Benjamin Francis Leftwich has been taking the UK acoustic music scene by storm over the last few months, gaining praise from all the right people and working hard to unleash his thought-provoking album, ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ in to the world. We share a short chat with the 21-year-old York-based singer-songwriter at Leeds Festival 2011 and talk about his success, being based up North, plans for the future and more.
“I used to get really messed up at Leeds Festival as a kid!”
S] How has the vibe been for your Leeds Festival 2011 so far?
B] “Yeah, really good thanks. I got in a few hours ago, had some food, got a bit wet from the rain and played the show. I mean, to be honest for me as an acoustic artist being amongst so many rock and pop bands is kind of weird, but I really did enjoy it and my crowd were great.”
S] As an artist that has “broken out” recently and is capable of performing at such a high level, what do you think about performing smaller gigs back home in York, or indeed in places like Leeds and Hull?
B] “I absolutely love those smaller shows. The gig I played in Hull at the Fruit venue was awesome and that had a really great, chilled out vibe to it. Those kinds of gigs are my favourite ones to play by far.”
S] What kind of tips do you have for festival goers?
B] “Wellies are very important! Lots of waterproof jackets as well! Also, a bin bag to keep stuff in that you don’t want to get wet, and pillows are important for the tent!”
S] What does the opportunity to play here at Leeds mean to you?
B] “Oh, it’s an amazing opportunity and as I said when I was playing earlier, I used to come here all the time as a kid; I used to get really messed up and did that whole festival thing! It is amazing to be back! It’s fantastic for me to be here and there is a definite nostalgic vibe for me.”
S] Does York and your surroundings have an effect on your sound?
B] “I don’t think so, at least not directly. York is a really chilled out place to be and you can feel quite contained there and get lost in your own world. It’s definitely influenced the way that I think and the way that I write music in some ways, but not in any direct fashion.”
S] Is there a track right now that you feel defines where you are at as an artist now?
B] “That’s a good question, I think that would have to be the song, ‘Stole You Away’ off of the album, because there’s a bit more percussion on that, and some electric guitars as well. It doesn’t necessarily define where I am, but it does show that I am looking to expand my sound. So yeah, I’d say it would certainly be that song.”
S] Where do you find your inspiration from – can you be simply walking the street, or watching TV for example?
B] “It’s kind of natural for me. I think anything can influence a song and there’s no real rule to it. It would be nice to say that I have the perfect place to write, but that’s kind of bull**it to me. I can be inspired by anything at any time. Of course, sometimes I see little things that will remind me of something else, and then the song-writing process can build from there, but I don’t think there is any real formula unless you sound like a Shakira! [laughs]”
S] What are your plans after this weekend?
B] “I’m just going to be touring loads and I have a big one set-up for October and then I’m going to be doing something in Europe and hopefully the States. Other than that, I will keep working on new songs and potentially, I’ll go away after Christmas and record.”
S] What do you enjoy most about performing live in contrast to working in the confines of the studio?
B] “I love performing live. It’s a complete challenge and something completely different every night. It’s an amazing thing for me to be able to tour and do the things that I am at the moment. I’m really happy to be in this position. There is a certain freedom to the studio though, if you can approach it in the right ways. It can be a very good place to experiment and try out new things. For me though, that is similar to playing on a live stage because it’s just me as an acoustic guitar – if I wanted to, I could experiment and change the vibe.”
S] It takes a lot for an acoustic musician to go out there on their own – how did you find the courage to perform?
B] “I don’t feel that it is a courage thing really, just that’s what I am the most comfortable doing! This is the best way for me to perform live at the moment. Of course, there are some people who like it and some who just don’t get it because it’s an acoustic thing, but I really enjoy it. My only advice to other people who are thinking about making music as an acoustic artist or otherwise, is to do what’s right for the songs – if you’re sitting in your bedroom writing acoustic songs that you are happy with, then go out there and play them! Some people seem to think that they need drums and bass for songs to work so they can ‘fill it out’ or whatever, but I think it’s important to just focus on what’s right for the songs you are making.”
S] It is arguably very difficult to break out of a city like York and that type of scene; would you advise any young musicians coming out of smaller areas like York and Hull to move to an area like London to find exposure?
B] “No! I didn’t do that. I really don’t think that kind of stuff matters and that it can be a bit of an excuse really. I think if you’ve got good music that you are happy with and you are playing shows then why not just stay in your hometown, you know? York’s only two hours on the train from London – get on the train, have a beer, get some sleep and you are there! York is an amazing place to be. If I’d have grown up in London, I wouldn’t have been able to write the songs that I have while growing up in York. Home is home. I don’t think that you should move somewhere just to break into a specific industry. The internet makes everything so much easier – if you need to connect with someone in London, then you can do so by sending a message in a second!”
S] How do you look back on the record ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ now that it has been out for a while?
B] “To be honest, I look back on it really fondly. I wrote for this album when I was growing up and just after I left school as well as more recently, with some of the newer songs on there. Making the album, there were some dark times and some really good times as well. So yeah, I look back on it all very fondly and it is certainly the best record I could have made at the time. I am really proud of it.”
S] Are you working on new material?
B] “Yeah, totally. I played a new song today, and I try to play new songs every night. I am always writing and I’m constantly backstage at a show with my guitar.”
S] For the new material, have your inspirations changed?
B] “Yes. I think they’ve changed a bit to be honest. I’d like to try and tackle bigger things on the new stuff that I was perhaps afraid to talk about before. I think it’s important for me to be honest lyrically.”
S] About relationships, perhaps?
B] “Not necessarily. Just bigger things. I want to be much more direct with my lyrical content.”
S] Random festival question now: in the event of a zombie outbreak, what weapon would you use to defend yourself and why?
B] “A water cannon. Seriously. You can’t kill a zombie right? So, you have to keep them far away. At least with a water cannon you can defend yourself and stay alive a little bit longer!”
S] Okay, another one. If you could sit down with a group of people, anyone that you want, and listen to your music while having dinner, who would you pick?
B] “Bruce Springsteen because he’s a hero of mine and it would be amazing to chill with him. Maybe, Rio Ferdinand because he seems like he’s pretty cool, but there might be a clash of personalities. Also, my girlfriend because then, if Rio got a little too drunk, she could kick him out and then we could chill with Bruce!”
For more information visit the official Benjamin Francis Leftwich website.