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Yes, that’s right – Junk Male.

Speaking from his hometown in the Seattle suburbs, Max Bennett Kelly gets straight to the point when explaining the title of his new EP, out June 23. “I was being an asshole,” he admits. The phrase came up at a party; it was the perfect fit for a project about “being the worst version of yourself.” Bennett Kelly had moved to Los Angeles to become a musician and lost himself in the process. Living in a garage “is funny if you think of your life as a movie. But then one day it’s like, this is my life, actually…. What am I really doing this for?”

It was March 2020, and as soon as Bennett Kelly committed to pursuing music for real, “life instantly became hard.” His bandmates had quit and moved out of their shared house, leaving him alone to figure out what it actually means to be a full-time musician. “What are you supposed to do for 12 hours a day?” he questioned. “I can’t just play the scales on my guitar…. I don’t know how to lead a band full-time.”
















Newly testing the waters as a solo artist, Bennett Kelly initially released each song as it was written and recorded. With only a few songs out, it was a shock when a clip of “Happy, Healthy, Well-Adjusted” went viral on TikTok on June 23, 2021, quickly amassing millions of views (to date, the song has over 12 million Spotify plays). But tragedy struck on the very same day the song blew up, when his best friend, a close cousin, died by suicide. The two were accountability buddies, checking in weekly as Bennett Kelly pursued his dream in music and his cousin aimed to be a professional fighter.

Dealing with the loss of a friend, the loss of a band, and “the loss of a dream that kept me going,” Bennett Kelly shares that “I definitely spiraled and turned into this shell of myself.” Committed as he was, his musical career wasn’t going the way he wanted. With no follow-up ready to go when “Happy, Healthy, Well-Adjusted” took off, he was “caught empty-handed – and that was the worst feeling ever.” That summer, dealing with grief and wanting to keep busy, he networked and met with collaborators to write as much music as possible.

In early 2022, another viral moment with “Birthday” led Bennett Kelly to think long-term: did it feel fulfilling to release one song at a time? He had several songs that fit a throughline, both thematically and sonically; now playing shows again with a new live band, he was inspired to make a complete project. Planning out his vision, he was brought back to an old-school mentality and dove into ’90s alt-rock like Sugar Ray, Weezer, and Third Eye Blind (the first track released from the EP, “Superinlove,” is “a weird mash-up of every Third Eye Blind song”). Junk Male is “a weird anti-time capsule”: the result of wanting to make a project more authentic to the music he was inspired by than a modern-day homage to the past.
















Released back in May, a month before the EP, “2AM” was co-written and produced by Lil Aaron and Twenty One Pilots guitarist Dan Geraghty. Bennett Kelly recalls rolling up to Aaron’s studio feeling down about a fight with the girl he was dating, recounting that he felt “pissed,” worried that his terrible mood would ruin the session. Instead, it turned out to be the perfect inspiration for “2AM,” as Lil Aaron came up with the opening line and Geraghty began strumming on an acoustic guitar. The song came together so fast, “we didn’t even have time to set up the microphones.” Recording at a professional studio was a learning experience, as he watched Lil Aaron and Geraghty “break all these rules” that showed “how quickly and kinda knee-jerky music should be.”



















All of the visuals released along with Junk Male will tie into a short film that Bennett Kelly wrote and is starring in. The “2AM” video serves as an epilogue to the short film, but it’s played in reverse. Filmed in the middle of the night, it takes on a found-footage horror movie vibe: “Throwing stuff into the LA River at 2 in the morning is very scary,” Bennett Kelly remarks, sharing that he kept all of the diegetic sounds that came up when filming.











The goal with Junk Male wasn’t to follow the rules or copy a trendy sound but rather to create an “anti-TikTok moment,” representing perseverance and raw honesty. Bennett Kelly’s favorite songs are so personal, “you almost cringe, like, ‘why is he saying that?'”. That’s not to say the songs aren’t catchy– but they also show everything Bennett Kelly has been through as he’s pursued a career in music. “It’s way more fun to have a dream than to chase it,” he reflects, sharing that before the hard work really begins, “you enjoy the fantasy” of having something to aspire to. 


No matter how un-fun the reality is, Bennett Kelly wants listeners with a dream of their own to go for it anyway – and be honest. “Don’t try to cover up the art you make by making it perfect,” he advises. “Let it be you – that’s the best part about it.” And finally, “don’t be afraid to say the shit that embarrasses you because then you have a thing that marks your passage of personal growth.”


story // Molly Hudelson
photos // Mallory Turner

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