Over the five years he’s been releasing music, Benedict Cork has supported Adam Lambert, played to a packed Hyde Park and amassed over 300,000 monthly Spotify listeners – and now he’s finally set to release his first LP.
“I really enjoyed doing EPs because you can play around with sounds and genres,” reflects the singer-songwriter. “With an album, it’s a statement – like your first novel or your first movie or something – but with EPs you can dance around a little bit.”
He’s definitely kept moving; Cork’s first solo release, 2018’s ‘Piano Tapes’, was recorded at Red Gate Recorders in Eagle Rock, California and attracted the attention of Elton John, who called him “sensational” and “a name to look out for”, after which he launched a residency at London’s Fiction Studios in 2019, the same year he appeared at the city’s British Summer Time festival,, supporting Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie.
What seemed like an overnight success was the product of years of working in London piano bars, after he left school and relocated to the capital with a dream of making music. “That’s how I was able to survive in London,” he laughs. “I shared a room with my friend – two beds in the same room – and she was an actress, so we were like, ‘We’re gonna make this work’. She’d go off to auditions and I’d play the piano bars at night, and that was my bread and butter for two or three years.”
When he began to branch out and collaborate with other up-and-coming musicians, Cork found himself a manager and soon landed a publishing deal. “That’s when I started really thinking hard, like ‘I really want to do this as an artist and put out my own stuff’,” he smiles..
For years, he’d been writing material but had shied away from showing anybody: “Even when I left school and I said to my parents that I wanted to be a musician, I did it in a way that was a bit like, ‘Oh, I just want to try this’ – when actually, deep down, I’ve always loved music and I’ve always wanted to sing songs and play shows.”
It’s been a therapy of sorts for the singer-songwriter, whose lyrics cover subjects from mental health and sexuality to life in the public eye during the digital age. But the origins of his very first song weren’t so profound; after being snubbed from the guest list of his friend’s birthday party, the then-15-year-old penned his first track, The Girl With The Coldest Eyes. “I sang it at gigs for three or four years afterwards and it was so dramatic – like something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical,” he laughs. “It was really bad – I’ve found clips of it since and it’s just as bad as you’d think it might be!”
The themes may have progressed but Cork’s desire to write from a personal angle has remained constant; so in 2021, when he released his ‘Secrets I’ll Never Tell’ EP, the project was accompanied by a series of podcasts by the same name, featuring frank and open conversations with several collaborators including Adam Lambert, MNEK and Duncan Laurence.
“It was during lockdown and I was here on my own, very bored, and when I’m bored I get quite sad,” he recalls. “I had this collection of songs that was finished and they were going to be put out, but I wanted to do something special that went alongside it. I realised that, because it was lockdown, people I’ve met over the years who are normally super busy were also just sitting in their houses bored, so I reached out to them and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this podcast miniseries, would you mind having a phone call with me?’ And that’s how I put it together.”
The initial release consisted of seven episodes, with Cork compelled to put together a bonus edition after hearing from fans online who were happy to share their own stories. “That was actually the most rewarding one, because when you’re releasing songs or releasing a podcast you don’t know if anyone’s ever gonna listen to it,” he admits, “so to hear these really personal stories from people was actually really beautiful. It made a very boring and sad time quite fun!”
When the world opened up, he was ready to dive into writing and recording songs for what will be his first album, due in 2024, which brings together the sounds he’s dabbled in over the past half-decade – plus some new influences too. “I love people like Tom Odell, Maggie Rogers and Kacey Musgraves, but then I also love Tove Lo, Charli XCX and Dagny – I love Scandi pop – so it’s kind of like meshing them all into my own little melting pot of musical stuff.”
Another track he namechecks is Cornelia Jakobs’ 2022 Eurovision entry, Hold Me Closer, but would the brother of the UK’s 2018 entrant, SuRie, ever make his own bid for ESC victory? “It wasn’t even on my radar until she did it, but that year we went and watched it and I got so caught up in the atmosphere – it’s insane, but amazing,” he grins. “I don’t know if I’d ever do it myself, just because it’s just such a big undertaking – it’s bigger than the Super Bowl, you’re performing to 150 million people! Right now, my sole focus is getting the album out and enjoying that, because it’s been almost two years in the making now, but never say never – talk to me in five years’ time and who knows where I’ll be…”
Singing for Europe might not be on his immediate to-do list, however writing for the West End is more within his sights. “This week I’ve been working with a theatre writer called Katie Arnstein and it’s been the most liberating thing ever,” he says. “I love pop music so much, but sometimes you go into a pop session and they want it to be three and a half minutes, it can’t have this chord or these lyrics are too honest. But we’ve just been throwing out random shit and it’s been so fun.
“So one day – not any day soon, because I’m a little busy right now – I’d like to write a musical with somebody. I don’t know who, but it’d be a vibe!”
Soulmates is out now. Benedict Cork’s debut album is due in 2024.