Benjamin Francis Leftwich, despite his tender years, has already garnered masses of praise for the gently hypnotic material on his first two EPs, ‘A Million Miles Out’ and ‘Pictures.’
Ahead of the release of his full length debut, ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ Gigwise sat down with Ben to discuss rowdy crowds, Bruce ‘the boss’ Springsteen and the wisdom of the Aztecs.
Gigwise: Your debut album is this month, marking the culmination of years of progress as a writer and performer. Is it difficult to put together an album when the material you have available includes practically everything you’ve ever written?
Ben: It is a bit of a funny one. I guess with all your other albums just cover a two year period of progression, whereas the debut covers your whole life up to that point. Picking material for the album wasn’t that hard for me because I’m very picky about songs and I knew when I was writing them which ones would fit together for my idea of how the album should sound.
Gigwise: Ian Grimble produced the album and there are a lot of very nice subtle touches worked into the textures of the songs. I imagine you normally work just with your guitar, what was the process of working those extras in like?
Ben: Ian’s really a creative genius. I’ve always used a few nice extras, like subtle pieces of electric guitar but he came up with lots of other great sounds, he wanted it to be very minimal and had a great understanding of the songs.
Gigwise: There’s a girl who provides a few beautiful lines of backing vocal, do you work with her regularly?
Ben: She’s Holly, a really good friend of mine from York who also makes music. We’ve worked together a few times and it’s really nice to have her on some of the tracks.
Gigwise: Many of songs mention God, was theology a conscious theme you were working with on this record?
Ben: Not particularly, though it is mentioned many times. Most of the songs were written very much from my perspective as a young man going through that stage of life where God is just one of those things you start thinking about and discussing a bit more. I’d say that stage of life was more of a theme for the songs than God or any other particular topic.
Gigwise: The album takes its name from the song ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm.’ Is there any reason for making that the eponymous track?
It was do to with the fact that it was the last song written for the album, that last piece of the puzzle before things kick off. The song and particularly its title encapsulated that and so it made sense to name the album after it.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich album sampler
Gigwise: One of the tracks, ‘1904’ has been recorded for a few different sessions of late. If you could travel to any period in history for song writing inspiration where would it be?
I’d go to the Aztec times, hang out with the emperors in one of those pyramid style structures, enjoy some Aztec chocolate, fight the conquistadors. That would make for good song writing material. I’d probably skip the human sacrifice stuff though….
Gigwise: You’re playing a number of festivals this summer. How do you find it, playing to big rowdy crowds? I imagine your normal audience as being quietly mesmerised, in a more intimate setting…
Ben: I like it actually. It’s true that when I play gigs for my own audience there a lots of moments where its so quiet you can hear a pin drop, which is really flattering, but I don’t mind the noisier, less intimate settings. You’re there to entertain and have fun, I don’t mind what people are doing, if there talking or shouting or whatever, as long as their enjoying themselves.
Gigwise: There first thing a lot of people heard of you was a cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion’, which you recorded for a certain radio session. If you could have any of your songs covered, which song would you chose and who would cover it?
Ben: Bruce Springsteen. I would be awesome, I’d die of shock. I’d choose the track Bottle Baby. It’s a new one, it’s not on the album but I’m playing it live a lot and I’m very happy with it.
Gigwise: Any speculative plans for the next album?
I think a more expansive sound, maybe some more electronics, still sparse though. Lyrically, I guess I’ll be moving away from the late teen, student, early adult phase of my life that was their when I wrote these songs. I’m probably not going back to studying or anything like that, so I’ll move on to new things to sing about.