Island-born songwriter Charlotte Rose Benjamin recently self-released her debut album “Dreamtina” — a medley of moody, provocative, grungy glitz captured aptly on hot pink vinyl.
The album is Benjamin’s introduction into the modern-day indie sphere, which is filled with talented and passionate young artists looking to brand their music with their own unique style and perspective.
In “Dreamtina,” Benjamin takes the ebullience and the sadness surrounding young romance (usually drawing from her own experiences, she says) and picks out subtle (and more overt) phrases jotted in her notepad as her mind wanders during long train rides and days spent strolling through the streets of Brooklyn.
“I wish I wrote more. I spend a lot of time walking around the city or sitting in a car or on a plane. I’ll get an idea that I think is funny or interesting, and I will write it down,” Benjamin told The Times during a phone call. “Once I’ve collected enough little ideas and thoughts, and I feel like it’s been too long since I’ve written a song, I will force myself to sit down with a guitar and play with chord progressions and just try to fit all those little thoughts into a melody.”
Some songs from the album, like “Satisfied,” are based on true stories and literal experiences that Benjamin documents after they happen. Some songs she writes in an afternoon, while others are compiled over days or weeks of dormant rumination.
Perfectly on par with the many quirky and relatable tracks, Benjamin said she named the album “Dreamtina” after a chimera of herself — a perfect version of Charlotte Rose Benjamin who struts with effortless confidence and poise, and makes all the neighborhood boys’ jaws drop.
“It’s basically the word I use to represent this alter ego that is just perfect in every way. I’ve been toying with how to put it into one sentence, but I think it’s really a study on wanting to be desirable, and just navigating my identity through romantic relationships,” Benjamin said.
As far back as Benjamin can recall, she has been smitten with boys — an obvious theme of the album that manifests in insecure and sometimes bratty lyrical admissions like “I hope you wanna die every time I look beautiful online/ Hope you hear my name reverberate like ringing bells stuck in your mind,” from the song “Satisfied.”
“Since I was 13 years old, I have been boy-crazy. Boys make me feel crazy,” Benjamin laughed. She added that writing music enables her to express certain thoughts and emotions like this that she would normally keep buried, a motif of the indie genre that gives artists the opportunity to be truly honest, and connect deeply to listeners.
Benjamin first found indie music when she was a kid. She connected with the edgy and weird lyrics and sounds, much more so than the conventional tunes she would hear blasting over her parents’ radio. She was immediately enthralled. “I felt understood by these indie songwriters, because it was weird music, and I had always felt like a weirdo,” Benjamin said. “That’s what I want to do with my music — I want people to feel understood, heard, and seen.”
During middle school, Benjamin discovered some female indie artists that got her thinking about all the different methods of making music apart from the conventional. “I was really excited about Kate Nash, Lily Allen, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow — they were all doing something different,” Benjamin said. “I think the first music you listen to and connect with when you are a kid definitely informs what your taste and style will be like for your whole life.” She added that one of the first CDs she had when she was little was a Sheryl Crow album.
Benjamin has always been passionate about music and creative expression. Her father, Mike Benjamin, is a local musician, and her mother, Sandra Stone-Benjamin, is a dancer, so there was always music around the house when she was little. Even when Benjamin was very young, her folks welcomed every opportunity for her to show her innate talent. “When I was 2 or 3 years old, we would go to a restaurant, they would put me on a table and have me sing. I would just do it. I was really shy when I was a kid, but I was always ready to sing in front of people,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin would often concoct her own songs as a kid and perform them for her parents (and any other onlookers) with confidence and poise, although in most instances, she says, she was a pretty reserved child.
It was always Benjamin’s dream to be a songwriter, but a career as a musician seemed out of reach until she dropped out of college and moved to New York City to form her own band with a few close friends. After about two years of embedding herself in the local music scene, Benjamin began to make connections and gain traction with other artists and folks involved in music. At first, Benjamin said, she was starting to stagnate as she waited for that big break to come. It wasn’t until she took the personal initiative to market herself and get her name out there that she found solid ground in the music industry. “I realized that I could just do this all by myself, and it would slowly build,” Benjamin said.
After more than five years of living in New York, Benjamin has solidified herself in the performance and songwriting scene, and all it took was a little gumption on her part, and some support from her friends and family. “You have to prove yourself a little bit and spend some time getting momentum and gaining a little bit of a following in the city. Now I’m at a place where I feel like I’m almost a senior in high school in the music scene in New York; it’s filled with all of my best friends, and it’s just a ton of fun,” Benjamin said.
While living in the city, Benjamin learned about modeling from some friends of hers who were making good money doing photo shoots here and there, and wanted to try it out for herself. Although she doesn’t consider it a central passion of hers, Benjamin said modeling earns her a paycheck, and she particularly enjoys all the clothes she gets to wear. “I definitely love clothes, and I feel passionate about style. I don’t really care about designers or staying on top of that kind of stuff, so I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘fashion.’ Modeling is not my favorite thing to do at all, and I don’t usually get cool jobs because I’m short,” she laughed.
But Benjamin’s modeling career allows her to live the life she loves, and make the music she loves to make. A modeling job she landed last year for Ralph Lauren funded the creation of the entire “Dreamtina” album.
Now, she’s signed with a new booking agent, and is hoping to make a “Dreamtina” tour happen in the near future. She will soon be playing a show in Los Angeles, and is looking forward to traveling more as her debut album circulates.
“I feel so lucky that I’m almost living this dream life in the city now, surrounded by all my friends and the people that got me to where I am,” Benjamin said. “The album is something I’m so proud of, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Head to charlotterosebenjaminmusic.com to purchase vinyls and find out more information about the album.