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Benefits lead

The sound and the fury

17 April 2023, 08:45
Original Photography by Michael Sreenan

Additional photography by Jason Hynes

Kingsley Hall – the firebrand Teesside creative behind issues-based noise-punk collective Benefits – tells Kate Crudgington how the band's existence and upcoming debut album was driven by anger as much as urgency.

“Life is short. You don't always know how long you're going to have,” Kingsley Hall explains, off the back end of a conversation about going teetotal during the first lockdown in 2020.

That’s when Hall wrote most of the songs that form the tracklist for the Benefits' upcoming debut album, NAILS. “I've worked out that I can get more things done by being sober," he adds. "Maybe this is from past experience in my old bands as well. I know that there's only a certain time frame where you can make an impact and that you can have a stab at this.”

In print, Hall’s comments might read as blunt and to-the-point, but that’s not how they come across in conversation. He has a superbly dry sense of humour and is very generous with his time. He’s open to talking about everything from the logistics of physically putting out a record, to the devastation he felt over Ken Bruce’s recent departure from BBC Radio 2. We’ll touch on the latter again later.


“Benefits’ songs are about current events, current affairs and current urgencies, so it'd be foolish to not jump on those things,” he continues. “That's one of the whole points of the band, to react to what's going on around us right now, and to try and get that music out there as quickly as possible. Also, I don't think I can have the sincerity, that I think we need to have to get our point across, if I'm casually swigging a bottle of Jack Daniels or downing a bottle of red wine throughout our set. It wouldn't work. It wouldn't make any sense. It's just about focus. This is what I want to do. I'm happy to do this. I want to remain focused on this project.”

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This visceral, razor sharp vision is the lifeblood behind NAILS. From the opening lyric of “Marlboro Hundreds” (“Formulate your own ideas”) - a track which sounds like the ten commandments for the anti-establishment anarchist - right through to the six minutes of pure vulnerability on “Council Rust”, NAILS is a scathing, white-knuckle-ride through the hypocrisies of everyday existence in present day England. Alongside bandmates Robbie and Hugh Major, Hall uses noise, dissonance and cutting lyricism to eviscerate the UK government, the voice of the devil’s advocate neighbour, and articulate the fear that many us are harbouring: that things are beyond our control and we’re on a sinking ship.

It’s easy to feel hopeless and powerless in the face of constant bad news. Benefits’ aptly titled debut record routinely hits this nail on the head, sonically and lyrically. Listening to it inspires a radical sense of hope, and it offers a palpable sense of relief - perhaps even peace - despite its aggressive volume.

Hall is flattered by this interpretation. “Everyone knows that we live in a difficult age. It's totally stating the obvious,” he intervenes. “The content isn't really anything new. Sleaford Mods have released an album that's full of that anger and fury. Bob Vylan, Yard Act even, and billynomates has too. There's all sorts of things out there that touch on similar themes.”


On album track “Shit Britain”, Hall observes “I understand, I’m the snake, I’m the scum. The unpatriotic one” - an attitude that’s shared among the peers he names. The irony is that thes “unpatriotic” sentiments are rooted in pride. Pride in having the freedom to speak your mind and communicate with others, and a hope and desire for the country to unite and do better.

“There's this sort of reputation that we've got, that maybe we play up to being a big angry band,” Hall reflects. “There's obviously quite a lot of noisy mess and anger on the album, but there is a flip side to it that I want people to pick up on,” he caveats. “NAILS is a reaction against pageantry and the country being a mess. No amount of Jubilees or Coronations are going to disguise that. We're ruled by self-serving, horrible, bloated oafs. We know that. But we also know that we're not alone in the way that we think. [The record] is intended to inspire in some way. Not just in a 'well, if he can do it, anyone can' way. It’s not like a Messiah thing. I think Benefits are definitely here to inspire people to organise, be interested and to be angry. But it's about the collective responsibility of people, and how collective action can bring these bastards down, as opposed to just a single person. It would be easy to go 'come on, rally with me! Let's go, follow me!' and do the Jim Morrison, rockstar ego thing. But that's not the point.”

The removal of this “rockstar” persona is part of Benefits huge appeal. Whilst Hall seems to confidently eviscerate his targets with brutal lyrics and a direct in-your-face performance style, there’s no way this can be mistaken for attention-seeking, egoistic behaviour. It’s attention-grabbing for sure, but the more we speak, the more evident it becomes that to Hall, Benefits is equally an outlet for personal vulnerability and anxiety as it is for rage and political rhetoric.

“Just so you’re aware, I will start to say something at points and I'll kind of drift off,” he explains early on in our chat. “I do it when we do our shows and stuff. Usually it gets to a point near the end when we've done all the shouting and whatever, then I try and go on a little bit about how I actually do find all of this very difficult, and that includes doing things like this [interview]. As pleasant as it is, this isn't my comfort zone whatsoever. I find this just as odd as standing in some place in Hackney, on a stage and shouting at people for an hour. Then I have to try and convince people that actually half of the set is about being vulnerable - and then half of the people that are going like, 'yeah whatever mate'. I'm not necessarily built for it, you know, I haven't got that 1975 confidence. I'm not gonna go out and start smearing meat on my face or anything like that.”

Hall doesn’t need to indulge in meaty PR stunts like The 1975’s frontman Matt Healy - mainly because he’s vegetarian - but also because he’s got a natural ability to make his digressions seem valid. Slathering himself in meat would only distract from that: “I'm ticking all these horrible woke boxes, aren't I?” he laughs when he tells me he's a veggie. “I'm Lawrence Fox's worst nightmare. Actually, I don't want to start that, because I'll probably get libel!”

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Before we dive deeper into more of Hall’s digressions (we’ve still got Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 departure to grieve), it seems like a good time to talk about how divisive Benefits can be. Their sound and vision is a marmite situation - people love it, or hate it - and Hall is under no illusion that this is the case. Since the band’s inception during lockdown in 2020, Hall has been involved in conversations both virtually and face-to-face about the motives behind their music. He may not want to attract the attention of right-wing personalities like Lawrence Fox, but when he does find himself interacting with people with opposing views, he seems to handle it well.

“With comments [online] and things like that, you're supposed to ignore it and leave it,” he says. “But occasionally I do have a tendency to bite. I try to do it in a polite way. Despite this perception of what I am, or what the band is about - this big, aggressive, horrible, nasty shouty football hooligan type - the reality is, I'm alright actually. I like talking things out and I like trying to get to the bottom of stuff. I had someone a while ago who took umbrage with our song "Flag". They didn't like it, but after a few comments back and forth at each other, where we both decided we both weren't racist, we worked it out and it was fine. I've also got to remember that people just sometimes have off days, and they like lashing out on the internet. For some people it's a hobby, but some people just accidentally do it, so you can't just instantly presume the worst of everyone.”

Hall’s liberal attitude could be attributed to the variety of people he has met through his day-to-day work life. In recent years, he has worked in factories and yards constructing bespoke furniture for children’s playgrounds, and as a binman collecting recycling and garden waste. “I loved that job and I met some absolutely amazing people that still come to our gigs now,” he says about the latter. “I used it as a keep fit exercise, basically. I think I lost about two stone and I had legs like Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Being a DIY musician alongside physically demanding manual labour is something that required a level of adjustment for Hall though. In the early days of Benefits, he was cautious about who he told about the project. Amidst running between the bins on his rounds, he’d be tweeting to get the attention of Sleaford Mods, who helped to share his music and gain Benefits a mutual set of followers. Working in a factory alongside younger co-workers, some of whom were also in bands and scribbling notes about their own music on their tea breaks, also made Hall aware of the separateness of things.

“It's like a secret life in a way,” he reflects. “If I was in a nice lad-rock indie band, singing songs about going out and having a good dance down the disco or whatever. No problem. I'd tell everyone. But I can't even really tell my mum exactly what Benefits is about. Even though we've got a record coming out, I've kind of banned her from looking on the internet and Google searching us. I've shown her the album, but she doesn't have a record player so she can't listen to it.”

"We're ruled by self-serving, horrible, bloated oafs – but we know that we're not alone in the way that we think."


Hall elaborates on people’s reactions to Benefits, explaining that people are either open to engaging with it and asking him questions, or they bluntly brand it as “lefty shit”. The latter is something he has encountered online regularly. “People tend to be a lot braver on the internet when calling me names,” he laughs. “I think it's worse than if someone just comes up to us and calls me a ‘lefty shit’ to my face. I'm alright with that, because I can have a discussion about it. When we play live, a lot of it is about trying to create a discussion. I don't just want an echo chamber. Just as it's easy for us to fall into that. It's easy to just log into Twitter - and I've done this in the past, don't get me wrong - and just go 'you know what, the Tories are wankers'. There you go, there's a hundred likes, magic. But it does absolutely nothing. It gets the 'like' endorphins running through my veins for a little bit, but that's it.”

Something that did kick Hall’s endorphins into play was getting the attention of Invada Records founder and Portishead member Geoff Barrow. After self-releasing their music and gaining recognition as a vehemently DIY band back in 2020, Benefits announced that they would be releasing their debut album NAILS via Invada Records earlier this year. “I was kind of expecting a 'you've lost your integrity' comment,” Hall explains about the decision, “but when we announced it online, it was nice. I wanted to be transparent, so I did a tweet thread about why we signed. It was basically saying that we reached the top of our skill set.

I felt the need to do it because I've always tried to do everything quite transparently. As I said, I'm not really interested in rock mythology anymore. I couldn't care less. You can totally see behind the curtain if you want to. Check out all the nuts and bolts, it's no problem. So I felt it was important to discuss why we got signed. I've been talking to Geoff for nearly a year now. I didn't just get in touch with him two weeks ago and say, 'can you put out our record?' This has been a long time coming, I'll tell you how it came about.”

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Hall recounts the story of how he met the Grammy-winning producer. Hall initially discovered Barrow’s label Invada through YouTube, listening to doom-instrumental duo Divide & Dissolve. He bought an Invada t-shirt off the back of that, then started delving into the music of Billynomates, TVAM and BEAK>. His meeting with Barrow came about through a combination of pure determination, positive online interactions and a little bit of luck.

“Sleaford Mods started retweeting a couple of our songs [during the pandemic], which was really nice. All of a sudden, my Twitter likes would go up from 10 to 150. I'd be on my break at work and I’d be thinking 'what's going on here?', and then realise it was because Jason was on our Twitter. Sleaford Mods have a lot to answer for. I absolutely love them. It's totally on record that I'm a super huge fanboy of theirs. They changed the way that I look at music forever, but that's another story. Anyway, Black Francis from the Pixies, who I think also follows Sleaford Mods, did a tweet about one of our songs. Then Geoff Barrow did the same, and then Elijah Wood from The Lord of the Rings got hold of it as well, which was amazing. This is like seven degrees of separation from being a Hobbit.”

Benefits group
Photo: Jason Hynes

Hall is clearly made up at the reach that Benefits achieved through these online interactions, particularly so with Barrow. “It’s Geoff from fucking Portishead,” he reiterates throughout our chat. “It's mental, it's massive. He messaged me a couple of times just talking about the band and stuff, which was nice. So I decided to put a date in for Bristol at the end of the tour we were planning at the time. It was really difficult to try and get a gig in Bristol, but I eventually found one at Rough Trade on a Sunday night. We do week-long tours because of work, so we can just take one week off.

"So the night before, we were in Middlesbrough, which is where we live. Bristol is an 8 hour drive from there, so we basically had to do a 16 hour commute there and back, because we all had work the next morning. So I think I got back home at about 5am, and then went straight to work after. It was a massive commute just to hopefully get Geoff to come see us. There was no guarantee that he was actually going to come, but it was absolutely vital to us just to get him to see us live.

"I don't want to be one of those wankers that says 'we make a lot more sense live', but we do try and do something else when we play live as Benefits. So Geoff did come down, and he was lovely. He came with his mate who runs the label with him, and we just started a conversation from there.”

Hall is still in disbelief about the situation. “Geoff was in Portishead, one of the biggest bands in the world, why would he want anything to do with us?,” he laughs. “We made this stuff in our front rooms during lockdown. So it was all isolated. Everything was done on a microphone that I got off eBay, plugged into a laptop in the kitchen. It's just ridiculous.”

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Hall notices an Instagram message from Bob Vylan on his phone. He can see that I follow the band too, and what follows is an enthusiastic chat about the groundbreaking, MOBO award-winning duo. “I think they're incredible. Absolutely incredible,” Hall says. “We played Raw Power festival in London last year and Bob came along. It was the week after my Dad died very unexpectedly. We weren't going to do the show and our drummer had just left, so everything was in a bit of a mess. But my Mum encouraged me to just go and do it. She thought it would clear my mind and help me out a bit, and it did. Meeting Bob there was absolutely amazing. I didn't know he was coming to watch us.

For me, Bob and Bobbie are the embodiment of that DIY spirit. They appear to be able to do whatever they can by themselves and it's amazing. There's all sorts of other bands doing it too. Bands like The Lovely Eggs, even some Northern all-out indie bands, like The Reytons and The Sherlocks. They've got massive purely by doing it all themselves. I don't think we were ardent, proud DIY people, but I'd always tweet about not having a manager, not having a label, not having an agent. I'd always follow one of those tweets up with a bit of a caveat of, 'we wouldn't mind one.'”

Again, Hall’s sense of timing seems to come into things. He knows his strengths, but he also knows his limits. “I know how to do certain things,” he elaborates. "I know how to put together a DIY tour of UK venues. I have enough connections to do that. I know how to get magazines interested. I know how to do that sort of stuff. But I don't know the logistics of how to distribute a record. I don't know how to get a record done economically. I don't know how to get a song that's been done on my laptop, onto a nicely packaged CD on a rack at HMV. I've not got a clue how to do that. How do I get people to buy that? No idea. So it's just about having a bit of help, that's all.

"Bob Vylan and The Lovely Eggs, they have the ability, the know-how and the expertise to do what they can do. I think that's amazing. Bob Vylan's album doesn't sound like it was recorded in his bedroom. There's a big difference here, because ours does sound like it was recorded in a bedroom. And I'm alright with that. That's totally okay, and that's because I'm not a brilliant mixing engineer. The work that they put in is phenomenal. But I just haven't got that skill set and I haven't got the time to learn everything from scratch to try and get there.”

"Benefits is not about rockstar ego – when we play live, we try to take away some of those cliches and some of those things that you can so easily just fall into. That’s the antithesis of what we're trying to do.”


Whilst Hall may lack the know-how when it comes to mixing a record, there is another area in which he does have some expertise. An avid listener of BBC Radio 2, especially during his time as a factory worker, Hall religiously tuned into Ken Bruce’s morning show for the DJ’s PopMaster quiz section.

“For some reason, [the factory] had just hired emo people, myself slightly included,” laughs Hall. “They’d mainly employed mid-20s emos or people that used to love My Chemical Romance. Around Christmas time, Ken does the PopMaster Champions League. He gets all the best PopMasters from the year and makes them do this impossible Quiz. I’d saved them all up, so we listened to about six solid hours of PopMaster during a 12 hour shift. I wasn't the most popular person in that factory that day, but I was happy.” When Ken Bruce announced he would be stepping away from the radio station and taking his beloved PopMaster with him earlier this year, Hall said he was devastated. “I got in touch with at least three family members and had to talk about it on Twitter quite a lot,” he quips.

Hall is sometimes caught off guard when people compare Benefits to noise or industrial bands who may have inspired their sound, including the likes of Throbbing Gristle. “I kind of just have to do a little nod and say 'maybe, yeah', because the reality is I don't actually know what they're on about,” he explains. “I haven't got a clue. I've never listened to this stuff in my life.”

Imitation is not something that interests Hall anymore, although he admits he’s succumbed to it in the past. “I've been in bands before where I've listened to things and said 'I want us to sound exactly like that,' because I want the success, or the image that they have, but it's just a total waste of time. As I said, one of the points of Benefits is that it's not about rockstar ego. When we play live, we try to take away some of those cliches and some of those things that you can so easily just fall into, like the whole shirt open, doing a Jesus Christ pose in front of the camera, looking sultry etc. That’s the antithesis of what we're trying to do.”

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Benefits will be celebrating the release of NAILS with a UK tour at the end of April, with South London duo Scrounge supporting. The addition of Cat Myers (Texas, Mogwai, Honeyblood) on drums for these shows is something Hall is very excited about. “Cat is cool as fuck,” he insists. “Regardless of the fact that we've got an album coming out, we're not professional musicians. It was powered by passion, not by skill. But Cat is a phenomenal professional drummer. She's added a whole level of goodness to [the live shows]. It’s insane.”

It’s not just Cat’s knockout performance that Hall wants people to see either. Hall desperately wants people not to be “afraid” of a Benefits show. “I'm aware that we can come across as a big noisy mess,” he explains, “but the album, like the live show, is a bit of a mixtape. It's a little bit ramshackle, but it kind of works if you come to see it. It just highlights that vulnerability that I've had, this nervousness and this anxiety. It's about trying to get these people feeling more powerful and get myself feeling more powerful. It's about helping each other out.” As Hall clearly states on the onomatopoeic “THUMP”: “your vulnerability matters”

Hall is grateful to be in a position where he can actively choose artists to support Benefits with a similar ethos, but not necessarily a similar sound. Scrounge, and previous support acts Straight Girl and Arch Femmesis don’t sound anything like Benefits, but their attitudes about changing the status quo are in sync. “It's quite a big deal that we can bring someone with us [on tour] and hopefully get enough people to come and see them as well as us,” Hall says. “I've done this for quite a long time. I'm bored of it and I'm bored of my part in it. I totally understand that although we've got Cat drumming for us, the core of Benefits is heterosexual white men, so I know what this sort of appears as. I want to just try and change that, or at the very least, encourage promoters to shift their thinking and to put something else on. We're not trying to be fucking saviours as I said, but we do what we can.”

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Photo: Jason Hynes

Before Benefits can share their debut record and go on tour however, Hall has something else he needs to celebrate. It’s his daughter’s fourth birthday party at the weekend. “She's very excited,” he shares. “She had her first birthday during lockdown. Look, I'm not one of those people who are going to be like, 'having kids will change your life!' and that sort of stuff. It's not about that. I just look at her and it makes me want to be around a bit longer. I want to make sure that I can be a good Dad, and I can only do that by being healthy.”

As a final comment on NAILS, Hall shares a thought he had earlier in the day: “This stuff took us ages. Absolutely ages. Most of this [record was made] during lockdown when I couldn't go up to Newcastle to see Robbie. He had to send everything down to me, and I'd chop all [the files] together on my computer. But now it feels like it's coming around really quickly. I kind of just want it to stop a bit. I don't know whether I'm going to get to the point where I'm gonna like, properly enjoy it. I want to take it in a little bit, I don't want it to just be rushed.”

NAILS is released on 21 April via Invada; pre-order the vinyl via bandcamp

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