Benee Talks Creativity & Being Honest With Fans About Her Mental Health: ‘My Best Songs Have Come From When I’ve Been My Most Unhappy.

In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltRoseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we chat to Benee.

In amongst a global pandemic and endless lockdowns, Auckland-based singer/songwriter Benee had massive, international success with her hit song Supalonely, which became an unplanned lockdown anthem around the world. She talks to Capsule about the fog of depression, why this year was so much harder than last year and why she’s looking forward to getting back on the road with her world tour.

Hi Benee! How are you today?
I’m doing pretty good – I’ve had a promo day today, talking about the world tour. I’m at home in Auckland. Where are you?

I’m in Auckland too. Happy day 97 of lockdown to you.
Oh, god. Is it? It’s been a long ride. This weather is a mood booster though; we’ve for sure needed this weather. I was in LA for part of lockdown, I got back four weeks ago; so I was in MIQ. MIQ was pretty… well, I mean, it could have been worse. I had a window and a desk, so it was fine. And luckily, Mum and I could walk to each other’s rooms, because I took her to LA. But I wouldn’t want to do it again.

How did LA feel, because I feel like New Zealand is in a weird spot where we had a good 2020 and now we’re having quite a locked down 2021, so it feels a bit like we’re behind everyone else in terms of living with Covid-19.
It has definitely been weird, it has felt like that this year. But at the same time, when I was over in LA, it felt great being able to somewhat get back to some kind of normality, but then you hear about the cases and how many people are dying from Covid-19 there and it’s just really, really sad. So that made me appreciate how lucky we’ve been here – we’ve been putting in the hard yards but it has definitely paid off.

New Zealand really has done the best thing for as long as possible but it was nice to see how you can live with Covid, once enough people have had the vaccine. When it comes to the vaccination passports, it just makes the most sense to me because we can’t keep it out of the country forever.

I bet! And congratulations on your upcoming world tour kicking off in NZ in February. Does it feel great to have something in the calendar at last?
Definitely – having something to look forward to has been a huge help this year, I think. Just having hope that events and festivals might still go ahead has kept a lot of people happy. But for me and my band, it’s been a weight lifted off our chests to realise that we are going to be able to go back to touring next year.

I was watching the numbers drop and people saying ‘oh, one-hit wonder…’ so this year has been quite horrible [laughs] because I’ve just been thinking, ‘Oh, people hate me now.’

It’s been an interesting two years for everyone but you also had massive professional success in amongst a pandemic and I wonder… how has that been, as a two-year period of your life?
It’s been very weird – it’s been a roller-coaster. Last year was insane because that first lockdown felt very apocalyptic. And then having success at that same time – it kept the interviews rolling in, it kept me busy, because I was having to work every day. This year it’s slowed down quite a bit.

I’d never had a song reach that level of success and I feel like then not being able to go out and tour, or follow it up with anything, I was watching the numbers drop and people saying ‘oh, one-hit wonder…’ so this year has been quite horrible [laughs] because I’ve just been thinking, ‘Oh, people hate me now.’

Yes, it’s been a hard enough time for mental health without this whole other aspect of it, I would imagine. Do you remember when you first become aware of your mental health and that it was something you needed to look after?
A couple of my friends and I have always talked about it – a friend of mine has gone to a psychologist since we were in high school and I remember asking Mum in Year 13, if I could go to a psychologist. It wasn’t necessarily because I felt depressed or anything then, I just thought it would be interesting.

Fast forward a few years and I actually went to my first psychologist appointment in 2019, because I had come back home from being on tour and knew I needed to talk to someone. 

It was only this year when I started going every week because things got quite bad and I realised, ‘Okay, a girl needs to see someone on the regular!’

I got a point at the start of the year where I just didn’t want to get out of bed any more… I know that’s when things are really bad.

Why do you think – honestly, here’s a stupid question – but why do you think the second year of the global pandemic (!) was so difficult?!
[Laughs] I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that this year has been so much more difficult; a lot of people are feeling lost and given the circumstances, it’s not like you can go out and distract yourself. So there’s been a lot of sitting down and being depressed, having to sit with it. I just got a point at the start of the year where I just didn’t want to get out of bed any more – and I’ve had that happen before, a couple of years ago, and so I know that’s when things are really bad.

From a creative perspective, how have you found the past two years? Is it better having more time at home or is it harder because you’re not out experiencing life as much?
I definitely think last year was good because my mental state was better and I had set up a studio in my room, I had my guitar and a keyboard, so I was really loving making music. But also I find that when I’m sad enough, I don’t want to do anything. So this year I’ve done a bit but I’ve also felt so unmotivated. I can be just as creative living at home as I am when I’m travelling but if I’m depressed, I don’t want to do anything!

When you’re in that depressive fog state, when it is so hard to get out of bed – what have you learned are some simple tools that work for you, when you’ve got the energy to do them?
Literally just getting up and having a shower can be a really good thing. I had a lot of sad showers. But the way I like to think of it is that every shower you have, you’re washing away a bit of it. It’s also important to think ‘I want to make this better and I want to be happy again,’ so even pulling up fun memories on your phone, it makes you realise that you can’t stay that unhappy forever.

There are ways to help – go for a walk, sit in nature. I have a dog, who has helped me SO much in the past year – I would highly recommend even getting a rabbit, or a lizard, or a fish! Something to take care of – having a dog and a cat forces me to get up early because I have to feed them and then I have to take my dog for a walk, every day. And that’s been a really great thing for me, to have to do those basic things.

But also not putting too much pressure on yourself is really important. Not feeling like you have to be productive – just giving myself time and saying to myself ‘this is part of the process, sitting in this sadness.’

When it comes to songwriters and artists, there’s this idea of pain as a muse – and how inspiring pain can be, but also unhealthy that idea is, that good art has to come from a bad place. How do you feel about that?
I mean, it’s sad to say it but my best songs have come from when I’ve been my most unhappy. But maybe that’s because I am being so vulnerable in those moments and that’s what people want to hear. Maybe I don’t have to be my unhappiest, maybe I just have to be my most honest. I love listening to sad music and lyrics that really resonate with me. But it is interesting when you release a really sad song and so many people are like, ‘Oh, you’re speaking what I’m feeling.’

You put up a very honest post for Mental Health Awareness Day – why was that important to you, to share that with your fans?
Obviously I’ve had a lot of time thinking about myself and feeling sorry for myself, and it makes me think about how many out there don’t have a dog, or don’t have a psychologist. It makes me think about how hard it is for everyone. I’ve got family members and friends who have gone through some really horrible stuff and it’s so important to be there for other people as well.

There is no non-cheesy way to explain this [laughs] but it really has made me want to be there for people and support them and keep this dialogue going, of talking about this vulnerable stuff that we think people don’t want to hear about – because people DO want to hear about it.

The responses I get to a post like that are unbelievable. There are 1,000 people saying they feel the same way, and venting in the comment section, and I think ‘why aren’t we talking about this more??’ So many people were talking to each other in the comment section about their experiences and it made me feel very [sniffs] ‘This is beautiful!’

For more How Are You Today’s, check out our chat with Jacinda Ardern about never losing hope; Kim Crossman on living with depression and Kanoa Lloyd on finding the right therapist.

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