Editors' Notes The path to singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin’s proper debut album, These Two Windows, is a Hollywood cautionary tale—an unusual industry veterancy for someone still at the beginning of an impressive career. Benjamin’s precocious pop songwriting, prone to virality, got him signed to Columbia Records while he was still attending USC. Then he was dropped by the label and spent his time garnering an organic following, eventually catching the attention of Atlantic Records. There, he released 2018’s Narrated for You, a folk-pop mixtape stuffed with heart-on-your-sleeve Ed Sheeran-esque songs recorded throughout his misadventures. These Two Windows is much more of a cohesive statement, from the addictive descending harmonies on opener “Mind Is a Prison” to the surprising vocal vocoder of “Oh My God” and the John Mayer-approved “Jesus in LA”. “In music and storytelling, everybody explores the same themes, recycled over and over again, because there’s not that many things [worth] talking about,” Benjamin tells Apple Music. “What differentiates one story from another is the perspective. These Two Windows is a metaphor for my eyes—my take on what’s been recycled throughout history. That’s what makes my retelling of these stories unique.” Below, he breaks down those musical narratives, song by song.

Mind Is a Prison
“I feel trapped sometimes. I go over and over things in my head that I can't change. Sometimes I feel like I'm not really in control of my own thoughts, and that's what the song's about. It’s about me exploring free will and how I feel like sometimes I don't have any. I worked with my friend Alex Hope. She's a producer/songwriter; I wrote a lot of these songs with her, and most of this album was produced by her. It's important that I have somebody who's willing to go to those [dark] places with me, because these are the topics that I choose to write about. It’s not typical that a song like that would be on like a pop album.”

Demons
“[Khalid] and I had been trying to write a song together and didn't really come up with anything. After he left the studio, I wrote 'Demons', so I used it. It's not my favourite song on the album, if I'm going to be honest with you; the song itself is one of the demons I sing about. It frequently bothers me that I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Oh My God
“I used to watch Lost in Space with my dad when I was a kid. He used to quote it, so I put [a Will Robinson reference] in the song. I wrote this at a time when I was feeling kind of lost. I was sitting down to finish the record, and I told someone, ‘Man, how did I end up in this position where I'm not even excited about making songs anymore?' because of all the annoying stuff that happens behind the scenes when you’re making music—the business, and politics, and things like that—and I guess the saddest part about it is I don't know how to do anything else. So the only thing I could do to express that frustration was to write a song about it.”

The Book of You & I
“I like the song because it’s a nice story. The words are really simple. I wrote the song with Alex Hope as well, and we did it really quickly—in like 40 minutes. We were playing around with a bunch of ideas that day, but we couldn't finish anything. I remember I was on the plane the night before, and I had written some lyrics down for the song. And I sang it over a little guitar piece. And then the song just came out. People say, 'How long did it take you to write that song?' And I feel like [the answer is] your whole life. Your whole life culminated in those 40 minutes.”

Match in the Rain
“I was thinking, ‘What's a good metaphor for trying to make a relationship work that's just not working?' Well, trying to light a match in the rain would be probably pretty difficult. I actually don’t smoke, but I came up with those lyrics to the song when I was in Munich. It was five minutes before I was going to perform. I told my managers, 'Yo, hold my phone. I'm just going to sing this into my phone, because it's a cool lyric.' And then I wrote the song two months later when I was in the studio.”

Jesus in LA
“When I was younger and I wanted to make music, I was always like, ‘Oh, man, it would be tight to go to LA. That's where everything happens.’ Then I got out there and I got dropped by my label. It didn’t work out for me. And so I had to face the reality that my perception of what LA was wasn’t what it actually turned out to be. It is not a religious song, but in Western culture, Jesus is synonymous with salvation, so it’s the idea that you won’t find what you’re looking for in Los Angeles. Oh, and that’s a song I chose to put out because I played it for John Mayer and he liked it.”

I’m Not a Cynic
“I definitely get negative sometimes. If you step in shit on the side of the road, it doesn't matter how you look at it, there's still poop on your shoe. It's okay to acknowledge it. I don't think it necessarily makes you cynical. It just makes you realistic. I wanted to say that [in a song]. It’s not always helpful to be like, 'Well, just change your perspective.' If it's raining outside, it's still raining outside, doesn't matter how I look at it.”

Alamo
“I wouldn't dig too deeply into the historical context of the song, because I'm not necessarily proud of what the United States did during that time. I just felt like when we were kids, it was taught to us like, 'Hey, this was the last stand,' minus everything about the Mexican-American War. It was a group of soldiers who were like, 'If we got to die for this shit, then we're going to die for this shit.' I haven't necessarily found something I'm passionate enough about to die for it, but there are times where I have an opinion that’s unpopular and I’m willing to lose some friends to stand up for the thing I believe in.”

Must Have Been the Wind
“It’s about [domestic abuse]. I knew somebody who was in a situation like that and I wanted to help them out, but they weren’t ready to talk about it. That’s a tough situation to be in as a friend, because you don’t want to go in there and make the situation worse than it is. And sometimes, as hard as it is, the only thing that you can do is to let the person know that you're there for them. So that's what song is meant to do.”

Just Like You
“I wrote it for a friend; it had this guitar part that I thought was tight, so I took part of it and changed it up. I was in the studio late one night and was like, ‘Oh, it would be nice if I could write a song about my dad.’ When I was younger, I remember a time where I'd get mad at my parents for doing things that were obviously in my best interest, but when you're that age, you don't even realise it. Now that I know what I know, I wish I wasn't such a jerk. When I'm a dad, I'm going to do the same things for my kids. I just wanted to put that in the song.”

SONG
Mind Is a Prison
1
2:41
 
Demons
2
2:43
 
Oh My God
3
3:07
 
The Book of You & I
4
3:27
 
Match in the Rain
5
2:39
 
Jesus in LA
6
2:51
 
I'm Not a Cynic
7
2:16
 
Alamo
8
2:24
 
Must Have Been the Wind
9
2:57
 
Just Like You
10
2:47
 

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