INTERVIEW: Benefits | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Image by Jason Hynes

Perpetual horror is par for the course in Brexit Britain but, even by recent standards, the news cycle in the days prior to this interview reads like a veritable skip-fire. Effectively launching its re-election campaign, the government has announced the deplorable ‘Illegal Migration Bill,’ all while ramping up its poisonous culture war rhetoric and cowing the BBC into cancelling notorious anti-establishment rabble-rousers Gary Lineker and Sir David Attenborough. “They’ve done it all before,” declares Kingsley Hall, the voice, face and wordsmith behind Teesside’s Benefits. “They find someone to demonise, create a stir, say the most outlandish things and tie people in knots with nonsense rhetoric. Life feels very dark in 2023; energy and food prices are going through the roof, child poverty is rising, and concepts like ‘Levelling Up’ have proven to be meaningless words; so when Sunak claims ‘stopping the boats’ is the people’s top priority, it’s difficult to believe him.”

It’s against this toxic backdrop that Hall and his “issues-based collective” are poised to detonate their long-awaited bombshell of an album. The culmination of three years in which Benefits’ fierce socially and politically charged commentaries have gone viral, Nails is not only the most anticipated North East debut in many a year, but one of the essential records of 2023; a withering, sonically desolate account of what it means – and how it feels – to be on the ground in this most cursed of ages.

It could’ve been that the government had collapsed, we’d had a general election and gotten somebody else in, but none of that has happened,” Hall ruefully notes, discussing Benefits’ sustained resonance. “Instead we’ve just seen a continuation, and it’s meant that – for good or bad – some of the older songs still feel relevant. Everything still seems to be on a downward spiral.”

Those older ‘hits’ – Flag, Empire, Traitors, et al – are present, correct and as unflinching as ever on Nails, having drawn appraisal from figures as disparate as Steve Albini and Elijah Wood. Another early backer was Geoff Barrow – and it’s the Portishead and BEAK> man who’s put his money where his mouth is, issuing the album through his own Invada Records imprint. “We tagged a gig at Rough Trade Bristol onto the end of our tour last year, specifically in the hope that Geoff would come,” Hall reveals. “Middlesbrough to Bristol wasn’t the best bit of routing I’ve ever done… but this is the guy from Portishead! Those songs are part of my life, and Dummy is forever lodged in my head. He’d been in our DMs and our liking tweets, so he was obviously interested, and we ended up talking through the idea of doing an album.”

I encourage people who may not agree with our rhetoric to come and see us, just to witness the rage and disgust and to question why we feel it

With physical copies heading to record shops across the country and drummer Cat Myers (Honeyblood, Mogwai) recruited as a fourth member, Benefits have come some way from their origins in the deepest, darkest days of lockdown. “We were just firing things between our laptops,” Hall recalls. “Robbie [Major] would send MP3s of noise, rhythms, beats and textures, Hugh [Major] was helping out with similar stuff, and we’d just combine and chop it all up in the most haphazard ways. It’s not how I imagine Peter Gabriel or Bono working.”

Among the seething surges of industrial noise which have become their trademark, the deadpan flow of Shit Britain stands as a survivor from those early days – yet it’s on a new cut, album closer Council Rust, that that formative spirit is captured most compellingly. “People might think of it as something new for us, but the first stuff we ever put out was spoken word. It was just about getting our message across in whatever way felt applicable, and it was only later that we started putting those words to music.” Moreover, having spent much of the record on the offensive, Council Rust sees Hall strike a sombre note, turning the lens on himself in a moment of vulnerability and reflection. “It’s a side that’s always been there, but not necessarily one we’ve shown before. It felt important to demonstrate that we’re not just this one-dimensional noise-punk thing. I wanted the album to have an arc and a sense of melancholy towards the end. There are definitely references in it which are more introspective. The bit about memorial benches – Who gets them? Why do they get them? And what do they look at? – particularly resonated with my dad passing away last year. I don’t mean it to sound hopeless, either. There’ll always be something to be riled about, and there needs to be some hope in that fight.”

Nevertheless, Hall is adamant that Benefits is far more than a vessel for airing grievances: “I often wonder what’s the point in directing all this hate, anger, and bile. It’s not healthy – certainly not for me – but I hope in some way it can inspire people. We try to take away the charades of rock-star egotism. When we play live I’ll sometimes lose my voice, or have to stop for a moment because I’m feeling anxious. Anyone can have these feelings – not just people who look like they suffer from them. It’s okay to have the occasional stammer and check out for a moment. The whole point of Benefits is to make people believe they can do these things – that they’re not just for the kinds of people you’d expect.”

And however forthright it may be, Hall feels it crucial that Benefits’ message is open to all, regardless of background or political hue: “I encourage people who may not agree with our rhetoric to come and see us, just to witness the rage and disgust and to question why we feel it.” he affirms. “I offered our mayor a guestlist to our gig at Middlesbrough Empire, and I openly ask all the MPs – the ones who haven’t blocked me! – if they want to come and watch us.” Suffice to say, they rarely respond.

Benefits’ debut album Nails is released on Friday 21st April. They play The Cluny, Newcastle on Sunday 30th April.

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout