Interview – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
2011 has been breakthrough year for Benjamin Francis Leftwich. We sent our intrepid reporter Gareth O’Malley to catch up with him at his recent show in Dublin and pop a few questions about his tumultuous twelve months.
So, to start with, this is the largest headline tour you’ve been on so far, right? How’s it been going for you?
Benjamin Francis Leftwich: It’s been great. The shows have been really busy. [Tonght's] venue’s really nice… I’m looking forward to playing tonight. It’s been a long one, but it’s been good.
What’s the year been like? You’ve had your album out; there’s been all that acclaim coming in from various different sources as well. Has that affected you in the last few mionths, or would you say you’ve been dealing with it well enough?
BFL: I wouldn’t say it’s affected me, y’know? It’s been a really good year for me; lots of positive thinks have been said, but there have also been some negative things as well, so I’m just focusing on the music at the moment.
Focusing on the music – that’s a good way to put it! Would you ever consider playing with a full band on stage?
BFL: Yeah, I’d like to. I mean, on the album, I recorded bits of percussion and bits of strings and stuff, so I’d like to incorporate that into a live setting.
And would you ever consider taking a full band into the studio to record an EP or something?
BFL: I’d consider it, yeah, [but] my rule is I do what’s right for the songs.
That’s understandable. In fact, you’re going to have a few new songs in the set tonight – that’s my understanding, at least.
BFL: I am, yes.
Are they being saved for an EP, or are you already writing the second album?
BFL: Well, I want to save them for the second album; I want to come back with it.
Ah, OK – so, after you’re finished touring this album, you’re going to take some time off to flesh out the songs and then get them recorded. Is that it, or do you have plans for, say, a kind of ‘stop-gap’ EP?
BFL: I’m not sure; it depends how many I write, though I might do an EP.
Well, I mean, it’s always nice to keep busy! What would you say your favourite show on the tour has been so far?
BFL: I’d say… Norwich, probably. There was a really nice atmosphere to that gig, and that was cool.
Right, and there’s a very intimate kind of atmosphere to the venue you’re playing tonight. The two supports you have with you for the tour, could you tell me a bit about them?
BFL: They haven’t come with us tonight, actually! It’s a local band [Whispers, who, as it turns out, were 'only playing their second ever gig' at this show].
Just the one support tonight then, right?
OK. About the album ['Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm'], which of its songs would you say you’re most proud of?
BFL: A song called ‘Butterfly Culture’.
And why do you think that is? You put a lot of work into the entire thing, so why that song in particular?
BFL: It’s one of the oldest songs [on there], so I’ve got, like, a nostalgic vibe whenever I play it.
What do you think we can expect from the set tonight? A mixture of old songs and new ones?
BFL: Yeah, it’ll be a real mix, and I’ll just be there playing them on my acoustic guitar!
Speaking of which, do you ever get nervous before going on stage? I know it must be, er, a bit different going out on stage on your own every night. Would you prefer to have the security of a full band around you, or…?
BFL: No, actually – I like it the way it is! It’s what I’ve gotten used to.
I suppose it must sort of have something to do with building up confidence as well?
BFL: Of course, yeah.
Your 2011 has been a bit of a whirlwind year for you, so what sort of music have you been listening to on tour?
BFL: Er, a lot of Bruce Springsteen… I also love the new Ryan Adams album ['Ashes and Fire'], lots of The National and Kate Bush… a lot of Tom Petty, too.
D’you think that you could see yourself going in a different direction for your second album? Would you want it to sound a bit more developed than your debut, or have you even started thinking about that yet?
BFL: I would want the sound to be a bit more developed, yeah, though I’ll probably still be keeping it acoustic.
How would you say your life has changed, even in the last six months, since the album came out?
BFL: I wouldn’t really say it’s changed: I’m doing the same things; I’m living in the same place; I still have the same friends. Things like that haven’t changed, I’m really just a lot more busy.
And when you do get a bit of time to yourself, what kind of things do you like to get up to?
BFL: I just like to chill, listen to music, see my friends, go to the pub and just… hang out.
Since you’re a musician, obviously the easy choice while touring is to surround yourself with different albums to listen to, and things like that. What would you say your favourite album of the year has been, so far?
BFL: Fionn Regan, ’100 Acres of Sycamore’.
I see! You supported him over here in July – for a few dates: Galway, Cork and Dublin, if I’m not mistaken?
BFL: It was actually just Galway.
Were you asked to support him?
BFL: I don’t know how it came about, but it was a cool trip.
I was actually at that one gig! You said you were suffering from a bout of food poisoning that night, if I recall correctly. Did that… colour your experience of the show too much, or…?
BFL: No, no, it was fun – just a bit of food poisoning.
You only got to play, like, twenty minutes or so, right?
BFL: Yeah, I know! It was a bit weird.
What did you think of Fionn’s headlining set that night?
BFL: I thought it was epic, just brilliant.
And what of the album itself?
BFL: I think the new album’s his best; the songwriting’s fantastic, and it’s great that he made an acoustic record again.
Would you say you’ve been inspired by that album, then?
BFL: I think maybe I was inspired by his first album ['The End of History']; it was what I was listening to in college – I listened to it every day!
That’s a very good album, and my favourite of his is ’100 Acres of Sycamore’ as well. Now, even though they’re not going to be here tonight, could you tell me a little about the support acts you had on the UK dates? Maybe about why you chose them?
BFL: I chose them because they’re good friends and amazing musicians. Daughter – I’ve been a fan of her for a while and I think she’s a great singer-songwriter; it was a pleasure [to have her on tour], a real pleasure to be touring with her.
I’ve heard that headline acts don’t usually like picking bands or artists who plough a similar kind of furrow to them as support. Do you have an opinion on that, or would you bring any support?
BFL: I’d bring any support if I liked their music.
If you could bring any two bands or artists or artists on tour with you, ideally, who would the two of them be and why?
BFL: Well, Daughter, again, and a band called Turin Brakes.
Ah! Turin Brakes! I honestly had absolutely no idea they were still around! I’ve investigated them a bit though, in the past, and I can imagine them working quite well on a bill with you as a headliner. You played some festivals over the summer: was that an ‘odd’ experience or just ‘different’?
BFL: Just different, really. It was a great experience to play festivals.
D’you think your songs came across a bit differently at your festival dates? I mean, just you, on a stage, playing to, oh, a couple of thousand people…
BFL: I wouldn’t say ‘differently’ – don’t think they ‘came across’ as anything in particular; some people liked ‘em and some people didn’t.
OK. Finally, before we finish up, what would your favourite three songs be from this year? I know I might be putting you on the spot here a bit, but…
BFL: Do they have to be songs from this year?
No, not necessarily.
BFL: Well: Ryan Adams, ‘Kindness’; Fionn Regan, ’100 Acres of Sycamore’; and Tom Petty, ‘King’s Highway’.
Tags: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Gareth O'Malley, Interviews