Interview: BenZel Talks Their Sock Obsession, Cats, and Wanting to Marry Diplo

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BenZel came out of nowhere, in the best way possible. Three months ago, the duo released a song with the goddess Jessie Ware, a cover of Brownstone’s ’90s ballad, “If You Love Me.” A month later, they uploaded their “Fallin’ Love” song to Soundcloud, and a video followed on January 2, 2013. In short, they’ve had the Internet wondering, “Who are these guys? Are they guys? They are so good! What is going on? I was failing at life when I was 15! Are they really 15?”

According to their Soundcloud profile, BenZel is 15-year-old Umi Takahashi and 16-year-old Yoko Watanabe, who met online and connected through a love of socks and J. Dilla. After seeing their tweet exchanges with Diplo, Ryan Hemsworth, and Hudson Mohawke, we had to get in touch, if only to say CONGRATS and WE LOVE YOU. The only problem is that they’re still in school and have no time to meet IRL. So, we did the interview over email. It turns out, their masked stage appearance carries over to their mysterious interviews, but nonetheless, they are an endlessly fascinating entity in music who are poised to blow up the minute their EP is released. Get ready for BenZel.

Are you signed to a record label? You said on Twitter that you’re releasing the EP yourselves.
We feel like we are just having fun making music, and we are not worried where it will take us.

How did you two meet? Was it really online and through a love of socks?
We met on an online sock forum, and we both were obsessed with different socks and patterns. We then tried to come up with a hypoallergenic ankle sock that still looked cool!!! We didn’t have success in that, but we started hanging out at school, and then we started messing around with music programs, and then we blacked out, and here we are today! Ha!

How did you connect with Jessie Ware for “If You Love Me”? She seems like she’s been one of your biggest supporters so far.
We sent her the idea over the Internet!!! We had NOOOOOOO idea she would actually respond, let alone do it!!! That was crazy to us!!! We are forever in love with her and bffs!!! Xaphoon Jones just did a remix that we heart so much!!!

You really love cats and bright, neon colors. How did this aesthetic become a part of your on-stage appearance and artwork?
Although our music is really mature, we are still just kids who sit in our room together all day and watch cat videos online, while tripping out to Dexter Wansel and hoping our RAs don’t smell the pot coming from our room. HAHA!

You had your first show in Los Angeles in late January. When’s your next one? What is the live BenZel show like?
We are planning one in NYC around the release of our EP. A BenZel show definitely has tons of energy, smoke, kitties, lights, bass, and grooving! Our goal is just to bring you back to the ’90s (but more so us because we were barely alive then)!!! HA!

How did you decide on the name BenZel?
Our cat told us to!

Is it difficult to balance school with a career in music?
At first doing the music was just a hobby, but after people really started getting into our sound, it has become harder to concentrate on school!!! No one at our school gets it though! They all watch like VH1 and listen to Taylor Swift. HA!

What’s up with the ankle socks?
We wanna make socks with our names on them and pass them out at concerts!

What was it like to meet Diplo? You did a mix for Diplo and Friends, right?
Meeting Diplo was INSANE!!! We got to play him all our music and hang out at his studio and listen to what he is up to!!! We love his music (and him too). We secretly wanna marry him!!! Yes, we did a mini mix for his radio show; it was kind of surreal, because we stream that show every week!!!!

Are you also making music with Ryan Hemsworth and Hudson Mohawke?
We have been doing a few collaborations for our EP!

Why do you wear masks onstage?
Mystique.

Who made the “Fallin’ Love” video? Did you come up with that concept of kids just being free and having fun in a bedroom? Do you plan to make more videos?
Haley Wollens made the video! She is incredible!!! She came up with the concept of making it feel really youthful and have a New York City grit to it at the same time.

How did you connect with Cashmere Cat and Velour to remix “Fallin’ Love”?
We met them on Chat Roulette.

Do Androids Dance?
No, we only harlem shake!

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