart. And the lyrics is slightly muddled up just now but we’ll talk about that.
But basically we all are one big heart and I think, we may not be able to get the entire universe to be speaking from that hymn book but if every time as an artist I get the opportunity to share my gift that I can bring people together in that way, I will just be so much at peace as opposed to having this gift and this talent and this ability and all I do is entertain but people are still broken.
Yeah, definitely. That’s good. So who are some of the producers you’re been working with?
I've recently worked with some amazing people including Kygo, Major Lazer, Dallas Austin, and Labrinth to name a few. On the EP, there’s a lovely gentleman called Robopop. He's one of the guys responsible for “Payphone” — the Maroon 5 song. Who else is on the EP? A guy named Johnny Coffer that I originally created "Runnin (Lose it All)” with, I did a record with him called "One Heart". I’m excited about that one; To be honest I’m excited about all of them. There's a guy named Fred Ball who produced a song called “Silent Preacher.” I definitely feel like a silent preacher sometimes. A lot of times.
Why do you say that?
Have you ever been in the mirror and stood in the mirror and said these are the things that are really griping me, these are the things that must change and you’ve got your posture right, you’ve got all of the words right, you even have the right outfit on and when you are presented with the situation, you just don’t speak. But you’re screaming really loud in front of this situation or this individual but there’s no words. I think that again is a unifying thing. We all have something that we really should be saying as opposed to what we spend most of our energy saying, but we don’t. A lot of people would really want to say 'I love you' and they say 'I hate your guts' but they really just want to say 'I love you.'
That’s beautiful. And as you’re working on a lot of music, who are you listening to? Who are you being inspired by?
There’s no particular artist that I latch onto. I’m a melody fiend. I love melodies. I get melodies from things that are not even just in the charts or songs. I tell people all the time... sometimes somebody comes through the door and the door creaks and there’s a tone in that there. I’m just like there’s something in there and people are looking at me, 'yeah, it’s called a door and a door hinge.' (laughs) But I do like song and video and artist. The Pharrell "Freedom" song, I’m like yeah, come on. Let’s have some of that. What else do I like?
I like a lot of '80s and late '70s music because whether it was reggae or pop rock or whatever it was, they were just amazing melodies and yeah, I love like Hall and Oates. Who else do I like? Michael Mcdonald. I just love the tone of his voice and I have a big thing about tones as well because I think that some of the greatest singers in the world, they either are 90 years ahead of me or they’ve passed away. But a tone is something that can cut through in any time. So I think I’m blessed to have a tone that says, 'Can I have five seconds of your time?' (laughs)
You mentioned melodies too... I’m wondering if you’re a fan of Smokey Robinson, Motown...
If I said I wasn’t I would be a big liar. That era. Motown is melodies. The strongest, simplest melodies... but tension in the journey. So it’s not just you know, la la, la. (sings) They knew how to give you the bait and draw you and then they just hit you. But at the same time not hurt you.
That’s true. That’s a nice way to put it. Do you have any personal interests outside of music? I noticed you're into fashion...
Yeah, I like garage sales and I love when I come to America because I turn to like a little dog with a bone when you have the town-wide garage sales, and suddenly there was like five songs that I was meant to write and they are on the back burner because I’m going from door-to-door looking for bargains. And it’s somebody else’s junk and it’s my like 'I can’t believe I got this for one dollar!' So I love town-wide garage sales. In fact, I love a garage sale anywhere, doesn’t even have to be town-wide, just if the next door neighbor wants to sell some stuff, I’ll be out there like rummaging through. I love vintage clothes. I’m a lot more into vintage than I am into any particular contemporary designer. I’m inspired by maybe the shapes and effect of a contemporary designer but I’m very much… love is the label for me not any brand higher than that. And love for me just spells creativity. So I just love when people get creative with whatever you have.
What is the last thing you bought that you were really happy and excited about?
I went to Scotland and there was a military jacket in the shop where the ceiling was like humongous. I couldn’t get it and I don’t even think that the guy in the shop thought that anybody would ever buy it because it was like… Is just like eye candy for the shop and it just so happened to be a music, like a musician, it was like a special jacket and it was only for musicians. He didn’t know what I did and so I took it down and vintage stuff is a very strange fit, it’s either it is or it is not and there’s no sculpt to change it sometimes. Especially this because it was like so heavily woven and there was so many layers to it and I put it on and it was like a perfect fit and he then was like, 'oh my gosh I can’t believe someone is going to grab my pride.' So he tried to put some crazy price in there and I was just like close my eyes, 'okay!' And I took it, but it’s an amazing jacket.
Do you have a picture of it?
Do I have any picture of this jacket? No, I don’t have a picture of this jacket and I’m not going to give anybody a picture until the day when I walk out on the stage with this jacket. It’s like a Michael Jackson moment. I was like here is my silver glove. It’s red and it’s really big.
Alright, that’s fair. So we were talking about your jacket but I noticed you have your hat too...
I am the hat man (sings). Yeah, I really like hats. I call them crowns. I believe we all wear crowns. You can see mine in the form of a hat but I think we all have crowns. I used to have an afro. This is still the truth and it decided to go on holiday, I haven’t seen it since and I love silhouettes so much that I have to get a hat and the right type of hat because for me it’s all shapes. So that’s one of the reasons why I wear hats. So one, because I love crowns and two, because I’m into silhouette and the shape of my head is not like this hat.
I feel like it’s always like a similar style too like what did you first put on this hat and say 'this is it'?
I actually had one of the traditional hats like the Amish. I had a hat like that originally and I really liked that hat but I’m so into things being boxy. Even if they slant but the lines have to be straight. This hat was really nice but it was just a little bit too floppy and then I came across this one and the peak is really wide and it’s a solid thing.
It's super straight.
Yeah and I bang into doors and stuff as I'm walking through quite a lot. And as a result I’ve recently hooked up with a hat designer and he has sent me the first kind of prototype of a hat that we have designed together and I can tell you that the hat is in the shape of an arrow with like a really nice rim size and yeah, I’m just excited about sharing what I call armor. I don’t even call it fashion. I’m like "fashion is not going to protect you." So yeah, I call it armor. So it’s an extension of my fight.
Fight for what?
For love. (smiles)
Of course. Pardon my ignorance, but is this your first time in America or have you been here a few times?
Not ignorant at all. I’ve been here quite a few times but I will tell you I’m having the most fun now.
Why is that?
I’ve been here before but I couldn’t get out of the kind of tourist behavior. But now I’m actually meeting some amazing people. People that I actually envision [that I] will be in long-term relationships with and that’s always exciting.
Yeah. So, you’ve been here a while, what would you say the difference is between South London and New York or other cities in the United States?
Right. What I would say is...I hope everybody is okay with this. It’s not a bad thing. It’s faster, it’s prettier and it’s dirtier in New York. We have similar things in London but the pace of everything, whether it’s the grip, the dirt or the taxis is just more. I love passion. I love passionate things.
This place is just full of passion and people...I’ve been to L.A. quite a few times too. I don’t have a connection with L.A. for some reason. I don’t know, maybe because there’s no beaches near where I live in South London, so that’s not the thing that draws me. Yeah, I’ve...just the pace, the pace is here and when people say that we’re going to do something, we get up and we do it. We don’t just talk about it and I love that because time can be short.
Definitely yeah. I think you might have answered this already but what would you say is your favorite city you've visited in the U.S. so far?
New York. New Yooorrk (singing like Frank Sinatra)
So something else, I was curious about, I noticed that on Twitter you use uppercase and lowercase letters a lot. (laughs) What’s the story about that?
That’s funny. Thank you for that noticing, it takes me a long time. It does actually sometimes--I’m like "Come on." You know like when you spell something wrong and then it does the auto correct and it does it the normal way that it should be and I’m like (sighs.) I got to go all the way back. It’s just creativity because nothing is stopping me from being creative in as many areas as I exist. Then I just go for it.
That’s cool. I like it and why the name "Arrow Benjamin?"
Okay. Everything has a purpose. Everything, whether or not you find purpose in it or not, everything has a purpose. Arrow is a weapon but it’s a weapon of precision. It is something that is not loud. It doesn’t require a whole gang and it’s not… though it’s used in war; it’s also used just to feed… someone who needs to, I don’t know, how can I explain this? It’s a tool more than it just being an item of aggression. Benjamin means some of my right hand, I think names… I’d always prefer to have a name of meaning rather than a name that was just an amalgamation of many things. So there’s a bit of lineage, legacy and purpose involved in the name.