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Interview: 2021 Must-Know - Ai Bendr

Interview: 2021 Must-Know - Ai Bendr

"I'm super passionate about music and songs in general, and how a certain note or chord can convey a specific emotion or vibe," says 18-year-old Ai Bendr (full name: Chioma Ai Bendors Ilozor), reflecting on her interest in music production, which transpired in breakout single, 'Love Me Low' - written and self-recorded during lockdown due to Covid-19 last year, and recently featured in the HBO show 'Euphoria' during a key scene between main protagonists Jules and Rue. She concludes, "I got into production because my whole life I’ve loved music and making songs."

Ai is enthusiastic about her craft, and deep dives into the topic of songwriting: "To me, a great musician is very fluent in music as a language, which means that they are able to start with an emotion or a story and then create or find the perfect sounds and words to match it, so musicians are really just translators of emotions. A great musician needs to understand how certain sounds and chords feel, so when they make songs they can strongly convey one specific emotion to your listener, so whatever the listeners feel when they listen to your song, they feel it strongly." And as evidenced in her own songs, Ai is in tune with her feelings, showcasing an earnest and empathetic understanding that belies her youth.

MUST-LISTEN: 'Love Me Low' and 'Runaway'.
YOU WILL LIKE, IF YOU LIKE: Gracie Abrams, Olivia Rodrigo, Alessia Cara, Carlie Hanson, Charlotte Lawrence, Sody... and investing emotionally into the relationship of Rue and Jules on 'Euphoria'.

COUP DE MAIN: Do you have any favourite memories of your childhood in Australia? At what age did you move to Michigan?
AI BENDR:
I moved away from Australia when I was very, very young, maybe one or two years old, so I really don’t remember a whole lot. However, parts of my childhood were definitely influenced by my parents' experiences living in Australia. For example, fairy bread was a lunch food staple growing up in my house, also whenever I make burgers for my mom I specifically make her a burger with the lot - it’s her favourite thing that I make for her when I'm home :)

CDM: I read that you'd gotten into music school and been planning to major in music and technology. Why are you interested in production? How did you get into production?
AI:
Honestly, production and song creation has always been the main thing that I’ve been into, not necessarily singing. I’ve never been in a choir or taken any sort of voice lessons, and growing up my family was really not supportive of any of my singing endeavours. My singing especially got on my siblings' nerves because apparently to them I used to be SO bad and I would sing all the time even after they told me to quit - which I find very funny. But I wouldn’t say I’m super passionate about singing. Rather, I’m super passionate about music and songs in general, and how a certain note or chord can convey a specific emotion or vibe. Throughout my childhood, I learned how to play various different instruments, not because I was fascinated by each of the instruments, but because I wanted another device to make songs with - I’m an avid songmaker is what I would say. So, naturally, I was very attracted to music production. The computer has an infinite amount of sounds, which means there is an infinite number of songs waiting to be made. All in all, I got into production because my whole life I’ve loved music and making songs.  

CDM: What was going through your mind while writing your song 'Runaway'?
AI:
'Runaway' is basically a pretty description of this stressful, anxious emotion I was feeling during the summer. I was feeling very stuck - the kind of stuck that is impossible to escape, and sometimes that made me really yearn to just disappear or fly away to some other earth. When I wrote 'Runaway', I was at the beach with my ukulele, strumming chords and reflecting on this stressful emotion I had, and as I stared off into the sun I wished that I could be there instead of the earth, and that’s basically what the song is. In the song, I said, "There’s a man on the moon, he’s always there for me when I am feeling blue," to create the image of an abjectly sad person looking up at the moon, wishing to be there. I sang, "He says run away into the sun I’ll surrender all my love it’s all for you," to point out how strongly the urge is to leave the earth; it’s so strong that the moon is talking to me. "Everyone loves a game, brace yourself now for the pain of when you lose," is me referencing 'the game' of life, which can be so fun until you’re on the losing end and then it can feel so bad. The chorus I wanted to sound almost like sirens from the ocean calling you in (just in case you aren’t aware of Greek mythology: sirens are mystical mermaid-like creatures that live in the sea, and when they see ships they start to sing to them, and sirens have such a beautiful voice that mortal sailors cannot help but turn their ships towards their call, but although their voices are so mesmerisingly beautiful, sirens have malicious intent, the call of the sirens is actually leading the hypnotised sailors to harsh rocks that will lead to their shipwreck, then their deaths, and then dinner for the sirens), telling you to "take off your sweater in this hot weather, burning up just looking over there at you," by which they are suggesting you do the thing that you are yearning so much to do, and that is “runaway, runaway, runaway.” That was a long and wordy explanation, but that is the honest meaning behind the song.

CDM: 'Love Me Low' is really pure and heartfelt. What does 'love' mean to you?
AI:
Love is such a complex thing to me, I really think there should be more words that define all the different types of love that you can feel. All kinds of love though, are really just things that make you feel happy again, whether that be a person or an activity or an object. To me, loving someone means you value their happiness, so when two people love each other it can become a whole happy-fest. 'Love Me Low' is a sad song because it’s about having to say goodbye to some person you love. Goodbyes to people you love are so tough because you simultaneously feel grateful that you got to experience life together with this person and sad because you are giving up the thing that makes you feel so happy, and all any human really wants is to feel happy. In 'Love Me Low' I tried to convey that grateful and sad feeling that comes with goodbyes.

CDM: What was it like for you hearing 'Love Me Low' played in a show you love, 'Euphoria'?
AI:
Absolutely insane. I actually remember watching the show for the first time ever with the person who I wrote 'Love Me Low' about which is so funny. I really like 'Euphoria', and I don’t even watch or like that many shows, so when I first found out my song was going to be featured I was so SO happy. Seeing it was used in the show was so cool. I felt so special that Jules was chilling in her room listening to MY SONG haha. The scene that it was used in broke my heart, and I feel so honoured that I could help make that scene what it is in a way that I can!

CDM: How does your songwriting process work?
AI:
Usually starts with a walk. All my songs I have some connection with, whether I tie it to an experience or an emotion I’ve felt. I think meaningful music really starts like that, with an experience/story or an emotion, and an artist’s job is to find the right words and perfect chords to match. What I do is I’ll go on a walk (or I’ll take a shower or some light activity that I can do while meditating), so that I can be reflective on my life experiences and get in touch with my emotions, and then usually from there a tune will find it’s way to my mind and I’ll go from there.

CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
AI:
When I write songs they usually come out already in the form of a tune, but I also love writing and reading poetry! To me, although they are similar, songwriting and poetry-writing call for quite different elements. In songwriting, artists should take into account musicality - like the way certain syllables and words sound next to each other, not just the meaning of the words being said, and how it makes you feel. Although, of course, there are some poems that can easily become fine songs, like nursery rhymes.

CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you’ve written?
AI:
Of my released songs, 'Runaway', definitely. Of my unreleased songs, I really love this song I have called 'Vultures'. It’s a very sad song, and I’m very blunt with the things I say in it, but I think it’s beautiful, and I really haven’t heard the word 'vultures' in many songs at all, so I like that little bit of uniqueness too :)

CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
AI:
There are a whole lot of basic good songs in the world, some of them are even viral, but to me, a great song really makes you feel something! I like to think of music as a language almost, a language for our emotions, and certain sounds are like certain words that can convey different emotions, which is why when we listen to sad songs we feel sad (because the music - every aspect of the song, not just the lyrics - is telling you to feel sad!). To me, a great musician is very fluent in music as a language, which means that they are able to start with an emotion or a story and then create or find the perfect sounds and words to match it - so musicians are really just translators of emotions. A great musician needs to understand how certain sounds and chords feel, so when they make songs they can strongly convey one specific emotion to your listener, so whatever the listeners feel when they listen to your song, they feel it strongly. If your song is able to make the listener feel something enough, then it becomes memorable and timeless. The more I think about it, the crazier it is that songs, sounds and words, are able to grip onto our emotions and invigorate us or depress us - music is so cool to me!

CDM: At what age did you write your very first song ever, and what was it about?
AI:
My entire life I was always, always, always, making up little tunes for myself and singing them around or playing them on my instruments, but my first ever song that I took the time to write down and make a video recording of (that I deleted a while ago) I wrote when I was probably thirteen. It was about a girl who was basically shunned by her whole village, people used her as like a warning of what not to be, and in response, she declared that her spirit was strong and that she would one day go "up, up, up, and away." 'Up and Away' was the name of it. Quite interesting because as I think of it now, the story in the song kind of sort of parallels my life.  

CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
AI:
I hope when people listen to my music they feel something. Feeling things because of a song is really cool, and I’d love to be a really cool experience for anyone who listens to me. That’ll be my little way of putting some kind of good into the world, for the people who are willing to listen; and what’s so cool is that I love, love, love to make music, so this is really just a happiness-fest hah!

CDM: If A.I. B.E.N.D.R. were an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
AI:
A - Avatar: The Last Air Bender, my all-time favourite show, it’s a huge coincidence that that is my favourite show and my name is what it is, but I was given these names at birth!
I - this letter is how you pronounce my first name. Ai = I. Lol.
B - Butter pecan is my favourite ice-cream flavour.
E - Euphoriaaaa, I feel so cool and lucky that no matter what my debut song will always be in that show :)
N - Nature - I love plants and anything made from plants! My room is filled with plants and I think my music has a very natural feel to it.
D - Delightful - I think I’m delightful to be around :)
R - Romantic - but not necessarily in like a love way, more like romantic about life: optimistic.

CDM: What’s on your bucket-list?
AI:
The only thing that’s really coming to my mind right now is being interviewed on Hot Ones.

CDM: If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
AI:
In all honesty, there really is no material thing in this world that I want enough to steal. If world peace is something you can steal, then I’d like that, but if not... money, I guess? HA :)

CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
AI:
'Tequila Shots' by Kid Cudi. Favourite song.

CDM: What are your upcoming plans for 2021?
AI:
I’m hoping for a lot of really cool things this year, but for now, most of it is up in the air. But I’m definitely gonna be releasing music a lot this year, that will all be accompanied by a lot of videos. I wrote a lot of songs over quarantine that I genuinely think people will love... and hopefully by the end of this year many people will know them!

CDM: You’re one of our 'must-know’ artist picks for 2021… who are yours?
AI:
One of my favourite artists right now is Dominic Fike, I love his sound. Also, Rainbow Kitten Suprise, they’re a band and they have such a raw sound to their music that I love, their song 'It's Called: Freefall' is so good. Also, a rapper that I’ve been really into recently is Dro Kenji, he reminds me a lot of Juice WRLD who was one of my favourites.

Watch Ai Bendr perform 'Love Me Low' live below...

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