Interview: Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Announcing his second album After The Rain, soulful singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich has returned from a three year hiatus with a massive nationwide tour, most of which has already sold out. We managed to catch up with him before his fantastic headline set at Nottingham’s Bodega at the start of this tour to talk to the nicest man in the music industry.

Your first tour in three years started a few days ago, how is it going?

It’s been amazing man, I hadn’t played or toured in so long that I have been really nervous, especially on the first night. Getting back into it is a strange thing but I think it is coming back. I’m really proud of the new songs and I’m enjoying playing them live and playing the old ones live again. It’s humbling to see so many people come out to the shows. It’s quite unexpected actually.

A lot of the dates on the tour sold out very quickly.

Yeah, it’s mad. It’s a huge compliment and it makes me just want to play better and write more songs. Honestly, I spent between the ages of 21 and 24 on tour. Then I was, what I consider, asleep for a while. Now I’m back doing my thing. I love music more than anything, bar my family. It’s beautiful.

You mentioned being asleep there and taking the hiatus, what made you choose to return to releasing music now?

I feel like I’m proud of the body of work that I have made now. It was always just about getting to that point where I had made another album that I was proud of. There were things in my personal life that meant music had to take a backseat for a while. I was always creative, but there is a difference between being creative inwardly and wanting to share with everyone else. This felt like the right time. It’s such a thing in the industry to record an album, tour it for two years and then go into the studio and repeat the process. I might release my third album in a month’s time or ten years’ time, just whenever it feels ready. I might record it on my Iphone or I might record it in a really fancy studio. It has to be about the spirit of the music and letting the songs lead the production and not the other way around.

There’s no point in churning something out for the sake of it!

Definitely, people can hear through it. People are too smart for that, and everyone loves music. Music and food connect the whole world. Regardless of who you are, even if you are someone the media describe as evil you still have your own music that you listen to. Sincerity is really important in music.

What can we expect from the shows on this tour?

I’m playing completely solo on the whole tour, just me and a guitar. I’ll be playing a complete mix of old and new songs. I’ve reinterpreted some and done new versions of some, but in general just songs. The emotion has proven to be different every night, depending on the room and the sound, the city and the atmosphere. You could walk into the most iconic venue in the world and have a bad show. You can only truly tell when you walk onstage. Fifteen minutes before the set I’m a nervous wreck man, honestly. I become very inward and I want to do my own thing, I do all my warm ups and stuff.

“Music and food connect the whole world”

The album comes out in August, will we hear anything new tonight?

Yeah, the plan is to play five or six new songs tonight, so a fair amount. I wanted to mix it up a bit because I toured Last Smoke… so much that it felt we’d gotten to a point where if we carried on we’d be milking it. We did three summers of festivals on that one album, so it just felt finished. Sharing songs in general is an amazing thing. If you’re an artist, or an actor, or a playwright you’re always buzzed up about the next thing. I think most creatives are the same. As soon as you have done your most recent thing you tell your manager or whoever that it’s the best thing you have ever done, and in hindsight it isn’t always. Sometimes you need someone else to be a little bit objective, but there has to be that passion there to start with.

The single from the album, ‘Tilikum’, shares a name with a particularly famous whale, is there a story to that?

It’s a reference for sure. I knew of that name from that film. Then I did some research about the word and it’s such a beautiful word. I was actually once going to have a baby called that, so that’s the story behind the song.

It means friendship and community, right?

It does, in Navaho I believe. Forgive my ignorance on that, I’m sure the details of that beautiful language and culture are a lot deeper than my understanding of it, but it’s what that word resembles for me personally. It’s kind of a hard thing to explain but for me it means so much, it covers so much ground: Australia, London, sadness, loss, hope for the future. The verses are quite cold in that song and the chorus kind of switches it up. *sings* ‘Be my rose, you know it’s warm’, and there’s sunlight coming out even though the verses are darker.

‘Shine’ was named the most addictive track on Spotify in 2014, what do you think it was that made that song resonate?
That was crazy. Of all the songs, in the world. That was crazy. My friend Cindy was the first person to tell me. She works at Sony in Australia and she texted me. I thought it was a prank or something, I couldn’t understand what it meant at first. Out of all the songs on Spotify that was the one that was most repeated. Plus, it was the original version of the song not just the Kygo remix. I love the Kygo remix and I love Kygo but it was a huge compliment to have an accolade like that for my song. It’s a solid stat as well isn’t it? It’s a really kind song and it is consciously romantic. Everyone can relate to that.

You mentioned the Kygo remix there, and more recently you worked with Dave McPherson and Alex Davies on a song How did those collaborations come about?

Dave’s a friend of mine and we just sort of jammed in the studio. I loved InMe when I was younger and he’s such a nice guy. I just emailed him like “Hey man, I’m such a fan, let’s get together and play some music”. We wrote a song with a lady called Lauren Aquilina who’s really awesome. All my friends are songwriters or producers so it’s just beautiful, there’s no planning. It just comes about through us getting in touch and spending time together in the studio.

The Kygo thing was fantastic, I heard his remix and then like six months later he was one of the biggest DJs in the world. We’ve released the stems of ‘Tillikum’, so each individual recording from the track can be downloaded. Anyone can do anything they want with that: remix it, rewrite it, destroy it, delete it. I’m so pleased we did that, I think everyone should do that, it’s awesome. I think Trent Reznor did it for Downward Spiral, which is one of my favourites of all time. It’s encouraging people to dig in and interpret things. It’s really important to do that with people of the right mindset. Collaboration is everything. Listening to other people and learning from them is really important. It’s a case of loving music. Opportunities come and go and you just have to go with it.

Building on that, is there anyone you’d like to work with next?

There’s a producer form Canada, whose producer name is OVO40, I think his name is Noah Shebib. He’s an incredible artist and hip-hop producer. All of the sounds he makes are so full of energy, and his approach to artistry is very beautiful and considered. He’s definitely at the top of my list at the moment.

Finally, have you got anything planned for after this tour? Any festivals this summer?

Yeah, we’re touring America and Canada in July. Then we’ve got a festival in Spain, one in Shanghai, Norway. I’m playing Moseley Folk Festival on my birthday, which will be great because it will be really chilled. I want to do more touring before Christmas and as many festivals as possible. Any time off will be in the studio writing too!

Thanks again to Benjamin Francis Leftwich for his time.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich was talking to Liam Fleming.

Image: Chuff Media

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