“I make music for spiritual reasons” - hmv.com talks to Benjamin Francis Leftwich
It’s been five years since Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s 2011 debut album Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, but he finally returns with a second full-length effort After The Rain today (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page).
We sat down with Leftwich to talk about why the gap between albums was so lengthy, how working with Alt-J’s producer Charlie Andrews got him focused and how the songs helped him through a dark time in his life…
It's been five years since your debut album came out, what's held up a follow-up?
“I toured the first album for about three years and then I needed some time away from music. Decompressing from touring took a long time and though I was writing, both for myself and for other people, during that time, I never felt like I had a body of work that was good enough. I make music for spiritual reasons. If I decide my third album is ready in a year I’ll release it then and if it’s ready in 10 years then I’ll release it then. Regular release schedules feel quite outdated now, you don’t need to be that restrictive.”
How did making this album compare to making your debut?
“Ian Grimble and Charlie Andrews are both amazing producers but they have very different work ethics and very different styles. This album is a lot more colourful and a lot more dynamic. We spent a lot more time finding the right sounds and exploring different options, not just relying on my voice and an acoustic guitar.”
How did you get in touch with Charlie? Did you know him or was he suggested to you?
“He was suggested by the label and we met up and got on really well and he’s become one my best friends. I’ve learnt a lot from him and he’s really helped me discover the core of my songwriting.”
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to have a body of work, was it difficult to gauge when you felt ready to go and record properly?
“You’re learning all the time in music and I had a lot of songs by the time we had to put the album together. You just have to choose the tracks that you think best represent you as a writer.”
Are you a prolific songwriter? Or do you know when to scrap something early on?
“I’m quicker to scrap things now, you can re-work things, but I like to jump on to different things quickly and be across lots and lots of songs. Occasionally songs will just fall from the sky, it’s beautiful when that happens, it’s not very often.”
Who played on the album with you? Any special guests?
“Most of the guitars are me, Charlie plays drums, I got Sam Forrest from Nine Black Alps in to play some guitar, Igor Haefeli from Daughter played on a track called ‘Groves’, Charlie’s wife Kirsty did all the strings and Sam’s wife Hayley sings all the backing vocals. Those are the best days, everyone coming together like that, they’re always special.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“Very honest and straight up. My first album has a lot of ambiguity, but this is quite different. I think what you think honesty is changes as you get older. When you’re younger it’s the first thing that comes to mind, but as you grow up you realise that the first impulses aren’t always the best and most honest ones.”
Which lyricists do you look up to? Have they changed as you've gotten older?
“My tastes in music have changed massively over the last couple of years, I listen to a lot more hip-hop now, not that you can hear it in my music! I don’t really relate to the language or subject matter, but the visceral energy and how unfiltered it all is, that really attracts me. There’s no rules anymore for me with my words.”
Are you a lyricist who’s always scribbling? Or do you sit down when the music is finished?
“I don’t have books and books of lyrics. I write as I go, sometimes they come quite easily and sometimes I have to re-work them and re-work them.”
Where did the album title come from?
“It came pretty late in the day. After The Rain really reflects the way I’m feeling, I’m going out of a tough time, I lost my Dad and that means I still have good days and bad days emotionally. It’s that feeling when you walk out of your house in the morning after it rains and everything feels fresh, it makes you appreciate things.”
Finally, what are your plans to take the album out live? And will you tour as hard as you did last time?
“I think we will. We’ve been touring since April and we’re booked right up until Christmas. I’m playing solo at the moment, I love playing all these songs at their purest and stripping them right down, I’m loving seeing the world again and meeting all the people who’ve discovered me while I’ve been away.”