The Enthralling Sonic World of Karl Benjamin

I love creating a world for each body of work.” West London alternative R&B singer/songwriter Karl Benjamin is a burgeoning creative force to be reckoned with, and a fresh breath of air in a world of increasingly generic artistry. Through his exploration and love of fashion, music and visual arts, he has created an enthralling world for his new EP ‘There in 5’ which dropped in late 2023. Throughout five carefully crafted tracks, Karl uses the intimate EP as a series of voice notes to explore themes of love and closeness with ‘that’ person.

His debut EP ‘D.R.I.S.T.’ released in 2021 earned him attention from BBC 1Xtra’s Nadia Jae and DJ Ace, a supporting spot on Tinashe’s tour and two Urban Music Awards. When he’s not involved with music, Karl Benjamin is still busy creating and modelling for brands like Puma, Zara and Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God x ESSENTIALS campaign in true triple threat fashion. Now, Karl returns to music with his EP follow up stronger than ever, showcasing a more developed and smooth sonic sound complimented by captive introspective lyricism and storytelling.

In this interview, Karl Benjamin discusses his new EP ‘There in 5’, his exciting upcoming headline London show at Omeara on April 8th, music and fashion influences, dedicated work ethic, as well as giving us a sneaky look into his plans for 2024 and beyond – can we expect even more new music? Read on and see…

LEFT: Full look – PALMWINE IceCREAM. RIGHT: Jacket & Trousers: MISBHV // Shoes: AMBUSH // Earrings: A Sinner In Pearls // Necklaces: MISBHV // Rings: Bleue Burnham

Hi Karl, thanks for speaking with us. So you’ve said your new EP ‘There in 5’ is a voice note to ‘that’ person. How did that concept for this EP start? Did it start with a song you wanted to build around, or did you start with a subject and create with that in mind?

Yeah, the project is essentially a voice note to ‘that’ person. To be honest, it was less of a concept and more an experience really. I wanted to almost document each stage/thought I had about the experience of wanting to be closer to the woman I fell in love with. 

You have some incredible artwork for your EPs like ‘D.R.I.S.T’ and this one, and also for your  singles, ‘Celebrate’ is probably my favourite artwork I’ve seen in a while. Where do those concepts come from?  

Ah no way! That actually just brought a smile to my face, I’m glad you like it. I love working with  other creatives/artists, so when it comes to my artworks, whether it’s painters, stop motion artists  or or even AI designers, I like to create with them within their style & medium of art. I love creating a world for each body of work & standard photographs of myself for example have never truly been  able to do that for me as an artist. For the concepts themselves, I take countless listens up and  down the specific project, start to finish, and visualise the world that gets created in words &  sounds, and then find the best way to encapsulate it within a design.  

I want to pivot away from music for a second to talk about fashion. You’ve worked with Levi, Puma,  Zara, Serge de Nimes and loads of other brands. How would you describe the marriage you’ve created between your identity in fashion and your identity in music?  

So a lot of my modelling is actually work. Not that I don’t love it, it’s not always the style I would wear in my own world. I’ve learnt so much from the teams of stylists/photographers/coordinators that I’ve had the honour of working with over the years, but I find my own style sitting in a much more left, androgynous place (when I’m not draped in baggy hoodies and T-shirts). I actually can’t remember the last time I shopped in a menswear section of a store. Just seems to  be a lot more imagination put into the womenswear side of fashion, which I love.  

Your 2023 was astonishing; it looked like it was just full of wins from getting played on BBC Radio  1 and 1Xtra, announcing your next headline show, dropping your EP and doing your first festival  show in Austin. Is there something that really stands out to you?  

Yeah, 2023 was pretty wild. I started the year winning two awards at the Urban Music Awards which was a definite highlight. Austin was probably my highlight of the year to be honest. I didn’t actually perform whilst I was in Austin, but the reason I was actually out there was definitely a win for me  last year. I got to write with some amazing musicians & artists at my very first writing camp. It was  crazy. I wrote an entire project with them in a week. I’ve been back already this year (2024) with  the intention of finishing & releasing it in the summer. It’s called ‘Austin Tapes’. 

LEFT: T-shirt and trousers: Dion Lee // Shoes: ami // Earrings, necklace & bracelets: A Sinner In Pearls // Ring: Bleue Burnham. RIGHT: Top: ASAI // Trousers: PALMWINE IceCREAM // Earrings: A Sinner In Pearls // Necklace MISBHV

You’ve got your headline show coming up April 8th at Omeara. Do you have anything else coming  up in 2024 that you might want to share?  

I’m so excited for my headline in April. I really love performing to people and seeing what my music does to them in a live capacity. As much as I know the show is gonna be a great moment, the release of other songs I’ve been working on alongside ‘Austin Tapes’ is probably what I’m looking forward to the most in 2024, I can’t lie. It’s easily the best body of work I’ve made to date. Sonically it captures everything I’m about when it comes to music at the moment.  

You’ve named some big hitters as your influences, such as Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and Fall  Out Boy. What is it about these people and their music that inspires you?  

I have quite an eclectic music taste. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to a range of different artists &  sounds, so when it comes to it, it’s more the different vibes I encounter that inspire me the most. I’d  never be able to take one piece of inspiration at a time. I’m constantly driven by the actual fact that  

I’m able to hear so many different sonic bodies/pieces. Usually, what comes from that is me just  trying to stitch together every imprint that’s been made on me on my musical quest.  

Your debut EP and this new EP have such different soundscapes. What inspired the change in  sound, and do you have any ideas that might influence the sound of your next project?  

Time! That’s definitely been a contributing factor to my development in sound. The project I’m  working on right now embodies a new Karl Benjamin.  

Who is your dream collaborator? Both musically and in fashion?  

Musically would have to be Tyler The Creator. Fashion would probably be Tyler The Creator too lol.  For real though, he’s going crazy right now, seems like he just can’t miss.  

You’ve supported Tinashe on our, you have Erykah Badu on your followers list, and I’m sure you’ve  had a few celebrities in your DM’s. Could you name-drop a couple for us?  

Aside from those 2, yeah, there’ve been a few cool people I’ve connected with 😉  

If everything went as you want in your life and career, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

Still growing & developing to be honest. Alongside being stupidly successful & unreasonably rich.

Follow Karl Benjamin on Instagram
Get tickets to Karl’s upcoming headline show

Words: Cleopatra Bailey
Production and Creative: Yeti
Photography: Holly McCandless Desmond
Art Director: Gemma McCron
Styling: Zack Tate
Set Design: Blackhurst and Co. Ltd
Backdrops: Blackhurst Backdrops
Digi: Matthew Moorehouse
Content: Matty Rimmer, Leah Gould, Andy Berry
Styling Assistant: Beth Jones
Styling Trainee: Honey Cowin
HMUA: Fyza
Retouch: Tremaine King

Cover photo styling credits: Full look: PALMWINE IceCREAM // Earrings: A Sinner In Pearls // Necklace: Bleue Burnham