“To know that I’ve soundtracked someone’s life means more than record sales”: An interview with Benjamin Leftwich

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Benjamin Leftwich, who hails from York, is an artist who is making waves. Upon the release of his debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, in 2011, he was deemed to be “a serious new talent” by The Sunday Times, as well as by many fans and avid music-listeners alike. Whilst on tour ahead of his new album due for release in August, he stopped to talk to The Edge.

Is this your first time in Southampton?

No, I’ve played a few times before, I’ve actually played this venue on my first ever UK tour like 5 years ago, so its nice to be back. I walked in and remembered certain things. I didn’t really get a chance to look at the venue when I came in but I remember being here for sure, it seems like, just driving, with the little bit I’ve seen, I just woke up just driving in, so, it seems nice you know, nice parks and stuff and I’m happy to be here, you know. Its quite a big student town, right?

It is, there’s 2 universities here so there are quite a lot of students around.

Okay cool, so is there a rivalry between them?

Yeah, haha. So have there been any highlights of the tour so far?

Just being back on tour is a highlight cause I’ve been away for so long, you know, and recording in the studio and writing for so long that just being back on the road is amazing, I kind of forgot what it felt like. I spent so many years on the road before and then kind of took some time off so to be coming out and playing sold out shows is amazing; I didn’t expect it and I’m super humbled by it, so it’s been cool.

Do you have any funny stories from your time touring?

I had a girl puke next to me at a festival. I walked off the stage at a festival and she was like ‘oh your set was amazing but I have just taken some drugs’ and then just threw up at my feet, and I was like omg… But then I was like, I wasn’t annoyed at her, we helped her, we sat her down and got her some water and gave her some food and stuff… But no, nothing like that on this tour, um…A couple of people have like, asked me for like weird pictures, like, after the show people have asked me to take my top off or make weird signs. But I don’t know, I think that’s just like uni stuff, I’m not used to whatever is going on, the cool things to do, you know what I mean? I feel like an old man, so… But it’s all been good you know, I have definitely been pacing myself, it’s been more civilised than before, but we’ve got so much more coming up internationally and the schedule is gonna be quite busy so I just wanna try to be focused.

Do you have a particular destination on your tour that you’re excited to go to?

Yeah… I just love being back on tour but Canada I love- Canada is one of my favourite parts of the world. I’ve been there before and it’s just amazing, the people are so nice and the music is so nice. It’s just awesome. It’s stunning, I have a picture on my phone I took in Canada on tour there before, out of the window of the car.

That’s beautiful! Looks professionally taken!

I swear it was me who took it, no one believes me. It looks like a pro photo, right? But yeah, it’s like a black bear just chilling on the side of the road. But yeah, in Canada the people are amazing, the music is amazing, a couple of my favourite artists are from Canada. I just love it, I love going there. I’m looking forward to China as well, just everywhere. We’re playing in Shanghai, we’re playing in Spain, Norway- all around.

Do you get a chance to go around and visit?

Sometimes, it just depends on the schedule and the flights and what the plan is, you know, but, I like to if I can, I like to see new places and meet new people and eat new food and experience new things, you know.

So, are you excited for the fans to hear the upcoming album?

Yeah, I am really excited! I’m so proud of it; it’s definitely a collection of really personal songs to me and I feel like I put a lot of me into them. I feel like everything is out in the open, I don’t feel any distinction between my personal life and my musical life. I throw everything into the songs so, I can’t wait, I’m so proud of it. Having Charlie Andrew on production was amazing. We’re just ready, you know, we’re ready to go. And I like that we’re touring a lot before hand and I’m playing a lot of the songs live tonight. It’s gonna be cool, I’m playing a mix of old songs and new songs.

What can fans expect from the new album?

image via brumlive.com

image via brumlive.com

I think sonically is definitely a lot more 3D than the first one. It’s a lot more…acoustic guitar is always going to be my main instrument but, that energy…I do what’s right for the song and the studio, you know what I mean? On this album the energy has been more visceral and the message has been more visceral, so sometimes when the energy is really through the roof we’ve used production to accentuate that energy. And sometimes when its really slow or quiet and sad, it’s like, even more quiet and sad so I think sonically it’s more 3D. When I’m singing the songs, I can place geographically and spiritually in my head where the spark has come from, whereas I think on the first album it was more ambiguous lyrically and emotionally. I’m really proud of the first album but in a different way. Apart from being a live performer, man, or whatever…I’m a songwriter, that’s my main thing and that in itself, as a craft changes over the years and your approach changes, your approach to lyrics and conveying a message changes, so, I feel like a better singer and a better guitar player and I think it’s more beautiful, more honest. Like I said, I think the moments that are painful are more painful and the moments that are exciting and bursting are kind of more accentuated.

 

Did you participate in the production of the album?

Yeah, I did. I have a few production credits on some of the album, of sounds that I made on my laptop. Which again just saying that, you know its gonna be different from Last Smoke, there aren’t really many laptop sounds on Last Smoke, you know? Not that it is laptop sounds, but using technology to create sounds, basically, which is something that I’ve fallen more in love with as my love for hip hop music has grown, which I didn’t really listen to when I was 17 and now it’s all I listen to.

Really? What are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to the new Drake album like, 10 times since it’s come out, I love it. I love Kanye West, I love Madlib, I love Mobb Deep. There’s this new album that’s come out by a producer called Nineteen85, it’s called dvsn; it’s amazing. I really relate to the energy in that, I don’t necessarily relate to the lyrics, but the energy, I mean, you can just feel the guys or the girls grooving, you know what I mean? It’s amazing! But I listen to a lot of traditional music now as well, more so than I did before, Arabic traditional music and in particular a singer called Fairuz, I think she’s lebanese, she’s amazing. She’s an old school singer. Arabic melodies are just so beautiful and kind of haunting and I really love that. And of course I listen to a lot of new music like I always have, and on this tour I’ve hand picked different artists each night, singer and songwriters that I really love, that have inspired me and asked them to come share the evening. We’ve got an Australian singer called Clea, who’s opening the show tonight, she’s amazing, she’s on the come-up and she should be here soon…

That’s awesome! I watched your music video for ‘Tilikum’ and wanted to ask if you get input on the visuals?

Yeah I do, yeah. That was an amazing day, one of the most healing days I’ve had in a long time. We started filming at 4am and went through to 6:30pm to catch all the emotions and the colours of the day. We went through till so late and it was so…I loved it, you know? It was a brilliant day. The weather was really bad that day but it made the video look so much better, it’s really wind and rainy and dark but honestly at points I had 4 coats on in between shoots. You know some days you do an activity and its just different from a normal day and it just sticks with you, it was one of those days. It is definitely one of the songs I’m most proud of.

Why did you name the song ‘Tilikum’?

At first I got that name from a movie called ‘Blackfish’, which is just a film about the awful treatment of killer whales in captivity in Orlando which is disgraceful and that name is amazing and the connotations and I think that its from the Native American language, meaning like family and home and companion. And the story of why I chose that was that I was once gonna have a baby and me and my partner at the time didn’t end up having the baby, but, we were gonna call it ‘Tilikum’ after we watched that movie… And the song is a love song, so I thought it was appropriate to use that name as the title of the song for all the different reasons. So you know, that’s not like the clearest answer in the world but I think people kind of got confused with the name and didn’t understand where the song was coming from initially when we got it out but it’s just a pure love song. The chorus when I sing ‘Be my rose’, I wrote that in America on tour, that chorus, and then the verses I wrote when I was back at home in Yorkshire, staying at my neighbours house and I glued the two together and they just really work. The verse is quite cold- it’s like you’re turning your phone on and you’re at the airport and you’re like ‘omg are you gonna come meet me?’, and you’re driving across the bridge and your husband thinks you’re sleeping and the whole world is fucked and the suddenly…there’s just warmth in the chorus. It’s just pure love and it’s just hope for the future and sunrise.

That’s amazing! Do you have any favourite aspects of your career? Is it really rewarding?

Yeah, there are so many things that I’m grateful for and obviously I’m really privileged and lucky as well, but the best thing is seeing people’s reaction when we put our initial ‘welcome back’ kind of letter to the campaign and that video and that song. Seeing people saying all these crazy things about how my music had affected them, what it had meant to them and how it had lived with them through these times and how helped them through, really intense personal things, everything, literal life and death stuff, you know, the most intense things any human can possibly go through. And to know that I’ve soundtracked that in someone else’s life, that means more than record sales or ticket sales. It’s just amazing to see people come out to shows and then see my lyrics tattooed on their bodies or they are like crying…just visceral human energy that just can’t be quantified or explained. In the same way that I’m incredibly moved by other artist’s music,  it’s not just about me, it’s about music in general and to be part of that is awesome. To have some of your friends be making amazing records in their own right.

What’s the nicest thing a fan has ever done for you or you for them?

I always hate when someone doesn’t get into the show or misses it. So there have been a few times when people have like, missed it and I go out afterwards and play a song in the street or whatever in their car so that’s nice, but in terms of for me, all kinds of things. People have bought me food, which is always kind of dangerous, what if it’s like poison or whatever but…bought me food, wrote me beautiful long letters, sent me gifts, someone once bought me a lollipop that had a scorpion inside it, dead scorpion, but hahaha! How weird? Yeah, it’s kind of weird…It was like at a festival and it also had a note that said ‘meet me at my tent’. I was just like ‘naaah’ hahaha. I’m not for the scorpion lolly, you know? Just those kind of letters where people are writing to me and saying they’re in love with someone on the other side of their country and they don’t have money to get there but my music is helping them stay connected. Those kinds of compliments are like the ultimate kind of compliment, and like I said, mean more than anything else really.

Do you have a favourite song that you’ve written?

Yeah, such a good question…it changes, all the time. I think today, right now, I’m feeling probably ‘Tilikum’ or ‘Kicking Roses’, which is a song off my new album, ‘Tilikum’ you’ve heard. You get this thing as a songwriter that you’re worried that like ‘what if I die tomorrow? What if I haven’t said all I needed to say in my own life?’. Not just as a songwriter but as a human. I feel like songwriting is like an audio-will, you know what I mean? You’re getting it all down and it’s gonna last forever, especially with the internet now, unless the internet breaks, but even if it breaks, people will still have the vinyl or the CD, so yeah right now ‘Tilikum’ or ‘Kicking Roses’.

Do you have any causes that you support/ feel close to?

Yeah, Amnesty International; it’s close to my heart. Me, Lucy Rose, Rae Morris, Jack from ‘Bombay’ and Björn from ‘Razorlight’ did a songwriting workshop with young ladies from around the country. A couple of weeks ago at the Amnesty London headquarters, like helped them write a song, but they, to be honest, they fucking nailed it; these girls were insane! They were between 11-15 and we were there at the beginning of the day like ‘we’ll help them, we’ll help them’ and we just started playing the guitar and they were just so good, you know? It’s just amazing how talented people are and others don’t even realise! That was an amazing day. There’s a campaign online called ‘Girls Against’ which is like against girls being harassed at gigs which is this bullshit thing that should never happen, I support that. Um…I support good causes, do you know what I mean…Amnesty is one that I have actively supported, I have an Amnesty hoodie as well that I wear, but when you have an Amnesty hoodie and you walk around people think you work for them. Haha…But I support that cause, totally and…It’s funny actually when we put out ‘Tilikum’ people were like ‘oh this is so awesome, that you like, care’ they were like, tweeting me links like, good news about the whale and I was like ‘well it’s a love song but I’m glad that you are putting that word out there’. It’s a positive song, and so is my music so it’s pretty obvious that I’m not gonna be supporting, like, murdering whales, so…you know, it’s cool, maybe I’ll end up getting more involved in that through having written that love song.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Musicophilia’ about the way people think about music and the way and the last book I’ve read was ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ which I love.

Do you have a quote that you live by or that helps you?

‘Stay Curious’: my dad used to always sign off emails with this so I tattooed it on my arm and he always used to say ‘when in doubt, leave it out’ which I need to learn to live by a bit more, just kind of resist, you know…But yeah, I believe in karma in a certain way, considered karma, if you get what I mean, like sometimes you can do something and you know it’s not gonna come back around but sometimes you need to be careful.

My last question is, if you could give someone wanting to pursue a career in music one piece of advice, someone who doesn’t feel confident they might succeed, what would it be?

I’d say keep it totally about the beautiful emotions and yourself, and don’t worry about all the other…don’t worry about having a shiny Facebook or website or getting this gig or that gig at the start. Keep it purely about the songs, you know, writing really beautiful songs, really honest songs, and just being true to yourself. By honest I don’t mean the first thing that comes to your head; I mean really thinking what honesty means to you and getting that across and your performance or songwriting and be hungry as well because this game is the most competitive game in the world, without a question, so, you have to be willing to go and kick down doors, and also don’t rush things either, so many people rush things like record a song and go ‘oh that sounds alright’ and put it on the internet. Don’t rush things and keep it about the beautiful music and the beautiful emotion and be true to yourself.

Benjamin Leftwich’s new album After The Rain is due for release on 19th August 2016.

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I'm a third year philosophy student. I love wandering, travelling, exploring and just generally doing new things that will turn into awesome memories. My biggest dream is to be brave enough to travel around the world as a full time job.

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