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Benefits Unveil New Track And Video, 'Meat Teeth'
Patrick Clarke , January 27th, 2022 10:59

Frontman Kingsley Hall also talks to tQ below about pressure, backlash and keeping it DIY

Benefits, the ferocious spoken word and noise project led by Teesside artist Kingsley Hall, have shared their latest video for a new track, 'Meat Teeth'.

The visual, which premieres exclusively via tQ above, features Hall performing in front of a row of abandoned shops in Billingham, Teesside. Its release comes ahead of a newly announced run of April tour dates, which will see Benefits play in Sheffield, Hebden Bridge, Hull, Brighton, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Bristol. You can find full details and ticket information here.

Below, meanwhile, you can read an interview with Hall, in which he discusses the mounting attention on his music, online backlash and what the continuing presence of an abandoned branch of Blockbuster in Billingham says about the decline of Teesside.

'Meat Teeth' is out now.

Your last video, for 'Empire', garnered loads of attention. Have you felt any sense of mounting pressure?

Kingsley Hall: My self-important muso response is that there's been pressure on us with every release we've put out. My honest answer as a sensible human who has a massive dose of imposter syndrome in this industry is that there's no real pressure on us at all. Despite being a bit angry-indie-by-numbers, our first few pre-pandemic songs got airplay on BBC 6 Music and Radio X so there was always a feeling that we'd completely messed up if Tom Robinson or John Kennedy didn't rate a song. When Sleaford Mods started liking some of our stuff in 2020 we definitely got the jitters, especially when songs came out that aped their style a little bit too much.

But the plus side is that it made us absolutely up our game and properly rethink what this band was supposed to be and sound like. It gave us the confidence to push a few boundaries here and there, to not care about pandering to radio edits or the usual tried and tested industry routes to relative success. When Black Francis and Steve Albini started giving us social media plaudits it was a genuinely weird feeling but the energy it gave us to keep on pushing was incredible. If they don't like the next few songs so be it, it's fine, we'll still give it our all. I'm more concerned with trying to sustain the attention of people like the 20-year-old lad who took the Megabus on his own to see us in Leeds as he shared our frustrations with the world. Or the mad punk who ordered me to continue the legacy of Mensi from the Angelic Upstarts a couple of days after he died.

Given the political themes of your work, do you ever encounter any backlash, either online or in real life?

KH: I get a fair bit of nastiness online – usually accounts with a picture of someone else in their avatar telling me I'm a fake – but lets be honest, we're not Little Mix. The numbers that we generate are nothing really are they? I can't begin to imagine what people with worldwide 24-hour a day megastar-trolling go through. Poor fuckers. Mine come in fits and starts so they're more memorable to me, I guess. Plus, my main problem is that I don't bite back with more nastiness, I'm usually annoyingly polite and friendly. I think people expect me to be this aggro, sweary northern footy thug monster so feel it's totally fine to have a pop at me in a like for like manner.

Can you tell us the story behind 'Meat Teeth'? When was it written, and what was it written about?

KH: I write when I can but I listen constantly. I'm not a big talker, my anecdotes are all shit and I can't tell jokes. Listening is my forte. Most of my lyrics develop from snippets of conversations I have or overhear at work, or from shit I see online. I'll take a couple of sentences and reel off a stream of consciousness style rant around it that usually expands to a few sheets of A4. Then I'll record it over a drone or a beat and chop it down to tighten it up so it all makes sense.

'Meat Teeth' is a combination of conversations from work last summer about feeling like you'd won the lottery at getting ten pounds an hour; chats online about the occasional pointlessness of leftist preachings to the converted; the ongoing horror of this comedy cartoon fascist government; and a realisation that we're all going down on this shitty red white and blue ship together – some more comfortable than others admittedly, but by fuck, we're all going down. The core of it was pulled together over Christmas when the combination of Downing Street party revelations and the sheer greed of the season started to tip me over the edge. We turn these songs around quickly, the point of them is to release them so they're relevant to the subjects we're writing about. There's no time to waste.

Where was the video filmed? It looks like the remnants of a Blockbuster branch?

KH: It is indeed the remnants of an old Blockbuster store! It's in Billingham in Teesside. I think it says a lot about the town that there's an abandoned Blockbuster that has never been converted into a new shop, I mean, they went out of business about a decade ago! I didn't choose Billingham to film in because of the aesthetics of an empty shop though, I chose it because I love the tatty 1960s modernist stylings of the town centre and I'm fascinated as to how the town itself is symbolic of this region as a whole.

A once mighty child of the chemicals industry, bright, shiny, bleached and glimmering in the post-war years only to be left to rot by subsequent governments once the smog lifted. The quintessential non-league town you only ever hear of in the FA Cup first round every couple of generations or so. The concrete is rotting, walkways abandoned, cheap quick plastic fixes are clad on to mask the decay but the rows and rows of empty shop units tell the real story. Last summer, Rishi Sunak came up and claimed to be triumphantly levelling up Teesside by handing out milions to Yarm and Eaglescliffe – towns about 5 miles away, two of the most affluent areas in the region. Billingham was given scraps. A big fuck you to everyone duped into turning the Red Wall blue. It's all a fucking scam.

From what I can tell, Benefits remains completely DIY, what are the advantages and disadvantages of that, and do you think it will remain that way?

KH: We currently do everything ourselves. We don't have management; agent; PR, marketing; a fucking focus group telling us we won't get hottest record in the world right now on Radio 1 if we don't take out all the noise, anti-Royalist stuff and swearing, nothing. There's no Daddy Warbucks bankrolling this, as is probably pretty obvious. We fit it all in on break times in shifts at work, or in the knackered hours after I finally get my little three-year-old girl to bed. There's a usually a two-hour window most nights to try and do something – anything – before I need to sleep and get back up for work at 5.45am. It's not easy and any semblance of a social life has long since been abandoned but I'm passionate about this stuff.

We need to get this anger out; we need a release valve for our complete disillusionment in, well, fucking everything, so you end up making sacrifices and working hard. If we didn't believe in what we were doing this would have died a death years ago. But the fact we have no management, PR, agent etc isn't necessarily through choice. There's an unreal number of doors closed to us right now, locked, bolted, welded shut doors – whether that's ways in to getting a festival slot, or being able to fund a vinyl release, or getting on bloody Jools Holland – it's all things we can't do ourselves at the level we're at. As far as experimental noise goes, we're a fairly commercial product, we can stir shit and sell records, why not have a label helping us do that? Why not have an agent to get THIS on a main stage somewhere? We're open to working with anyone really, but a word of warning if any major labels are reading this: we'll never make anyone any money from streaming though, so that's out. You can't jog to 'Empire'.

Benefits tour the UK in February and April. Find dates and tickets here