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Benefits: ‘if an opportunity turns up, f***ing take it’

The Teesside noise-punks on why their debut album is 'a document of a difficult time that we happen to be living in'

By Will Richards

Benefits, 2023. Credit: Michael Sreenan.

Time means something much different to Kingsley Hall than it did before he started Benefits. Formed soon after the birth of his baby daughter in 2019, the Teesside-based project is all about immediacy – they write savage songs about current events, and release them as quickly as possible.

“As you get older time seems to fly by so fucking quickly, and I’ve got evidence of it in front of me,” the frontman says, with the unexpected death of his father last year adding fuel to the sense that there’s no time to waste. “You’ve just got to get out there and do it – if an opportunity turns up, fucking take it.”

Started in 2019 as a project with no expectation attached, Benefits was a vehicle for Hall and his bandmates – brothers Robbie and Hugh Major – to have fun and express their frustrations. Setting up in a standard guitar-bass-drums-vocals partnership, they played hard, fast and aggressive punk music, attracting fans of post-punk revivalists IDLES and Sleaford Mods – bands who Hall’s lyrics have been likened to.

When lockdown hit and the group was unable to meet, the traditional “organic rock band” they had first envisaged began to evolve in a more minimalist, electronic direction. When Hall reached out to confidant Tom Robinson of BBC Radio 6 Music for advice, the frontman “took some ideas that previously I would have felt were a bit outlandish.” For him, they worked perfectly with the “horrible, beautiful noise” that Robbie was sending him. “We just mashed it all together in a little bowl, ignoring what you would classify as traditional songwriting techniques.”

This recipe proved revolutionary for Benefits, and made them stand out sonically as well as in terms of their manifesto in the years that followed. On bluntly titled singles ‘Empire’ and ‘Flag’, Hall rallied against right-wing nationalism with incredible lyrical dexterity as well as pure anger. The squalling noise that backed him up proved the perfect platform for his lyrics; nothing he said was masked by a wave of guitars and drums anymore, with Hall’s lyrics front and centre in music that now feels as much like a crazed poetry reading as a musical performance.

In the early years of Benefits, their independent status – no label, no press team, no management – was highlighted as a selling point of the band, with their fiercely DIY ethic shown as something to aspire to.

For Hall, much of this was actually to do with a lack of interest rather than the band batting away lucrative offers. Despite this, the quick turnaround times of writing, recording and releasing material that it afforded them did set them apart during lockdown as a band who responded almost immediately to current events, with fans quickly catching on. “The ethos of the band is to write about current urgencies,” Hall reflects.

After Portishead’s Geoff Barrow became a fan and saw a gig of the band’s in Bristol after lockdown, Benefits then  signed to his Invada Records for their debut album NAILS, due out this week (April 21). They also now have a press team, though the idea of getting a manager for the band still doesn’t feel right to Hall.

“We basically hit our ceiling,” Hall says of how far the band could take things with their DIY status. “I don’t know how to distribute a record, I don’t know how to get a record printed. I’m not bothered by it, though. I don’t care.” Instead, it’s a case of bringing likeminded people on board to help Benefits fulfil their vision.

Despite hitting a wall logistically, Benefits’ musical ceiling feels a long way off. NAILS serves as an introduction to the first four years of the band, travelling from the blast beats of 2019 track ‘Marlboro Hundreds’ to new single ‘Warhorse’, tracking the evolution of the project so far, and hinting that it’s far from over.

“For me, it’s a document of a difficult time that we happen to be living in now,” Hall summises of NAILS. “It doesn’t have answers, but we try not to shirk away from it, and try not to ignore what’s going on in the world.” As well as barking his manifestos, the album’s most affecting moments come when Hall hits these walls and comes up short of providing answers. In simply posing the question, he creates an even more vital dialogue and presents himself as a thoughtful, nimble lyricist as well as a shouter of political speeches. Vitally, it also transmits a vulnerability in the singer that he wants the audience to also find in themselves.

“I totally understand why people can have this conception that we’re just this Northern, angry band,” Hall says. “It’s something that we played on, and that you have to play on if you’re unknown, and if you have no PR team behind you or a label. You just use what you’ve got at your disposal.

With the next stage of the band’s development now coming into focus, he wants to flip the script from here. “I’ll go with just being called angry and political, if it gets us a bit of interest,” he says, “and then once we get that interest, I’ll try and flip it a little bit to make people realise that there’s more going on here.”