I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet up with Benjamin Francis Leftwich in Edinburgh before his (more than sold out) gig at The Pleasance Theatre on Wednesday. We took a seat on the large stone staircase that leads up to the venue and had a chat about his new EP, touring the world, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Elliot Smith, Frightened Rabbit oh and The Vengaboys of all people………………
You’re currently in the midst of a massive 30 date tour in 34 days in October and November, how’s it been going so far?
Ben – “Yeah yeah it’s been great really really great like the first week the shows are all pretty much sold out, or pretty much there and I’m really pleased I’m in Edinburgh I love it, it’s a really pretty city so it’s all good and I feel like I’m playing pretty well.”
Have you played in The Pleasance Theatre before?
Ben – “No but I like it…”
It’s nice isn’t it? I’ve seen a few great gigs in here, the last one was The Low Anthem I think
Ben – “Yeah yeah I bet that was great”
It’s got good acoustics, have you already sound checked?
Ben – “No not yet man, four thirty”
I think you’ll enjoy it
Ben – “Thank you man”
Following on from the success of “Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm” last year, you’ve been on an almost constant touring schedule this year. What’s been the highlights of your year so far?
Ben – “The overall highlights been going to new places and meeting new people, you know I feel really lucky to be able to do that, I feel like I’m singing pretty well, specific highlight, going to Hong Kong was pretty mad that was like totally foreign to me that was pretty mad, I’ve played a load of great festivals over the past couple of years. playing Glastonbury last year was amazing, I opened up the acoustic stage on the Saturday yeah and I didn’t think there would be anyone in but there was a couple of thousand people all singing along and I’d never done a gig to more than like 300 people before then so I was just like” (Ben then made a scared noise that I would not even attempt to try to type, Imagine seeing a ghost and you’ll get the general idea)
I’m sad to say I was there but I didn’t come down and see you.
Ben – “Oh no (stands up and pretends to storm off) this interviews over (big laughs)”
I love Glasonbury
Ben – “yeah its amazing isn’t it?”
Are you playing it next year?
Ben – “I think we will be yeah” (Gives a little knowing wink)
I saw that despite this packed touring schedule you’ve still managed to find time to head into the studio to record new material. And you’ve announced this morning that you’ve got a new EP called “In The Open” coming out on November the 19th. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Ben – “Yeah it’s a four track EP recorded most of it back home in my friends garden shed with about three mics, it’s a really chilled vibe, again its acoustic guitar based songs the main track we recorded in London with a string section and a bit more stuff going on but I’m dead proud of it you know its me and it’s what I’m about and I’m proud of the songs.”
So you weren’t working with Ian Grimble again?
Ben – “ehm I did one song with Ian Grimble on this EP”
Are you going to be playing most of it tonight?
Ben – “We’re playing two songs off it tonight, maybe three, maybe all of them”
Are your setlists very organic? is it basically what you want to play and how the mood takes you?
Ben – “You know what most of the time we have the setlist figured out before the gig on the tour it’s usually the same ish every night, but when I’m on stage i can make eyes at my sound guy if I’m going to do something else i can just kind of vibe with him, I guess it’s going to be pretty quiet in there.”
The last few tours you’ve been playing with a band rather than solo, do you prefer playing/travelling with other musicians as opposed to by yourself?
Ben – “Yep, well the first album is an acoustic album and minimal but there were other bits of sound on it you know like percussion and other instruments so its nice to be able to replicate that and the band are all really good friends of mine so it’s just fun you know like, I mean i was never really totally by myself apart from the first tour I ever did, it was just me on trains with a guitar on my back and all of that kind of vibe, but its nice to be able to tour with a band, you know they’re really good players and i feel like I’m learning a lot from them as well and still the sets still kind of half and half acoustic and band”
Us being in scotland now I noticed You recently put up a cover version of Frightened Rabbits, Swim Until You Can’t See Land on Soundcloud, how did that cover come about? Are you a fan of the band?
Ben – “I’m a massive fan of the band I love them to bits I think they are one of the best bands in the world. I met them for the first time the other night and they were the nicest dudes in the world, its kind of weird when you are like both bands kind of touring similar touring circuits obviously they’ve been around for a lot longer than me we met up and they were so sweet just mint the nicest guys it was just amazing, their new EP is just outrageous”
I Also read that you’re a fan of Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and Elliot Smith, I’m also a fan of the three of them, what’s your favourite song/album by each of them?
Ben – “Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker”
Ben – “The obvious one I think, come pick me up is probably my favourite song off that”
Ben – “It’s so good isn’t it, it’s so good yeah (laughs), Springsteen Nebraska or the Rising, favourite song off Nebraska is Atlantic City, favourite song off The Rising, is The Rising or Everything’s Missing. ehm Elliot Smith is a funny one because I’ve always loved his music but it was actually something that press when the album came out a lot of press wrote his albums a bit like Elliot Smith and it was a compliment you know but I was never as big a fan as I was of Ryan Adams or Springsteen I love his music but i just don’t know it as much, my favourite Elliot Smith song Angeles”
That’s actually my favourite as well, I think we’ve got pretty similar music taste.
Ben – “It’s just an amazing song, actually when i was in Los Angeles like just after Christmas I met this really nice girl called Ashley and she like showed me round Los Angeles and she took me to the wall where the album cover was shot and it was really amazing to see what everyone had written.”
Apart from being a singer songwriter another thing you have in common with Ryan Adams is your love of cats, I read you were looking to get some more this year, have you managed to do that or has the extensive touring put a stop to that?
Ben – “Yeah, yeah, touring’s hard I don’t think a cat would like living on a bus, eh when I get home if I’ve got some time off, I think we’re gonna have about three months back home ish in the new year so I’d quite like to get some cats then, I wanna get some really small ones, really tiny”
Do you currently have a favourite song old or new to play live?
Ben – “Favourite song of mine? there’s a song called “Is That You On That Plane” which is a song off the new EP, that one I really love singing, it’s an important one to me.”
So we’re going to hear that one tonight then?
Ben – “Yeah” (we found out later at the gig that the song is about when his Gran starting to smoke weed to help manage the pain of cancer)
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Ben – “This is a five-week UK tour, we finish in like four weeks then I’ve got three days off then i go to America and Canada for two months get back just before Christmas, then I’m going to take two or three months and make another new record, put that out in the new year then tour and into the festivals”
Start the whole cycle again
Ben – “Yeah” (makes a noise like he’s dying clutching his chest)
Do you have a favourite place to play outside the UK?
Ben – (Without hesitation)“Canada, it’s just amazingly beautiful and everyone’s really chilled, I love everywhere I go people are so nice but Canada”
I love so much Canadian music
Ben – “Yeah man, it’s unreal, you know the band Tokyo Police Club, i think they’re mint, Arcade Fire obviously”
You’ve obviously done the cover of Rebellion, I love like Feist as well
Ben – “Yeah she’s great, I wasn’t mad on her new album”
I quite like her new album
Ben – “Is it alright? I’ll have to give it a proper listen, The reminder is so good It’s kind of hard to beat”
Yeah the new album is good, I saw her at the concert hall in Glasgow this year
Ben – “Was It good?”
Yeah I took my mum actually, she loved it she never goes to gigs or anything but I got her playing it in the car and stuff
Ben – “That’s nice man”
There is another couple of questions that we kind of aim to ask everyone we interview throughout the year and are just a bit fun
Ben – “Cool go for it, funny questions are my favourite”
This is not quite so silly but If you could have written any song in history what would it have been? and why?
Ben – “ehm you remember that song , (Sings)”boom boom boom boom I want you in my room, we’ll spend the night together”
Ben – “yeah yeah yeah it was man, I’ll go for that it’s so fucking cool” (laughs)
You should cover it sometime
Ben – “Yeah maybe” (laughs)
If you could share a cheese fondue with anyone living or dead who would it be?
Ben – “A cheese fondue, you see I’m tempted to say some like really fit bird but then it wouldn’t be, if it’s like the first time you meet a girl or a guy or whatever and you go, I don’t think I’ve ever been on like a date but you go for like dinner it’s just a bit awkward cause you never know when to eat, or like and that’s quite a messy dish as well so I’m going to say ehm probably………. ah it’s such a good question (long pause) eh Springsteen, play it safe.”
Just finally, not that I’m condoning violence in anyway BUT if you had to punch one of either Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger in the face who would it be? And why?
Ben – “If I absolutely had to, firstly I really wouldn’t like to punch either of them in the face, i don’t think I’ve ever punched anyone in the face before, but um… (long long pause) out of those two people who do you reckon’s punched more people in the face?”
Ben – “Jagger yeah that’s what I’m gonna say, probably him yeah yeah”
Just because he deserves it more cause he’s done it in the past
Ben – “But I reckon The Beatles when they were young in Liverpool, they were lads, they definitely had the odd scrap, I wouldn’t like to punch either of them but if I had to choose I’ll say Jagger.”
Thanks again to Ben for the interview, he was a a thoroughly nice guy and deserves all the success I’m sure is going to come his way.
You can find out more information about Ben and the new EP here