Benny Tipene is a musician who’s put in some hard yards in his home-town, writing original music, supporting local venues and playing gigs in student flats, and he’s a staunch ambassador for the local music scene – something he says needs more support.
There’s more to him than his recent stint on TV3’s local incarnation of X-Factor, that it almost seems dull to bring it up again.
“Oh you can,” Benny says. “If you want the inside scoop, now’s the time to do it.”
There’s no denying his legion of newfound fans would relish an inside scoop from the young man who won their admiration, simply by being himself – although Benny admits there were times when he felt awkward and out of place on telly.
“You like to think that you put your whole heart and soul into a performance, but at the same time, 70 per cent of it wasn’t live,” he says. “What I love doing is the whole live stuff. That’s what music is all about, you know? Taking it to an emotion at a certain point, or not taking it there because you’re not feeling it.”
“So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.”
“The only thing I regret is not enjoying the moment as much as I could have. I should have gone out more, or had that extra beer with Tom, or coaxed Whenua out more, but yeah. Other than that I had a really good time, it was cool.”
“The whole point of being on X-Factor is like, ‘This is me. If you don’t like me you need to vote me off’, you know.” Benny, who came third, says Auckland is probably the next step for him – he “needs to go where the work is”. There’s the EP, tours, and an eventual album on the horizon.
There are some other, just as talented people here.
He’s signed to Sony and has already released his first single under the label. He didn’t write this one – it was to be his winner’s single if he had taken out the competition – but he was given the option to release it and went for it.
“It’s well written, I worked with the guy who wrote it. Yeah it’s a catchy song, and you need those songs to draw people to new music, and that’s the plan.”
“I kind of knew what the music industry was like before I stepped in to the X-Factor. You’re not going to get the glitz and glam of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, because they are in a country that puts them in a position of being celebrities. Here, you sort of need to separate them both.”
“We’re lucky in New Zealand because it’s a really chilled place to live, but there’s still that whole tall poppy syndrome, where it’s like, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t be cool, you can’t be different, you can’t be famous, I’m better than you’, which sucks, but it also means that there’s no mass ‘celebrity-ism’.”
The whole experience, he says, has been worthwhile and he has a lot to give back to New Zealand. Benny’s ready to see what happens next in Auckland.
“I love Auckland, there’s a lot of cool people in Auckland, but I think I’d be an asshole if I grew up there. I was born in Henderson, but I’m thankful for growing up in Palmy. I think there’s an environment here that creates really nice people, genuine people, and really creative people.”
“We make our own stuff to do, we hang out in beautiful spots with our mates and we can push boundaries. Sometimes you think, ‘There’s nothing to do today so I’m just going to try to do something a bit more creative than what I usually do’,” he says.
He’s also a strong advocate for pushing the boundaries further in support of creative people. Benny says Palmerston North is full of emerging talent that could use greater support and encouragement. It’s not an issue he believes is limited to the city, but one that he believes is seeing a drop-off in new artists coming through.
“I’ve been to council meetings – 30 of us sitting there to support funding and investment for The Stomach. It means a lot to the music community here. It’s our base, it’s where lots of us got started.”
When Avalanche City played a free concert in the city earlier this year, he was frustrated that cover bands were chosen to support them instead of original songwriters.
So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.
“It took me `til the finals of X-Factor to actually do a show [with them], whereas there was an opportunity in Palmerston North for somebody to open, and they chose a covers band! The covers bands need to stay in pubs. That’s why they’re covers bands. Imagine the little kid, or like, Sam Morgan, or all those people, there are just so many people out there now, imagine them being like, “Yeah, I opened for Avalanche City and I’m so inspired, and stuff.”
“If the X-Factor thing had not happened, I would still be the same as I was on the show. It’s nice when people say to me, ‘Oh it’s amazing what you can do with your voice and your guitar’ and all that, but I would have been just the same if I wasn’t on the show. TV bumps you up, but I don’t think that people in Palmerston North realise that there are some other, just as talented people here.”
“More people like [young local musicians] Abi Symes and Shayla Armstrong need to play those bigger gigs. When someone like Stan Walker comes to play here, maybe they’ll have someone organised or maybe they won’t, but it should be a platform for a new artist, because if they boost someone like that, it means they can go on to something else. They would be so proud to do that.”