Plan B, aka Ben Drew, has had a busy year since the release of his critically acclaimed 2010 album ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’. Picking up Best Male at this year’s BRIT Awards was just the start for the 27-year-old.
As he gears up for the release his first feature film ‘Ill Manors, Gigwise caught up Plan B to discuss his life as a director, the new album and future plans.
How’s your summer been?
It’s been really good. We’ve been kind of been trying to minimise the amount of festivals that we were doing as much as we could as I’ve been trying to concentrate all my efforts on the film. We did Glastonbury, V festival and Jersey Live.
How do you find performing the ‘Strickland Banks’ show on a festival stage?
It’s great for me. It’s a shortened set and there’s so much energy when you’re playing in front of audiences of that size.
How did you get involved in the Lucozade's YES list campaign along with Tinie Tempah, Kelis, White Lies, Calvin Harris, Wretch 32 and Yasmin?
I’ve always liked the brand and I can’t really endorse things that I don’t really like. It’s hard for me to portray the real person and endorse something I don’t like. So when they came to me and I already liked the brand and the idea behind the whole campaign/story of it.
How did you find all the reaction and praise from ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’?
It’s been an amazing year. A lot of the s*it artists that are out there at the moment, the people that can barely sing, there the people who give me the confidence to be a musician. I think if they can do it I can do it and I always felt that I put my heart and everything I have into that album and all work around it. So I feel like I deserve to get the recognition that the album has given me. It doesn’t mean to say that I don’t enjoy it at the same time. Everything that’s happened hasn’t changed me as a person and I’m proud of that. It doesn’t matter how many awards I win it doesn’t seem to have that much affect on my confidence because I’m not the type of person who walks into a room and remembers all the things I’ve achieved. I still walk into a room and feel insecure with people you don’t know. I think why is that? You’ve achieved so much, why hasn’t anything changed? And I think it’s because I feel like all these awards and stuff that I’m getting I deserve. So when I walk into a room I just feel on a level with people, I don’t feel above myself.
With the first record because it was an underground record on a major label I really felt it. I wasn’t the respect I deserved from all angles. If I wanted to shoot a video I was given peanuts to shoot it with or if I wanted to develop an artist, or get money from my publishing company there was no money there. That made my quite bitter because I had a lot to offer but people weren’t backing me. So when the ‘Defamation of Strickland Banks’ came out and became so successful suddenly I’ve got people throwing stupid amounts of money at me. And I thought you f*cking idiots. It makes me not respect money and it makes me think that money is a dirty thing and the more you have made me realise that when we die we don’t take the money with us, we take the memories and all the cool things we did with people with that money. Success has really humbled me.
What changed in you as an artist when you were making the second album?
I just knew what the second album was right from the start. I didn’t make it the way I made it because I wanted it to get played on radio and I wanted it to become this huge album. I did what I did with that album because the music deserved it. I thought I’m inventing this fictional character who is obsessed with the 60s and he has this Northern Soul sound, so how’s the going to dress and be portrayed? Is he going to have that Northern Soul look and be in Casino’s? What band’s and artists would he be listening to? The whole Mod thing has been done to death because there was that little revival in the 90s and I though I don’t want to do that again so I wanted to go earlier than that. Absolutely not one thing of the ‘Strickland Banks’ was influenced by A&R’s at the record company or what was fashionable at the time. It was just the story and music deserved.
When I was left alone to make that album, completely uninfluenced and not monitored by anyone at the label they were just giving me little bits of money. They were expecting a hip hop record and yet I turned up with a soul record. I recorded the ‘Ballad of Belmarsh’ at the same time. When the soul record came out a lot of details changed within the story. So when we started shooting the videos some of it didn’t work and we had to make compromises at the time. So certain rap songs I’d written I had to change. When I got a chance to go back in the studio which was in February this year I had to re-write a lot of the songs for ‘The Ballad of Belmarsh’ because we’d already established certain things about the character in the second album. That album is still yet to come out as I had to start work on ‘Ill Manors’. I have no plans to release it yet it's really all about the film and soundtrack for that.
Where did the idea for Ill Manors come from?
It's a music based film with a really original soundtrack. Parts of the story are told through hip hop narration, with six short stories that combine to make on larger story. Each story has its own song so I kind of felt this was the next album I needed to do and focus on. So 'Ballad of Belmarsh' is tucked away and in the background till Ill Manors is over and done with. That album is not a priority for me at the moment, so I can't tell you when that album will be out not in the next few months anyway.
I wrote the film when I was 18 and I brought it to a film company who really wanted to make it and I told them that I wanted to direct it and then they wouldn't give me the backing for it. So I had to go and do other things to prove that I could direct. I wrote a short film about a drug addict and the producer I was with was like 'I've done loads of short films about drugs, does this film have to be about the same thing.' And I thought he's obviously not connecting with the story because I completely fictionalised to tell the story. I've got a lot of true stories that have happened. Shane Meadows says 'talk about what you know'. I wrote this short film 'Michelle' which incorporated my music and I also did a short film about a business women.
Our producer said you should do another one like that but make it into a full length film because then your fans will want to watch it. Nobody really watches short films any more but he said if your music is incorporated and a new soundtrack then people will want to watch it. I wrote 'Michelle' about four years ago just after a finished 'Adulthood' and showed it to Noel Clarke and he told me that I should turn it into a feature. Before I just wanted it to a TV series where every week you'd get a new director and new actor to star in it. After loads of people telling me I should turn it into a feature film I sat down wrote it. It took six months to write but then another three years to get funding. It's been a long process we had to get funding for it and since I got back from America that's all I’ve been working on.
It's a great film with some great performances from unknown actors who are going to be f*cking stars. There's so many future stars in this film, it's crazy how many talented people they’re around and it's crazy to think that most of them never get the brake they deserve.
What's planned for the rest of the year?
It's just about finishing this film at the moment for October 24 and then I start shooting Sweeney. That's what I’ve lost all the weight for drinking no alcohol and eating healthy. That's what's been hard trying to be creative and write and not drink. I've been in a film with Michael Cain and now I get to act alongside Ray Winstone it's amazing all my dreams are coming true. It's hard to say no to these great offers so I don't which then makes my life in turn pretty impossible. I've got no plans to really tour with the next album as I don't think you really can. I decided to make hip hop that can go in my films and not the kind of music that can be played on radio or you can play on a stage at a festival.
You can find out more about Plan B and the Lucoade campaign here.