Alec Benjamin’s song and accompanying music video, “Jesus in L.A.,” paints the city of sunny beaches, Tinseltown and the stars with a bit of a darker shade.
The music video follows Benjamin as he wanders through an Angeleno night surrounded by people, but completely alone.
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Benjamin, now 25, packed his bags as a teenager living in Phoenix and moved to L.A. with dreams of breaking into the biz. Like so many who flock to the city of Angels, Benjamin didn’t initially find what he was looking for and maybe still hasn’t. As the song’s lyrics go: “It’s a crying shame you came all this way/‘Cause you won’t find Jesus in L.A.” Even with his breakout success with the single “Let Me Down Slowly” off his 2018 album “Narrated for You,” the singer still is unsure if he’s found Jesus in L.A.
Variety spoke to the singer about how he draws from personal experiences with his music, his songwriting idols and his ambivalence toward the city he now calls home.
How autobiographical is this song?
I didn’t actually meet the Devil. I wasn’t actually searching for Jesus. I’m not, like, a super religious person or anything like that. I thought it would be a good metaphor. I did come out to Los Angeles hoping that I was going to find something that maybe I didn’t find when I got here. I suppose that it’s pretty autobiographical but obviously I’m using metaphor to tell my story.
Do you see L.A. as a dark place?
It can be. I don’t necessarily see it as a dark place but I don’t always see that it’s necessarily as advertised. It can be a dark place. I suppose any place can be dark, it just depends what you make of it. Maybe people have different expectations and it’s not exactly what they perceive it’s going to be after they get here.
What were your expectations when you were packing your bags and moving to L.A.?
I thought I was going to come here and get off a bus and figure it out. People were going to welcome me and I was going to make a lot of friends. If I were able to achieve any sort of success with music then it would make me happy. I came out and it took longer than I thought it was going to, not to say that I’m not grateful for it. I was able to make music and do what I love but at the same time, even now that I’m in it, it doesn’t necessarily make me feel the way I thought it was going to make me feel.
Do you feel differently about the city now that you’ve had some success?
I’m still figuring that out. Sometimes I love it here and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m really happy and sometimes I’m not. It really changes. It has ups and downs. When I wrote the song I guess I was feeling a little bit upset.
Where did the idea for the song come from?
I was in the studio and I had the title “Jesus in L.A.” for awhile. Sometimes I find titles, or I’ll think of a title in my head, or I’ll see a title and I’ll be reading a book and it will be part of a sentence and I’ll be like, “that’s a great title.” I don’t remember where I saw it. I think it was originally supposed to be Jesus in New York, but then it wasn’t. When I started writing the song, it’s better to be L.A. and it made more sense to me. Sometimes I’ll have a title. I don’t necessarily know at the time how it’s going to apply to me. You just kind of start singing and you put it over a few chords and eventually it just fit and it turned into “Jesus in L.A.”
You’re often described as a storyteller. What do you make of this label? Is this something that you embrace?
Yeah, sure. I do like that. Oftentimes that’s how I describe myself. The artists that I listen to, my favorite artists, that’s what they do. I love Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Carole King, Joni Mitchell — those kinds of songwriters. Ultimately I hope that people will see me as the next generation of artists like that.
This is based on your move to L.A. Do most of your other songs draw from personal experiences?
Yes. They all are. Some of them are a little bit more literal.
Who’s the Jesus that you sing about? Who’s the Devil?
Jesus is just a metaphor for happiness. I don’t know who the Devil is. Regardless of what your faith is, if you live in the United States or the West, Jesus is a symbol that’s synonymous with salvation. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you believe. If you go to church, you go to synagogue, you go to a mosque, you can’t avoid it. And so I don’t necessarily think it’s a religious symbol; it’s something that everybody identifies with — like salvation.
What was the experience like getting to play with John Mayer?
It was great. Sometimes I’ll write songs like “Death of a Hero.” And then I’ll be like, “Oh, my heroes don’t exist anymore.” And then I’ll meet John Mayer and I’ll be like, “I was wrong.” Or I’ll write a song about L.A and be like, “I’m not happy out here.” And then a lot of great things will happen to me and then I’ll be like, “L.A. is a pretty cool place.” My story isn’t finished yet and I have a lot of life to live and I don’t know what this little bit of success is going to mean to me in the future. I’m not ready to close the book on those songs.