Interview with Cheyenne Benton
By: Dennis M. Kelly
Dennis: Good evening Cheyenne, how are you?
Cheyenne: I’m doing great! I’m so thankful to be chatting with you, I’ve been dreaming about doing interviews like this since I was like 4, so.. this is definitely a cool moment.
Dennis: Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me, I appreciate it! So, your biography starts right off with ‘Untamed, unashamed and unapologetic’, I like it, a very powerful way to define yourself in the most succinct way possible. So, take me back to the beginning, how did the world shape you to become this untamed, unashamed and unapologetic woman chatting with me now? Or, before you answer that, has it been you who has defined yourself in this crazy world we’re living in?
Cheyenne: I think this year has been one of the most transformative years for me personally when it comes to defining who I am. My family has always described me as a very fiery and determined child – my mom specifically would argue I was (and still am) unable to be tamed. With time, I found myself looking more and more to the people around me to define who I was, out of fear that not listening to the opinions of others would make me dogmatic and close minded. The downside to listening to all of the voices is losing sight of who I choose to be in the mix. This year has been really important for me in that sense; I feel like I’ve been working really hard to take back that narrative and really define myself again. And if you ask me – yes, I can be untamed, unashamed and unapologetic in the best ways when I have the confidence to trust my gut.
Dennis: Good for you, it is very easy to lose yourself in a sea of opinions of others and staying focused on the characteristics that define the essence of who you really are is so important and even more so in the music industry. Were your parents artistically inclined and/or supportive in getting you started in music?
Cheyenne: My dad taught me how to play guitar when I was 9 – he actually started me on baritone ukulele and promised me that if I worked hard enough and was serious enough about mastering it, he would buy me a guitar. My dad is the master, he can play just about anything with strings. My mom isn’t musically inclined but she is a very talented seamstress and artist. Both were a bit skeptical about pursuing music as a full time career at first since they had very practical careers – but once they realized how serious I was about it, they really jumped in and embraced it, which I am so thankful for.
Dennis: Sounds like they did a great job in keeping you grounded, yet encouraged you at just the right times when you needed it most. I am so glad to hear it and it has done so well for you already. Do you have brothers or sisters? Are they also creative?
Cheyenne: I have a younger sister – she’s very creative, she sings and writes as well, she also dances and draws. I also have an older brother – he’s very gifted when it comes to electronics and technology, he builds computers. He dabbles in music as well, playing guitar in his free time.
Dennis: Ah, a middle child, eh? Well, it looks like you’ve a wonderful job in defining your own identity even among your siblings. How was school for you growing up, were you a good student?
Cheyenne: I hated school growing up!
DennisL Me too, at least junior high on up, anyway… lol
Cheyenne: lol… But my parents set the bar very high for me – I was always expected to do well in school, nothing less than A’s. I was able to keep that up until around my sophomore year of high school… I kind of burned out and would do my homework in the class before! But I was still pulling As and Bs – with the exception of a C in Algebra 2. I was always very social, I had a good amount of friends and generally stayed out of trouble.
Dennis: Very good to hear… I think these days it is harder to stay focused on school work living in a world with so many distractions all around us. Have you had any music lessons of any kind? If so, what have been the most helpful lessons you learned?
Cheyenne: I’ve had a few. What helped me the most was the few years I spent in musical theatre. I had a few lessons with one of my favorite music directors. One of the most helpful pieces of advice he gave me was to push the ground with my feet when I belt a note and it feels like it’s getting too high – for whatever reason it helps me hold the note. I still do it today.
Dennis: I can’t say that I’ve heard that one before, but if it helps, then that is awesome, you have such a wonderful voice! Your writing influences include lightness, darkness and the fullness of love and with that, how would you sum that up with your amazing debut EP entitled Secrets?
Cheyenne: Ah… that’s quite the question. I think Secrets really just encompasses the spectrum of emotions I experienced going through adolescence; falling in love and losing it, feeling some of my highest highs and my lowest lows, really having to digest the concepts of death and birth and where we go after it’s all said and done. It’s a project I started writing about four years ago before I even really knew what I wanted to do with it.. so it’s a very real, raw part of me. It’s my first professional musical recording so far, and I’m really thankful that I was able to finish it and release it into the world.
Dennis: You can say the EP encompassed a chapter of your life and an important one all defined in a very special and personal EP. Great work! It was released last December, how well has it done for you so far?
Cheyenne: It’s actually done a lot better than I anticipated it would do! A lot of people – both friends and strangers alike – are really enjoying it and finding reliability and solace in it and that’s really rewarding to me as an artist. It’s nowhere near Grammy level obviously, but I think I did a pretty good job for being just a kid out of high school with no label, money, or prior music experience. As long as at least one person can listen and find a piece of themselves in it – then I did my job.
Dennis: With the EP having had time to be out there in the world, has your view on your songs changed in any way; can you look at the songs differently from when they were written?
Cheyenne: Oh, yes. I was told I’d go through something called the artist’s shadow syndrome – which is apparently a period of time of deep analysis after releasing your content out into the world – and its definitely challenged the way I view my work. On some days I’m very critical and hard on myself, feeling I could have done certain things better if I had the knowledge and experience and financial means to do so. But then other days I’m like… hey, this is where I’m at in the process, and it’s ok. I put my whole heart and soul into these songs, and at the end of the day, they are good, and I need to take pride in that and be grateful.
Dennis: Specifically, when were the songs written anyway, if you don’t mind me asking?
Cheyenne: The oldest song on the EP is either VCR Tape or Secrets – I can’t remember which one I wrote first, but I know I wrote Secrets after my grandmother’s passing, which was when I was 15. VCR came shortly after. Angels is the newest song – I wrote that just last year, when I was 18. All of them were written in the span of the last four years.
Dennis: Oh, I am so sorry about your Grandmother’s passing, I know it has been a little while now, but I am still very sorry to hear about that. How do you approach the songwriting process?
Cheyenne: To be honest, it approaches me. Rarely do I ever sit down and say, “You know, I think I’ll write a song today.” It usually just comes. Most of the time I don’t ask for it. And it happens anywhere – sometimes with just a lyric or a melody, and I’ll write it down or run to the bathroom to hum it into my phone. From there it’s just like, finding the beat and the rhythm and the vibe – and it all kind of falls into place.
Dennis: Do you have a solid band? If so, how did you meet them and how do you all work together (inter-dynamically)?
Cheyenne: I do and I don’t. I have studio musicians I worked with for the EP, many of them who I met through my producer Steve. Jarred is my regular drummer for shows though – we are good friends, we met through my manager Sam. Richard is my go to guitarist, but he lives in LA, so we work around his schedule. The rest are either friends or other musicians I have met through gigs or studio time or wherever! I am fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and a lot of the time the right people just seem to stumble onto my path and I’m so grateful for that. Rehearsals are always stellar, it’s rough for the first run through but once we find our groove, it’s like.. cosmic. Playing music with others brings me such joy.
Dennis: How was it recording the EP, how long did it take you to record it and how did you come to choose the specific songs that ended up on the album?
Cheyenne: The recording process from start to finish was about a year. We started with My Heart back in August of 2016, and wrapped the final mixes and masters for all the tracks in November of 2017. I remember back at the beginning of 2017 I had a meeting with my media team and we sat down at Old Cal Coffee and had a discussion about which songs I wanted to put on the EP… I had just gone through a pretty bad breakup and I was really hesitant beforehand about which songs I wanted to choose. Sitting at the table with Sam and Jason (the director for Dead & Gone) – we talked it over and I was kinda like “..Screw it. I’m gonna say whatever I want. Let’s do it.” And we went through and picked the songs that said what I wanted to say most.
Dennis: One thing I have to compliment you on is how professionally you present yourself, or, your brand even. From your website, to your EP, to your videos and even the promo video you put together for your feature for us and how beautifully you dress, it makes a big difference overall and demonstrates how classy and serious you are in your career and your talent just really seals the deal; you ARE the real deal all the way around and everything you’re already doing, is right on track. And with that, how would you define, or classify yourself as an artist, not by your influences or genre, but who you, yourself is as an artist and the brand you’re building and crafting now?
Cheyenne: Wow, this means so much to me, thank you so much! Presentation is everything to me. I’ve always admired artists who tell a story with their look and their music and really build a cohesive image – and I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I could talk. Seriously. As an artist I would say I am the most raw, authentic version of myself, while simultaneously being my most exaggerated caricature. I just want to be someone for young people (especially young women) to look to and to inspire. I feel like there is so much going on in this world, so much violence and negativity and so many issues we face, and through all of that darkness I really just want to embody light. I want to build not just a career, but a community – I want to bring people together. And I really want to unite women. I want to spread love and leave that legacy.
Dennis: God bless you for that, you are already so inspirational, keep it up and yes, we all need to stay positive and lift each other up on both the good days and the bad days; to be there for one another and not tear each other down. I mentioned videos a moment ago, tell me about your music videos, the latest of which is entitled ‘Dead & Gone’, correct?
Cheyenne: Yes! We filmed Dead & Gone back in August of 2017 and completed it in November. Jason Gonzales filmed, edited, and directed it along with my friend Mikayla Palmer who helped co direct. It was such an incredible experience, I learned so much and had such a blast on set.
Dennis: How long did it take you and BTS Video to put it all together and how did you come to work with BTS Video in the first place?
Cheyenne: Everyone told me it was such a fun experience and I was so glad to hear that they had as much fun as I did. After we wrapped the final shots in October, it took Jason a few weeks to edit everything. After a few revisions it was ready to go around the first week of December. The Behind the Scenes video was shot by my good friend and photographer Micaela Fernandes and that took a few weeks for her to edit. I added the final touches and we decided to release it when Dead & Gone reached a thousand views.
Dennis: Did the video match the mood of the song the way you had hoped?
Cheyenne: Honestly, it was my pastel fever dream come to life. I was so nervous in the beginning but it came out even better than I had hoped. There were a few bumps along the way and some scenes that wound up differently than I initially imagined them in my head, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was so happy.
Dennis: How often do you get to play out?
Cheyenne: I try to play out as often as I can, my band is all over the place right now but we have an upcoming show at the San Diego County Fair this summer which I’m getting excited for.
Dennis: Have you had any memorable fan reactions/responses that have been as impacting for you as well?
Cheyenne: My favorite reactions are the little kids. I love when kids come up to me to take pictures or talk, or when they dance and sing along to my music. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I used to see people on stage – I wanted to jump up there and sing too! So it’s just very special to me to have those moments.
Dennis: Have you performed outside of California as yet?
Cheyenne: With a full band, not yet. But touring live is the next on my bucket list. I’d love to get booked to do some bigger festivals and shows and to travel. That is my dream. I know I’ll get there eventually – I’m having a hard time being patient!
Dennis: It is completely understandable, but with talent like yours, it will happen before you know it. I know you’re not as active on Twitter, but have you found social media to be a good thing for your career as well as society in general?
Cheyenne: Twitter is my least favorite of the wormholes, because I love to talk and 121 characters or less (or however many) just isn’t enough for me.
Dennis: They did increase the character count, but yes, for some reason, it doesn’t seem as ‘social’ compared with other social media sites.
Cheyenne: I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love that it connects me to anyone and everyone around the world. I think it is such a useful tool and has helped tremendously in the world of music and entertainment. However, at times it is just exhausting. I have a bad habit of constantly comparing myself to others on my Instagram feed, and falling into the rabbit hole of worry and self doubt. I just have to tell myself I’m human first and foremost, and that what you see on social media isn’t always what’s real off the screen.
Dennis: Eh, like with Instagram… (my personally?), I wouldn’t worry about any of that, in the sense that it is more the images of what you feel is relatively important to you at that moment… so, it could be anything from deeply important people and places to what you had for dinner last night… not such a biggie (in my humble opinion) and to further that… we have a Chicago Music Guide Instagram and I have a personal instagram… I never even post much of anything on either that much… with my personal account, I just never feel that anything I see or do would be of interest to anyone anyway… I am kind of a boring (homebody) kind of person anyway.. lol. So, what do you have planned for the rest of 2018?
Cheyenne: I’d love to jump back into the studio and start working on something new. I want to take a new direction with my music, because I feel like I’ve changed so much this past year alone. I want to book some more live shows. And write more. And (fingers crossed) get booked to do a small tour. And some other surprises… we will see.
Dennis: Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Cheyenne: Winning a Grammy! Realistically… living in a small studio apartment with a cat and some nice house plants. Pursuing music full time. Having at least one album that’s doing very well. Hopefully signed to a great label that treats me well. But most importantly, happy.. and at peace with myself.
Dennis: What are some other, non-musical interests of yours?
Cheyenne: Aliens! Ghosts! Not even kidding. I watch too many episodes of Ghost Adventures. But in all honesty, I’m actually a really spiritual person.. I’m figuring it all out. But I love the other side. I also really love people. I’m very interested in the human mind, human nature, and just humanity in general. I enjoy exploring and adventuring. And listening to people tell their stories.
Dennis: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers today?
Cheyenne: I just want to thank anyone who is reading this, because it really means the absolute world to me. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me and caring enough to listen to my story. And I hope you can take something positive and uplifting away from this.
Dennis: Thank you so much for taking the time with me today, you really are very talented and I look forward to seeing great things from you in the coming years ahead!
Cheyenne: Thank you so much, Dennis!!!
Dennis: You’re most welcome Cheyenne, all the best to you!
Biography: Untamed, unashamed, and unapologetic – three adjectives that describe the alternative world’s next big breakout artist – Cheyenne Benton. Breaking the rules and marching to the beat of her own drum, it’s quite difficult to sort Cheyenne’s unique sound into a specific category. Her melodic blend of modern acoustic styles combined with a nostalgic call to the distant yesteryears fractures the idea that great music can only be found in one genre.
“I’m a storyteller first,” she affirms, speaking of her genuinely relatable, sometimes heart-wrenchingly honest song lyrics. An old soul at heart, Cheyenne has never shied away from living her truth.
“I think the most important part of the songwriting process is being able to tell a good story. Everything after that just sort of comes. I am only the vessel.”