The four sisters in Crimson Apple play a dark and glossy brand of pop music, so it may seem surprising that the Oahu natives spent half a decade playing throughout the happiest place on Earth—Disneyland.
Shelby (guitar), Carthi (bass), Faith (drums) and Colby Benson (lead vocals) moved to Los Angeles with their parents to pursue a music career in 2015 and were soon recruited by the mouse empire after a booker caught a performance while scouting another Hawaiian band.
Soon, the Bensons, still in their early teens, were splitting performing four guests in between running around between their favorite rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and California Adventure’s Cars ride.
“Faith always wanted to go on Splash Mountain but nobody else wanted to go,” Carthi Benson said, before Colby continued the thought. “The music starts getting intense and scary at the end before the drop, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, these animals!” Faith Benson continued the thought “All the animatronics were scary! But that’s what I liked about it.”
As fun as that sounds, the Disneyland experience was also a significant one for Crimson Apple—playing BottleRock Napa on Sept. 2—because it helped give the Bensons purpose during a difficult time.
“We were kind of in a really like dark period, because we had just moved and we felt really lonely; when we were starting completely over, and we didn’t know what our next steps were,” Colby Benson said. “[It was] such a big opportunity for us and it gave us a regular place to perform. We got to meet so many different people because at Disneyland the audience is very transient, and it’s people from all over the world.”
The sisters started Crimson Apple in 2012. The four started playing their instruments, which coincidentally were the four main instruments needed to started a rock band, at different times. Colby started singing first, at 9 years old.
“She knew pretty early on that that’s what she wanted to do with her life, and then the rest of us kind of fell in at different times,” Shelby said. Colby and Shelby first started a band with other friends, who left when that band still had gigs to play, at which point Carthi and Faith stepped in and had to learn their parts within two months.
“We do get asked that a lot, ‘Did your parents put you guys together?’ Or, ‘Did you guys have to fight over who played what?’” Colby said. “All of us just really felt a passion towards our individual instruments and we ran with it on our own.”
Crimson Apple trapezes through several genres, but the most obvious elements are a blend of pop vocals and themes over modern rock arrangements; guitar-led melodies alongside a propulsive rhythm section.
Colby said the band pulls from J-rock (Japanese rock).
“They’re just so unique, and I think with the Japanese language they have so much more freedom with the kinds of melodies that they’re able to create, so it’s a little bit different,” she said. “We try to find a way to incorporate that in our melodies using English lyrics.”
The band’s management also happens to manage Kawaii metal superstars Babymetal, another influence on the Benson sisters.
“The thing about Babymetal is they’re completely their own thing,” Shelby said. “Their music is epic, and their performances and their production; it’s all very clean and polished. … There is a lot of care and effort put behind the music, and I see that in Babymetal.”
Less obvious in the musicality but more so in the production of music videos, K-pop is another stimulus, Faith said. K-pop artists inspire the band to create hard-hitting, epic and cinematic music with the intention of making listeners feel good and conveying emotion, Shelby and Colby add.
Growing up in Hawaii, the sisters drank in Asian culture, which included music and anime. Carthi, who’s into videos games, said if she were not in the band, she saw herself as a cosplayer or Twitch streamer. Shelby added that she used to get teased in middle school for wearing anime-themed T-shirts.
“We’re here to say: If you like anime, we think you’re cool,” she said, wearing a wide grin.
Though it doesn’t present itself in the band’s music, the sisters also love traditional Hawaiin music, such as slack key guitar. One such artist all four look up to is Hawaiian duo HAPA, with whom they used to share the stage.
“I don’t think you can really get more emotional than [slack key], although I’m the guitarist, so I would say that,” Shelby said.
The same year the Bensons moved to L.A., Crimson Apple self-funded through Kickstarter, self-recorded, produced and released its first album. The band has considerably moved on from that early sound since then, however, which is why the members decided to take it off all but one streaming platform (SoundCloud). Colby said that with growth, she and her sisters realized it no longer represent them.
“We were kids when we made that album. I think I was 13,” Faith said. “We just grew up and we’re talking about new things and new life experiences. Maybe eventually, after we’ve released more and more music, maybe we’ll stick it back out there, just to be like, ‘Hey, this happened.’”
Since then, Crimson Apple has toured with or shared a stage with the likes of The Plain White T’s, All Time Low and One Republic. The band released an EP in 2019, but it was in 2020 when it broke out in a big way via TikTok, with moshable single “Break Your Heart Worse,” which skyrocketed its fanbase and allowed the four to do a lot more.
“I started going on there as a joke and got hooked,” Colby said. “We weren’t expecting it to take off the way that it did. … Social media [is] a huge aspect that we’ve kind of neglected before.”
The four found other benefits in 2020. For example, they were able to find a balance between their music career and their personal lives and family. Colby found a new hobby in styling and shaping intricate nails. She shares her creations on social media.
“That’s something creative that I do outside of the band. I never really had an outlet like that before,” she said, as Faith smiled and slid her hands toward her sister. The two are currently living together. “I do her nails all the time,” Colby added. “She’s my guinea pig.”
Shelby, the band’s social media specialist, meanwhile picked up a side gig using her skills in the automotive industry. Her sisters brag that she now knows much more than them about cars and can identify pretty much anything she sees.
The four have also used 2020 to continue honing their sound. They spent the previous years touring constantly but being forced to slow down proved to be a blessing. Now they’re busy writing and building up to a complete collection of songs. More singles are also planned to follow this year’s “Dead To Me.”
“Our goal is to get another album back out there; one that we don’t take down,” Shelby said, laughing. “We want it to be fully fleshed-out before we talk about when it’s coming. We just want to be really a passion project for ourselves and put a lot of thought and care into it.”
Crimson Apple’s first big show will come at BottleRock, something the sisters are more excited than nervous about. Colby said the four planned to rehearse nonstop and write new arrangements for some of their songs. The connection between the band and people in front of the stage and being able to feed off that energy are two of the greatest benefits of being in a band, Colby said.
Added Shelby: I’ve been hitting the gym again! I gotta do the cardio so I can run across the stage more!”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.