When 12-year-old “America’s Got Talent” hopeful Merrick Hanna was looking for a song to accompany his stage interpretation of a malfunctioning android last year, he selected a lilting folk-pop ditty called “I Built a Friend” by the then-little-known Phoenix composer Alec Benjamin. The dance routine worked perfectly, and Benjamin was stunned. He hadn’t seen one of his songs set to choreography before. It’s proved a slight problem as the feathery-voiced singer hits the road behind his latest mixtape, “Narrated For You.” “Putting on a show is hard for me, because I never did this to be entertaining,” he admits. “These are songs from my life, and I’m telling stories that are important to me. So I’m trying to reconcile those two aspects right now, and it’s tough.”
You’re 24 now, and you really stress original songwriting. But that lesson is lost on a whole generation of “The Voice”/“American Idol” contestants who parrot others’ material.
Yeah. But I think some people, with the way that they interpret songs, can really be genuine and original, too. I remember learning some of my favorite songs of all time, but not through the original versions, through covers. Like “Mad World” by Tears For Fears — I found that through Gary Jules, who did a cover of the song. So I actually think that sometimes the artist doesn’t necessarily do the best version of their own song. But all I know is that for me, I feel better putting out music that I have my handprints on.
Before you signed with Atlantic, didn’t you have another label deal that went horribly wrong?
I was signed to Columbia, and it was kind of disastrous. But it was nobody’s fault. I think it was just me. I still had a lot of growing to do, and I hadn’t done a lot of it before getting signed. So unfortunately, it didn’t work out, and it was more of an experience thing and not something to cry over. Well, I did cry for about a night and a day. But that was it.
In response, you penned — then posted — a huge flurry of new material.
I did a song almost every day — at east three or four a week — for seven months. I wrote about 160 songs.
And they all had morals woven in, like Aesop’s fables.
That’s what I was trying to do — I like to tell stories and write things that are going to last, like Aesop’s fables, which have been around for a long, long time. If I could do something that’s even close to that, it would be rad.
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 6
Tickets: $14 to $16
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.eventbrite.com