Benjamin Francis Leftwich
by Sarah Turnnidge
Where has been your favourite place to play on this tour? I’ve loved it all, it’s been amazing to be back out. I think the Oxford gig was really good; the energy in the room was amazing, the people were really amazing. The York gig was really good, the Manchester gig was really good - I’d say those were the top three.
Where is your favourite place you’ve ever played? Canada. The scenery is beautiful, the people are beautiful… I mean, the people are beautiful everywhere but if you ask me to pick one, it’s just the place where I feel a real amazing energy.
So where are you most looking forward to playing on the upcoming tour? Canada! And we’re playing in Shanghai - I’ve never played there before so I’m well excited for that.
Do you have a preference between big or small gigs, or festivals? You can never tell until you get out on the stage, you can never tell the energy beforehand; it might be amazing or it might be really scary. Festivals in general I like playing in tents, when you play on a main stage it gets kind of lost, especially when you’re playing solo.
To someone who had never heard your music before, how would you describe your sound? Calming, introspective, and beautiful.
Who influenced your sound growing up and who influences you now? Growing up and now are different things, you know, your tastes expand and the stuff you’re influenced by grows and changes but growing up I would say Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Bryan Adams, Nina Simone, Placebo; I’m a big fan of Placebo. I just love them, I love everything they stood for as well. My tastes have become more accepting now, I listen to a lot more hip-hop, I love that energy in the music. I’m inspired by anything I love, I know it’s kind of an obvious answer but any music that moves me I take something from.
Are there any albums you heard growing up that have stuck with you and continue to influence you? Absolutely. Fionn Regan – End Of History, [the tracks] Be Good Or Be Gone, Abacus, Underwood Typewriter…. I’ve played with him a few times but I’ve never gotten to meet him. He’s kind of a shy guy but he’s fucking amazing. Springsteen – Nebraska, Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts, Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker.
Have there been any recent releases that have really inspired you? Not sonically, but inspiring on a human level. Kendrick Lamar, I think, is king of the world right now. I think the new Drake album is really amazing, and have you heard the new Radiohead yet? They’ve gone beyond, it’ll break you; they’ve released this new tune called Daydreamer and the video is so good.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? To be fair this changes all the time, but at the moment it would be this producer from Toronto called Noah Shebib 40 who does a lot of the music that comes out of the OVO camp. He does a lot of the Drake records, I think he’s just had a hand in the DVSN record; he’s just a sonic scientist… I think he is an actual scientist, I read somewhere that he is on of those guys that are really maths-y and science-y but free, in a way, as well.
New album on the 19th of August – what can we expect and how does it differ to your 2011 debut? Sonically it’s a lot more 3D. I feel like a better singer and a better guitar player. I think the message of the songs is more straight-up; I was 19⁄20 when releasing Last Smoke so, there’s an ambiguity to that record which I think makes it special, but I don’t just want to do the same thing, same thing
Do you think your sound has changed as you’ve matured? Yeah I’ve definitely, totally matured; but I think that’s just a human thing. It’s like when you read old texts on your phone that you sense three years ago and you’re like, “oh my god”, or you find your old Bebo or MySpace page and it’s like, what am I doing? This is on the internet forever! So yeah, of course, I feel I’m a different person and I don’t see any distinction between my personal life and my musical life.
Would you describe your songwriting process as intensely personal, or do you draw inspiration from other people’s stories My songs are always personal - at least, the stuff that gets through the net is always personal because I have to feel emotionally engaged with it. Even if I’m writing with other people, or writing for their stuff or my stuff or collaborating or whatever, the energy has to be right between those people. It’s a hard thing to explain, you know, you just have to be engaged emotionally in the songs. You’ll see when I play tonight I close my eyes a lot of the time when I’m singing and it’s kind of scary because you don’t know… Sometimes I close my eyes and wonder, is everyone just pointing at me? But actually, what I’m doing is finding the space in my head where the song came from initially. That’s the trick of being an artist, it’s your responsibility to kind of be as true to the song as possible but it’s easier said than done when you’re playing same songs hundreds of times.
If you had to choose between only writing songs or only playing live, which would you pick? Songwriting, to be honest. If you mean by songwriting, me just locked in a room naked with a guitar then… no, but if you just mean writing, collaborating with people, being in a studio, then I would, 100%.
How important do you think it is for musicians to have a social media presence? Very important. I think anyone who fights against it is just losing fans and almost disrespecting their fans as well. I mean, I love when I go on the Foals page and see what they’re saying, it’s like, I think all this talk of just “oh it’s all organic, no internet” is just talk of the past now. We’re all living in a modern age, whether you go to university or you write songs or you’re a scientist or a mathematician or a cage fighter or a pornstar, use the internet, go for it. I think it can hurt things as well, of course, like over-exposure, and you’ve got to be careful with it, because once something’s on the internet, it’s on there forever. But it’s a beautiful tool when used right.
What are your thoughts on Spotify and other music streaming services as a platform for artists? I think people are really divided over it and I’m ignorant, kind of, to the business of it but I just think like, a kid who lives in the middle of nowhere, Canada or whatever, spends $10 a month and they want to spend $10 because they’re skint and they want to be able to hear all their favourite songs, then I think, fair fucks to them. I’m not here going “I think you should be paying a 100 dollars and I should be getting $100”.
What about ‘premium’ platforms such as Tidal? I’m kind of neutral to it, I kind of think, Spotify and Apple Music have come about, and Tidal to some extent… though I see Tidal as kind of different. I thought the way it was rolled out was kind of snobby almost, it was just like okay, a group of millionaires all got together, but I respect them you know, I love Kanye, I love Jay-Z, I love Alicia Keys, I love Beyoncé, as we all do, but whatever. They’re free to do that, and I don’t know enough about the morality of it. But its come about because we all need music, spiritually, and, we all like to not spend loads of money, so, that’s the way the worlds going, and as musicians we’re not gods, we can’t stand in the way and say stop this stop this stop this. So let it roll, I’m glad my music is out there, I’m glad some people have discovered my music through there [Spotify] and I’m really humbled by the amount of plays I’ve had on there to be honest, just, insane.