Dance producer Beni Haze: "I'm going to be myself. I'm a white nerdy kid who's legally blind"
Up-and-coming producer Beni Haze has been a fixture in certain areas of the music scene for a while now; although you might not necessarily recognize his name in conjunction with dance music (that'll change soon, we'd wager), he played keyboard in Pnuma Trio with Paper Diamond's Alex B., and he's most recently been seen in Mansions on the Moon with Pnuma Trio's Lane Shaw, plus Ted Wendler and Jeff Maccora.
Haze explores the intersection between glitch-heavy dance music and hip-hop, and the tracks he's released so far (with such luminaries as Juicy J and Pusha T) have gotten plenty of nods. This Saturday, Haze will be at the Fillmore alongside PANTyRAiD, Kastle and Ana Sia, and we caught up with him in advance and talked about his move to a more solo gig, the progression from keyboard to production work and where he sees his career going.
Westword: Tell me a little bit about how you first came into the production game -- what did that career path look like for you?
Beni Haze: I started producing back when I was with Pnuma Trio that has Alex from Paper Diamond and my drummer from Mansions on the Moon -- the band that I'm in right now -- and so we were in the electronic scene, and I kind of started producing as we were doing that whole movement, when Sound Tribe and all those guys were going in, and Pretty Lights had just started, Big Gigantic and things like that. So not ancient history yet, but I'm on my way.
What drove you to pick music as a career to begin with?
My inability to focus in college and make grades that were passing! I think just pure destiny -- I'm trying to think of an eloquent way of saying this without sounding stupid. I tried the going-to-school thing but was really passionate about music in high school. I went to this prep school in Asheville, and convinced the principal at the time to have us be the first pep band they ever had so I didn't have to play baseball.
From that moment and that hustle, I realized that some damage could be done, not to mention that school was amazing; they took me to shows every weekend and exposed us to different types of music. I had some amazing teachers there.
Then Alex, Lane and I started Pnuma Trio, and we toured all over the world. I was the keyboardist. We were signed to Columbia. And now Lane Shaw and myself are active members in Mansions on the Moon, and Alex is doing Paper Diamond.
It seems like there are a lot of producers who started off with a background playing keyboard or piano; can you talk about that?
I definitely had an edge having some background and practice playing the keyboards, knowing chords and all that stuff obviously helps. I definitely encourage people who want to start producing to get a little familiar with the keyboard because it's kind of the brain for everything else. For me, in sessions, my forte is I can come up with a song and write a progression or melody quickly.
Because the music I've been doing and performing live for the last decade of my life, a lot of it has had improvisational elements, so I've always had to kind of think on the spot to make music that's appealing to people. I don't know if that's somehow how it correlates to the studio, but being able to play keys is definitely an advantage, and something I sincerely enjoy teaching people to play. And it's not as hard as people think it will be.
And what led to your decision to start doing a more solo-oriented act?
My band and my heart and soul, Mansions on the Moon -- I was touring with them and acting as a live keyboardist, and due to health issues, I had to take a step back from being on the road six weeks at a time and kind of just make a health decision. So it was kind of just like, this is something that I have to do right now.
I have been making music for a really long time, whether through Timbaland's studio or the Neptunes' studio, I've always been making music and collecting a stash for quite a while. That's what led me to start releasing these tracks. The Pusha T track that was released -- I'm not even going to say how long ago that was recorded.
I've been sitting on and hoarding music. This allows me to put out music and be collaborative with people who have an already respected audience and allow me to go play shows on the weekends. I had to make...not by any means a separation from my band at all, just on a touring level, being out six weeks is not something I can do with my health right now.
Well, it seems like that unfortunate event is working out for you in some way.
I'm content and super happy, and the guys in Mansions on the Moon are extremely supportive, and we're making an awesome album right now, which has been a main focus. These tracks have been getting tweaked recently, as more people have been paying attention, but I'm really excited about the stuff that I've been producing with the guys in my group and in my band, even as I've got a lot of awesome Beni Haze music coming out.
My heart and soul is with my band and my best friends, and it's going to be an epic album. I can say that it's going to be, in my mind, a game-changer, and I'm really proud of the body of work. I'm excited about all the music that's about to come out, and the artists I'm working with.
What should people expect from your live show?
I'm going to be myself. I'm a white nerdy kid who's legally blind, and I will be dancing harder than the people in the audience -- maybe, but maybe not. It'll be a dance-off. I'm going to just bring my entire self and everything that comes along with it and make the floor shake if they turn it up loud enough.
Where do you see yourself going, musically speaking, in the future? Are there any big goals or stages you want to hit?
I hope that people just recognized a unified sound. I don't spend a lot of time listening to outside music besides what I'm working on with my band or what producers submit because I'm still trying to develop this other side. I would say that as far as where I'm trying to go, it'd just be 100 percent original.
And if it works out, like XXL magazine said -- being a potential perfect blend or whatever the hell they said about crossing over EDM and hip-hop and making it mainstream -- if that's what I'm supposed to do, then that's what'll happen. I'm just making music with artists that I really love and that I love and not trying to please anybody, except the friends who are kicking it with me. I just try to keep it real all the time.
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