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Benya Vya Climbs Upward With “Mountains”

Written by on November 11, 2020

Ryan Lehrman is Benya Vya, a Chicago-based alternative hip-hop artist with a sound much more polished than his recent start to music would suggest.

Benya Vya just put out his first single, “Mountains,” this August, which found its way onto our “In Rotation” playlist.

We chatted with Benya Vya about the Chicago music scene, how he got started and what listeners can expect going forward.

Where in Chicago are you currently based? Did you grow up in the city?

I live in Pilsen. Nah, I didn’t, I grew up in Minnesota.

How do you feel the Chicago music scene has shaped you as a musician?

Oh man, heavy influence. Chicago hip-hop has always been my favorite brand of hip-hop, and I moved here to be close to that kind of energy. When I first arrived, I’d go to open mics and sit in on jam sessions playing the drums. Sometimes I’d go to sessions just to listen and absorb. The level of musicianship is so high here, it’s both daunting and inspiring. But that definitely molded me as a drummer and an artist.

When did you decide you wanted to start pursuing music? Have you always considered it?

When I was traveling. Story short is I slipped and fell off a dam and into the Arno River in Florence, Italy. I was fully clothed – shoes, passport, phone, everything. There were no ladders or stairs, either, no way to get back up onto the dam, so I thought that was a wrap. I thought I was gonna drown. I ended up swimming to the closest piece of land I could find, which was actually a small man-made island in the middle of the river. And when I got to shore and was waiting for the paramedics to arrive, soaked, clothes drying on grass, I found myself making beats with rocks I found on the island. And that was one of those moments I was like, “This is it, I gotta do music.”

What was the inspiration behind your name?

“Benya” is a nod to my family’s Jewish roots, and “Vya” comes from “Sevilla,” Spain, where I first downloaded production software and started producing.

Who are some artists you listened to while you were growing up?

I was big on the Chili Peppers, John Mayer Trio, Dave Matthews Band, Third Eye Blind. When I got to high school a friend put me onto Common’s “Be.” That album really ushered me into the world of hip-hop. Blew the doors wide open.

What genre of music do you feel most connected to, and why?

Hip-hop, ’cause it combines two of the things I love about music: storytelling and fat drums.

What was the first concert you ever went to? How old were you?

Allman Brothers. My uncle took me and my brother when I was 11.

What 3 artists do you find yourself listening to the most right now?

Hendrix. Jay Z with the Roots – their MTV Unplugged live album, I keep comin’ back. And Healy.

Anything listeners should keep an eye out for going forward?

Absolutely. I’ve got a few singles coming down the pipeline. I also lead a group called New Context and we’ve got an EP coming out this winter. And people can also check out my beats in the meantime.

Stream Benya Vya’s single “Mountains” below, and follow him on Instagram.

Edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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