Wandering Through Sleep Paralysis and Song Writing with Cian Bennet
Cian Bennet’s debut LP represents a first on many fronts. As a filmmaker and an experienced trumpet player in the phenomenal local outfit The Sunken Sea, Wanderer is Bennet’s first fully-fledged recording effort and HUM Records maiden artist signing. Penned over the course of 12 months following the fallout of a long-term relationship, this deeply personal collection of contemporary folk/ pop ballads helped Bennet process his problems and validate the internal insecurities regarding his musicianship. We were delighted to chat with Cian about the relatable angst and existentialism surrounding his music and the experiences that formed it.
Bennet’s world has forever been one filled with music. Born into a family of musicians, including classically-leaning music teachers for parents, early exposure to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes offered up an ideal introduction to musical complexities; “There was a parent-run primary school and my parents were doing a lot of music stuff there that I’d get involved with. When we’d go camping, we’d just sit around the campfire and sing songs together”. Ironically, Bennett’s rebellious side reverted away from music, seemingly due to overexposure; “I was actually pretty musically stubborn. I never wanted to touch music because I was surrounded by it my whole life and didn’t think it was for me. It took me a long time to realise it was ok to listen to pop”.
At 12 years of age, it would be the opportunities provided through high school that would catalyse Bennet’s musical future, originating from his affinity for the trumpet; “I went to Eltham High and they had a pretty profound music program. Anyone who wanted to enter the band program in year 7 had to have an instrument try-out day. I got a higher score on double bass but stuck with the trumpet because I felt it suited me best”. Heavily engaged with multiple acts through his teens, Bennet would both attend and perform at regional Jazz and Folk festivals, earning an international tour along the way; “In 2014 our symphonic band toured America and we rehearsed with the US Airforce Band and performed in a NYC church. We also got to meet Julia Stone and play an arrangement with her on one of her songs which was amazing”.
Having met Dougal James through high school, Bennet would go on to serve as a primary cog in the wind section for The Sunken Sea, gaining a different form of experience playing gigs in Melbourne bars and venues; “It’s just really nice the camaraderie you get at gigs. You just bump into people and they remember your name because we’re all in it together. It’s definitely helped with my stage performance, which I’m still quite terrified with”. Along with managing performance anxiety, Bennet also grappled with comparative insecurity, yielding uncertain when qualifying his own ability; “Before I started working on this album, I didn’t really call myself a musician. I just spent too long comparing myself to friends or just anyone that I wanted to relate to”. Writing his first record would prove to be the circuit-breaker he sought.
Whilst amassing an accomplished skillset on the blower, Bennet realised the necessity to arm himself with another accompanying instrument he could craft his songs around; “At the start of last year I just started playing a little of something every day on piano and I eventually got to the stage where I learnt piano to write songs on. The piano then turned into the only thing I could play that was an accompanying instrument because you can’t really write songs with just a trumpet”. The ivories, along with occasional acoustic strums, would go on to serve as the sonic backbone for his LP.
Having embarked on the title track, ‘Wanderer’, it wasn’t until a slew of downtrodden turns caused Bennet to commit to a record in its entirety; “When I wrote that song, I didn’t think I would be writing an album. I was with my girlfriend when I wrote it and then some shitty things in my life happened and then we broke up. That forced things to take a turn with my writing and then I wrote the other 8 songs”. Melding vivid descriptors of the natural landscape with Bennet’s emotional state at the time, the album opener’s strident keys and reverb-laden vocals permit intriguing insights to wash through with care and colour; “My parents were both environmental activists and I grew up with this strong sense of looking after the earth and to not pump shit into it. When I started writing I realised I combined this within the context of how I felt about having to deal with stuff myself instead of always wanting to rely on other people to help”.
Concluding a four-year relationship bore Bennet existential crises of the psyche. Reconciling with laments of failure and regret, as heard on ‘Unfinished’, exemplify Bennet’s honest, dark musings; “Whilst writing the album I realised that when something crappy happens in life you wanna go back in time and change it all and have it be perfect. I think a lot of these songs are about coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do that and you can’t change the past. You’re better to be hopeful for the future, even if it’s gonna be shit… Not that I think it’s gonna be shit (laughs)”. ‘Demons’ speaks to similarly sinister experiences surrounding bouts of sleep paralysis; “I hit rock bottom at the worst part of the relationship and started having these episodes. I had vivid ones where this giant woman in a wedding dress was staring at me and I woke myself up screaming. Then there were comical ones where a tiny green alien with a giant head walked into my room and we just stared at each other and I just woke up. It wasn’t terror, I was just really confused”.
Just as Bennet himself experienced and overcame these psychosocial adversities, the record feels as if the songwriter himself is there to offer the listener a hand through it all. Be it through lush arrangements or moving melodies, each track closes with a sense of personal growth for having heard it; “Generally it’s all very dreary and dark and grim in my songs but, as a part of that process, I realised there is hope, there will be happiness and you just gotta soldier on until you can find that”. ‘If Only’, which features sister folk-duo Charm of Finches, echoes these sentiments by offering a sense of strength and respite to help balance the record; “It’s about people, for example, someone like a racist person or climate change denier and trying to persuade them to change their mind and see the truth about things and just how much hatred people can have when they don’t know what they’re taking on or why they hate things”.
Wanderer is rich with tales not only jarringly provoking but hopeful too. Further canvassed atop stirring compositions, these songs compel those that listen to learn from them. Where uncertainty, insecurity and diffidence were all demons to be dealt with, Cian Bennet has come out the other side with a newfound sense of self to show for it; “I think I’ve realised I want to be a performing musician. I never fully committed to it before, but I’ve realised I enjoy this enough to call myself a musician”.
'Wanderer' is out TOMORROW on March 5th!