After breaking through with his debut album “Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm” back in 2011, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has enjoyed a successful decade as one of the UK’s finest songwriters and solo performers.
Benjamin started his journey with a freshly created Dirty Hit, and has grown with the label he became the first signing for. Now, we are on the cusp of album number five.
We caught up with Benjamin, who revealed all about his new album, “Some Things Break”, including songwriting collaborations, travelling, and expressing vulnerabilities.
We also discuss his upcoming UK & Ireland tour, working with Matty Healy, the journey with Dirty Hit, and plenty more.
NC: How are you feeling ahead of Friday’s release, is it business as usual or any nerves?
BFL: “It’s not nerves or pressure, but it’s not business as usual either. I have less fear in my life now and I’ve had less fear making this album, so it is the most emotionally and spiritually open I’ve been. I am hiding less on the songs so it feels more congruent and sonically different with new areas of life to sing from. It feels like a new way of doing things for me and I’m really proud of it. I love the songs and I think it’s the best album I’ve made.”
NC: So has expressing more vulnerabilities been comforting for you, in a way?
BFL: “Yes I think it is a comfort. I was living in so much fear and self-absorption, I just second guessed everything. This time I’m more accepting that the songs are landing from a higher place and I am allowing my producers space to make things sound better. If someone plays a guitar section better than me on a track, they should play it. I used to be too focused on doing everything myself. We always say in the studio now, “do whatever is best for the song”. If that means someone else writes a chorus, or we take sounds from different people, we want whatever is best for the project collaboratively.”
NC: You wrote this album in four different cities around the world, did you take inspiration from each setting?
BFL: “Yeah man. My experiences wandering around and travelling to new places makes my heart feel different each time. My Godmother and good friends live in Washington so I always spend time there at the end of a tour for personal reasons as well as musical reasons. I love the scenery there. Nashville and Stockholm, I have been lucky to write and jam with other artists, and there is a big writing community in these places. I worked with Mikky Ekko over there and we really hit it off. Sometimes it just lands better with different people in different places.”
NC: It sounds like you are embracing the collaborative side to music creation more now. Do you prefer it this way?
BFL: “Every time I’ve ever made an album, I have a conversation with Jamie Oborne (Dirty Hit) and my manager saying I want to work with the same person, and rightly I’m counselled to try new things. Again, it’s my fear of the unknown. What are they like, will we get on? Will they rush me, are they patient? I love collaborating but my experience is you need to try a few wrong ones before you find the right match. It took me a while to get there through the smoke and mirrors of being all about me and anti-co-writing. People who co-write, trust, and love each other can make special things. There is a song with five writers on this album because it has developed with different people over time. It’s the closest I’ve got to one of those Beyonce songs with 20 writing credits!”
NC: You collaborated with a fellow labelmate, Matty Healy, on “New York”, how was that?
BFL: “I didn’t write it with him, this story got out of hand. I was jamming a country song and it sounded quite nice so I ended up writing it over the course of an hour on Zoom with my friend Josh. I said I really love this and texted the song to Matty, who was really gracious and loved it too. He asked if he could use it, either for a 1975 album or a collaboration, and I said of course. Whoever can get the song in the best place can do it. He opened for Phoebe Bridgers in America and played the song, and in the dressing room he wrote a new bridge for it. This became the chorus of “Part Of The Band”. That’s the story of that song, so I didn’t write it with him but he really encouraged it.”
NC: How did you find him as a person, as he his often in the headlines and perceived as being quite divisive?
BFL: “I love him, we’ve been friendly for over 12 years, and I’ve loved all of my experiences hanging out with him. He’s an amazing songwriter, crazily good. He is aware and awake for sure. I don’t know about all of the craziness that goes on but I’ve known him for a long time and I love the band. It’s a great gift that we made some music together. I love when everyone’s ego is out of the way and a song can bounce around from person to person. Ultimately without the songs, we are nothing.”
NC: Are you comfortable with the idea of “ghost writing” and staying in the background sometimes then?
BFL: “I don’t call it ghost writing but I know what you mean, that is the term generally used. But I do it every day, I am in the studio working with different artists every day. I love the anonymity of it, and seeing the songs performed at shows, remembering the studio moment when it was first created. It is a beautiful thing, and nowadays you see it even more with kids dancing around to your songs on TikTok!”
NC: How have you adapted to this modern transition in the way music is consumed, particularly on TikTok?
BFL: “It’s crazy man. I adapted really slowly and judgementally to be honest, all the horrible defects of character you can think of. This was until God slapped down my ego and I realised working with Katie Gregson-MacLeod how a song can really take over the world through TikTok. It is a new frontier, and as long as you are true and honest on there rather than cheating the algorithm, it can be a beautiful thing.”
NC: You were the first artist signed to Dirty Hit. How has that journey been and did you know how far the label could go?
BFL: “People say I was the first signed there, but Little Comets signed in the same week. I love those guys, they are legends, and they might have been just before me. I had no idea where the journey would lead and the crazy times ahead. I was in New York when Jamie called me to say he was setting up a label called “Dirty Hit” and did I want to sign. He said it was a drug reference and as a hipster 18-year-old I was in! I never got the old label wine and dine with major labels, and didn’t have great experiences with the big producers. Jamie was basically tour managing me too, so I’m really grateful for everything he did. I remember him playing me a demo of “The City” (The 1975), early Japanese House, and Marika Hackman. We are just a family now, and I’m so blessed to be there. I want to see out my life and career at Dirty Hit, even if that isn’t making records. There is a publishing company there now and I have my eye on that. I love the label and I love my manager, and to be able to say that as a musician, I feel really lucky.”
NC: You are from York, do you get much chance to go back and how was the scene for your development?
BFL: “I’m a Leeds fan so I do go back a lot for weekends. The scene was amazing, I could talk for hours about it. I remember being at school with a guitar on my back and playing at shows afterwards. The main people on the scene showed me love and took me under their wing, I hope to pay that back to new artists. There are so many legends of the York scene. I lived there during the madness of the first album, but I needed to move to London for the game, especially for co-writing. But I’d love to move back to Yorkshire one day, I feel at peace there and the people are nicer for sure. I think as a music scene it is so underrated, but the infrastructure isn’t quite there. As a creative space to grow though, it is perfect in York, I think music professionals in London could learn a lot if they spent some time there.”
NC: And finally, how excited for you to get back out on tour and where are you looking forward to playing most?
BFL: “I can’t wait to get out on tour. I love playing in Dublin, the energy there is so good. But generally it’s hard to gauge where is going to be good. Often it is the midweek shows that catch you off guard. Salt Lake City on a Tuesday, or playing in the Guangzho province in China, random places like that throw up a nice surprise. So we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Some Things Break”, the new album from Benjamin Francis Leftwich, is out THIS Friday – February 9th – via Dirty Hit.
Head to BENJAMIN FRANCIS LEFTWICH for album pre-order and tour information.
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