Prior to an impromptu (and hilarious) photo shoot wherein Benny Blanco, 20 year old producer to pop superstars such as Santogold and Kylie Minogue, got down and dirty (literally) in a pile of trash, we got down and dirty (figuratively) in the Downtown Records studio in SoHo:
Dese’Rae Stage, PopWreck(oning): Benny Blanco’s not your given name. Is there any connection with John Leguizamo in Carlito’s Way, or is it something else?
Benny Blanco: It’s actually crazy because I got the name before I saw the movie. Some kid just called me Benny Bounce or something and then this dude I was working with named Sam–we were working in the studio–and he was like, “You’re white, you’re blanco.” Benny Blanco! And then I saw the movie and I was like, “Oh man, I’m so this dude. No, but he’s a douchebag in the movie.”
PW: So, we’re gonna qualify that: you’re definitely not a douchebag, right?
BB: No, I don’t think so.
PW: Alright. You were writing rhymes by age 11. How’d you find your way into a studio that young?
BB: I don’t know. It was actually my brother. He knew someone who knew someone. Everyone pretends they’re in the music business. So I guess someone pretended, had a little mic or something. I don’t know.
PW: One of those things.
PW: You decided to not pursue emceeing and you blame it on Eminem.
BB: Yeah, probably. ‘Cause, you know, he just made everyone realize… You were like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m good,” and then you put on some of his stuff and you were like, “I’m not that good.” You know what I mean?
PW: There’s no more to it?
PW: And your first paid gig was for a porn series.
BB: Yeah, that’s true. When I was rapping, one of my first mentors was this guy, Jonathan Schecter, who started Source magazine. He also had this softcore porn DVD called Hip Hop Honeys or something and I started making beats and I was like, “Yo, I wanna sell beats.”
He was like, “Alright, I got this porno I can put your beat in,” and I was like, “Alright, cool.”
So, he paid me for that and I got it in the mail and my mom was like, “What the fuck?” It was pretty tight.
PW: How do you make beats? I have no idea what a producer does.
BB: Basically, I just need a hard drive with all my drums on it. I think that’s one of the most important things. And I have a fetish for old instruments, so I definitely have a Juno 60, a Juno 106, a Voyager, some old Casio that probably plays “Hava Nagila” or something. Just weird shit, weird instruments. Little pianos, little ukuleles.
PW: But what does a producer do?
BB: A producer ranges from so many things. An old fashioned producer would come in at the beginning of the album and be like, “Yo, this shit’s awesome,” and then just be like, “I gotta leave for three days. When I get back, just have it done.” But me, I like to be in something from start to finish, so if the song’s not already written, song writing, producing, making the beats. If I’m having an instrumentalist, having them play.
PW: What inspires you?
BB: What inspires me? Food. That’s a great inspiration.
PW: What kind of food? How does food actively inspire you?
BB: Thai food, Indian food. Any food that’s gonna make me feel good. Food inspires me, Prince inspires me, I have a star machine in my room that puts stars on the ceiling–that inspires me. Women inspire me. You inspire me.
This is when I cock an eyebrow and laugh at him.
BB: Yeah, you inspire me. Make sure that goes in there.
PW: I inspire you to enjoy ridiculous, malfunctioning cassette recorders.
BB: So, you inspire me.
PW: Okay, so how did you convince Spank Rock to work with you after he said ‘no’ so many times?
BB: I took a tape recorder like that [he motions to mine] and recorded a song when he wasn’t paying attention. No, I didn’t. That would be really cool, though. Can we just say I did that?
I don’t know, I was like, “Dude, just do one song.” I think I got on one knee and I had a metaphorical ring and the ring would be more songs, so I proposed to him.
PW: You proposed to Spank Rock. Alright.
BB: I don’t know. What else do you want to know?
PW: I figured there was a story there that wasn’t getting told.
BB: I was like, I don’t know, “C’mon, do it.” I asked him to! A million times! And I kept calling him, like everyday. And he was like, “Alright.”
Persistence. I’m really annoying. I don’t have any pride. If someone’s like, “No,” and kicks me to the curb, I’ll just keep calling them until they turn their phone off. Yeah, you’d better not give me your phone number.
PW: [More laughter on my end] You’ve worked with Kylie Minogue and Santogold. What do you have coming up?
BB: The dude I’m signed to, Luke, just produced a lot of shit, so I helped him out on that. I helped on the Katy Perry song “I Kissed a Girl,” helped on “Hot ‘N Cold.” We did four for Vanessa Hudgens, Lil Mama. I just did this group 3OH!3.
This dude Matt Squire, he’s a producer, he does Panic! at the Disco and stuff. We did these guys, 3OH!3, and they just kinda blew up overnight. Their album came out today and it’s already in the top ten, top 100 for iTunes. They get like 200,000 plays a day on MySpace, so they’re cool. Two of the coolest kids. I just did this Kid Rock remix. We’re working on Mos Def’s new record, Spank’s new record.
PW: Do you ever have to do a double take? Are you surprised that this is your life, or was it inevitable?
BB: I don’t know if I ever had to do a double take. You know how, if you just tell yourself something over and over again, it just kinda works? Like the Secret. Yeah, that’s my life.
I look at him incredulously.
BB: Hey, shut up. So this is what I did: Ever since I was like 8 or 9, I was like, “I’m doing music,” and when everybody was doing homework—I probably shouldn’t say this ‘cause of my mom, but when everyone was doing homework and shit, I’d skipped school to make music. When I was in school, I’d always have some little thing that would help me make music, like I’d have a little thing you could do beats on or something. Bang on shit in school.
PW: What are you listening to lately?
BB: I’ll look in my iTunes! Let’s see, what am I listening to?
PW: Benny cheats!
BB: I’m not cheating, I’m looking. Nina Simone, NERD (the new album), there’s this song by Crystal Castles—
PW: Which one?
BB: “Untrust Us.” That shit’s kinda hot.
PW: They’re so much fun live.
BB: I’m listening to the Beatles. I don’t know, I’m kinda boring. Daniel Merriweather, Neon Hitch, Boka Shade, Bobby Caldwell.
I listen to new shit. Lil Wayne’s album. Oh wait, Culture Club!
PW: I was actually kind of upset that Boy George’s tour got canceled.
Benny starts playing “Miss Me Blind” by Culture Club.
PW: If you could produce for any artist living or dead, who would it be?
BB: Boy George. No, just kidding. Prince. But he would never let me do that. One, because I’m his son, and second because, I don’t know, why would he let me do that? He’s so much better than me.
PW: Well, that’s it. Thanks!
Photos by: Dese’Rae Stage