“Great chunks of the album are really personal, I get a strange kick out of that…” – hmv.com talks to Ben Howard
27-year old Ben Howard has never been one to court the limelight. His debut album Every Kingdom has sold over one million copies and he might be a household name, but he's not someone you imagine gets stopped in the street very often.
In the months after Every Kingdom was released, Howard’s sales were strong and steady, a word of mouth success, but, after he was nominated for two Brit Awards, he suddenly became the name on everyone’s lips, huge gigs and big slots at festivals followed, and as he went away to follow-up Every Kingdom, everyone was expecting a quick follow-up to capitalise on that success.
But it didn’t come. As had been Howard’s way, he retreated to the countryside, to Devon where he’s from and still lives, and worked on the follow-up, slowly and surely.
It finally emerges next week, it’s a denser record than Every Kingdom and far more ambitious, full of big soundscapes and huge choruses (and can be previewed on the right hand side of the page). We sat down with him to find out all about its long gestation, his musical ambitions and his plans for touring the record.
How long have you been working on the album for?
“There are songs that I’ve been working on since the first record. They were mostly written last year or in winter the year before.”
You did it down in Devon again, why did you choose to do that?
“I live 20 minutes away, so that’s nice. There’s no phone signal, no internet, it’s a really beautiful part of the world, but you really have to focus. I wanted to stay there because I felt like we needed to keep some consistency from the first album. I felt like the songs had evolved so much that I thought I wanted to keep something the same.”
Did you have the option to go away? To America or to London maybe?
“Yeah there was a lot of talk of that. Actually once we started the first few weeks were a bit tricky and we talked about scrapping it and going away. Also that place is so intense, you can’t do anything else, you can’t go outside and have a coffee, there’s nothing else there. Perhaps on the next album I’ll go somewhere culturally more interesting, I haven’t spent too much time in cities, and it’d give the record a different energy.”
You don’t need isolation then, you’d feel as comfortable working in the middle of New York as you would in the middle of Devon?
“I think so. But then again coming back off tour, we toured for so long, the popularity of the album kept increasing and the gigs were hard to turn down. In hindsight we stayed on the road a bit too long, so I needed to go home and get back to my life. I think it would have been a vastly different record if I’d done it in a heaving metropolis.”
You did the record with your drummer Chris Bond again, how does that work? Who acts as producer?
“He acts as producer and I kind of sit over his shoulder checking on things, it’s weird. It was better this time round because we’ve played together so much and we have a great working relationship. I can talk to him in weird adjectives and hand gestures and he seems to understand what the f**k I’m talking about.”
Is this a more experimental album?
“Yeah, I was the more experimental one. We tried things, we even put a guitar amp in a piano and recorded it through that. We spent a lot of time working out ideas.”
How did you want this album to move on from Every Kingdom?
“I knew we’d moved on already. The songs had evolved and the music I was playing was so different, I didn’t need to make a conscious decision, the songs went to different places than I thought they would. I didn’t feel the need to make a statement, all I wanted was natural evolution. I knew we were wanted to make noise, that’s for sure. I was in an expansive mood, I’d have put an orchestra on it if I could.”
Do you think your sound has changed much?
“I don’t think it’s changed drastically. I think the album is more refined and a lot more considered. That’s the biggest change, things are more considered. We all know we play music for a living now and we can afford to be more considered.”
Is it a personal album?
“Great chunks of it are really personal, I get a strange kick out of that, I don’t know why. This album actually doesn’t weigh as heavily on the lyrics, there’s a bit more space for the music.”
When did you decide that was going to be the title?
“It always stayed with me, I’m not sure why. There’s a lot of sentiments attached to that title, it suits everything.”
There are a few epic tracks on the album, you’ve broken the seven minute mark…
“Yeah, if the content’s there I’m happy to go longer. Tracks like ‘End Of The Affair’ felt like they needed that length. I don’t plan those things, if a song feels right, it ends up that length. I do like long songs, I like the journey.”
Would you be open to collaborations in the future?
“I would, I feel ready to do that now. I’d like to sit down and pick people’s brains, I feel like I’ve got to a point where I can offer people something. There will be collaborations this year, I’ve already chatted to a few friends about it.”
What about writing for other people? A boyband for example…
“I don’t think I have the ability to do that, not in the pop world. I can’t really work like that. That’s a financial thing and I’ve never been particularly financially ambitious. I like the idea of writing with other people.”
What have you got planned for the live shows?
“It’s going to be bigger, more expansive. I never thought I’d be planning a bigger live show, but it just suits this records. A lot of my heroes are guys who can just stand there with a guitar and play, they don’t need a light show, and I’ve come away from that somehow. I’d like to go back there one day, but at the moment I don’t feel like I could entertain a crowd just me on my own.”
You’re doing multiple nights at Brixton Academy, which means you’re playing to over 9,000 people, are you looking to do arenas next?
“I would like to pursue that and I feel like it’ll be on this album that we do. I think the album suits big places, I wouldn’t get carried away with it, but I’d love to try it.”
Finally, how much touring do you have lined up?
“Lots. We’re talking about going to all sorts of places, I’m looking forward to taking a bigger show out to people and see how they react.”
Ben Howard’s new I Forgot Where We Were is released on Monday (October 20th). You can pre-order it in hmv stores now.