Thursday, June 18, 2009

Declan Bennett: Living the Dream

One of the many beautiful things about New York City is at any given moment you may cross paths with the most intriguing, delightful person. Such was the case recently at Rockwood Music Hall, where I had the pleasure of being introduced to Declan Bennett, a British singer-songwriter whose envious resume covers all facets of the music industry. A warm reception and honest enthusiasm for conversation simply adds to the enormous talent that resides humbly in this distinctly exceptional artist.

At age 16 Declan Bennett left school and moved to London to pursue music, a dream that took a wild turn two years later when Warner Music signed him to the pop/rock group "Point Break." The band released five Top 20 Singles, produced an album, toured the world for two years, and appeared on the hit British TV show "Top of the Pops," a regular Friday night program that showcased a countdown of the Top 50 songs of the week. Wrapped in this whirlwind life, Declan found solace writing his own music while on the road, exploring songs more personal and conversational, so when the time came for a second album he declined. "I just thought, 'I'm done, I've got nothing left in me,'" Declan said, a look of truth dashing through his eyes. "I had my time and I enjoyed it but I have to go and do my own thing."

Transitioning from a pop star with screaming fans to working in a dingy cafe was humbling for Bennett, but did not stop this focused young musician. Continuing to write and play out London's acoustic scene, Declan built a fan base from scratch and has kept it growing since age 20. Fortune fell once again soon after, getting discovered by Boy George and cast in the London hit "Taboo" at the historic West End Theatre. Establishing a positive relationship with the icon proved beneficial, as Declan became the opening act on several gigs and was often promoted by George himself on TV appearances.

Bennett's stand-out performance in "Taboo" caught the eye of a casting director from RENT in New York, finally bringing this gorgeous talent to our city streets. Joining the cast of RENT as Roger, the struggling singer-songwriter, Declan went on tour with the show first before starring on Broadway from September 2007-May 2008.

Undeterred by an exploding career and well-deserved recognition, Bennett chose not to abandon his singer-songwriter roots. "I never stopped doing my music," Declan explains, "Despite diverting at times into theatre it was always really important to me to not just do [theatre] and forget my music. It was a vehicle for me to expose myself to a new audience."

That attitude is precisely why Declan has transitioned so well into the New York scene, a city he finds both stimulating and accepting in ways London can't compare. Shifting from RENT to the singer-songwriter scene was a challenge in overcoming the music industry's pre-conceived notion of Broadway stars and solo albums, but Bennett succeeded and did so with integrity. Crediting the cast of RENT as a strong support system, it was these friends who filled Googie's Lounge at Declan's first NY acoustic show to cheer him on. "You guys are so vocal here," he laughs, revealing why New York is his favorite city to play. "If you enjoy something you just let a big whoomp out!"

Now preparing to head out west for a role in Green Day's brand new punk-rock opera, based on the "American Idiot" album, Declan is kissing the city goodbye for a few months to take on rehearsals and performances. Previews start September 4 for the innovative debut, which Bennett describes as a "crazy, abstract, physical opera."

Fear not however, the smooth, sensual songwriter will be back on NY turf in no time, bursting out new tunes and exploring unique and cutting-edge sounds. In previous songwriting, Bennett always produced the lyrics first, tending to the instruments after to pull out a melody. More recently, Declan found himself artistically gravitating towards the instrumental side of the process, searching for new sources of inspiration.

Growing up it was strong powerful females who drew emotion out of Declan; songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Alanis Morrissette, Jewel and the Indigo Girls. "I should have been a lesbian!" laughter erupted, then turned serious. "It was their lyrics, their honesty that blew me away more than anything." Lately Bennett finds himself listening to an incredibly eclectic range of music that encompasses everything from house music to electric-rock.

The worldly musician reveals, "Music to me is a very emotional experience. It doesn't matter if it's some crazy track in the middle of the club at 4 AM and this insane baseline kicks in, or if I'm sitting in a tiny little acoustic cafe and there's a girl on a guitar and I'm falling in love with her lyrics."

Planning to return to the New York scene at the end of the Green Day run, Declan has grown to feel at home in the condensed community. The summer following RENT Bennett truly immersed himself in the singer-songwriter circles, playing more gigs and meeting fellow artists like Brent Shuttleworth, exposing him to additional networking opportunities. By making music the main focus, Declan finally felt able to penetrate the scene and meet others with similar talents and goals.

While it may only be a few years since Declan Bennett first arrived on US soil, the extraordinary depth and diversity in his music, a piercingly beautiful voice and a giving heart will ensure his place in the New York scene for decades to come. If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing a Declan Bennett performance make sure you seek it out. It's one of the finest gifts England has ever given America.

Declan Bennett will be performing this Sunday, June 21 as part of the Time Out Make Music New York Festival:


1PM - 405 W 23RD ST (BETWEEN 9TH AND 10TH)
2PM - 9 E 13TH ST (just below union square)
3PM - 141 Waverly Place
4PM - 6PM Extended set at ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL! With Stephanie Nilles and Brent Shuttleworth

For more information on Declan visit,, or become a fan at

To read about the new Green Day rock opera Declan is starring in, check out this link to Rolling Stone.

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