Despite his ‘guy with a guitar’ semblance, Benjamin Francis Leftwich avoids the clichéd adages often used to label singer-songwriters. His 2011 debut album titled Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm was released to much acclaim with ‘Shine’ named Spotify’s most addictive track of 2014. Five years since his debut release, Leftwich returns with his second studio album, After the Rain, set to drop this August. Before this, Leftwich embarks on his UK and EU tour; one that will see him perform in his home town of York on May 1.
It is testament to Leftwich’s talents that he has made a name for himself in an increasingly saturated genre. Leftwich innovates through placid folk guitar melodies that foreground his accomplished lyrical craft. Born and raised in York, it was the silvery sound of a certain band from Liverpool that first captured Leftwich’s imagination. “My dad always used to play The Beatles records in the house when I was growing up so I was obsessed with that stuff”, he explains. “You know you don’t understand what it is when you’re that age”, admits Leftwich before treating me to his own effortless rendition of ‘Eleanor Rigby’; “You know, why is that like the best thing ever?”, he says.
Yet it was not simply creative inspiration that The Beatles are accredited with. John Lennon and co. also played a practical role in Leftwich’s early musical exploits:
“I learnt a lot of guitar and a lot of chords through The Beatles song chord books. Obviously it’s not accurate to the beautiful and blessed recordings of The Beatles”, he hastens to add, “but you know as a way to kind of understand song writing a little bit I remember it being really useful.”
While drawing comparisons to Damien Rice, it is evident that Leftwich has his own distinctive style. Indeed, Leftwich’s lyrical composition is much to be admired: focusing on spirituality, loss and love, he creates an organic serenity draped in sincere emotion. Of his songwriting, Leftwich notes that, “In general it’s all really personal even if it’s a story influenced by someone else if I feel emotionally engaged enough to sing it, then it becomes personal”.
“You write what you care about”, he insists, “and what you care about might have happened to you or something that happened to your family”.
Following the release of Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, Leftwich suffered the loss of his father which saw him take a break from music altogether. After the Rain is an accumulation of Leftwich’s subsequent lows and the rediscovery of the peace that had deserted him. Produced by Charlie Andrew (Alt J), the upcoming album is a marked improvement on his debut release according to Leftwich:
“Sonically it’s more expansive and 3D. I think I am a better guitar player and a better singer. Working with Charlie Andrew on production was insane, he’s a god, he’s an amazing painter and scientist in his own right.”
Leftwich is quick not to dismiss the work that has grounded his reputation, but recognises how his own personal development is reflected in After the Rain. “I am also really proud of Last Smoke but, whether you’re a musician or not, in five years you change as a person and you experience different things. You live and you make mistakes and do good things and bad things. It’s all in there man, it’s all in there.”
With the prospect of an imminent tour and album release, Leftwich comes across relaxed and brimming with enthusiasm for his latest ventures. His upcoming performance in York will be steeped in personal attachment to the city’s creative vitality, which stimulates Leftwich’s own artistic motivations: “You go out in town and you see the most insane and talented people writing the most insanely amazing beautiful heartfelt songs. In general, it tends not to escape.”
The tour will take him from Norwich to Paris as he performs at twenty-five venues in just under a month. Given such demands, Leftwich reveals how he enjoys relaxing during the busy schedule. “I really like watching TV shows”, he says, “I love Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul followed me on Twitter which made my life! I mainly watch documentaries on the conflict in the Middle East and try and learn as much as possible.” Leftwich finds a calmness within his own industry, mixing his adoration for music with ample time for socialising. “I get sent new music every day, I listen to music a lot and I have friends. I think people don’t believe me when I say that I’ve got some friends”, he laughs.
Refreshingly, as a discerning appreciator of rising artists, Leftwich is constantly on the lookout for music that would otherwise go unrecognised. “Oh man there is this artist called Laurel”, he suddenly exclaims, “she has got a song called ‘Life Worth Living’ and it’s the craziest thing I have ever heard. It’s so good, man it’s so good.”
Back creating music after a five year hiatus, Leftwich would be forgiven for regarding a tour and an album release as accomplishment enough for one year. However, Leftwich’s short-term aspirations will leave fans excited for what is to come. “I would like to release more music on top of the album before the end of the year, that would be amazing”.
There is a sense that Leftwich’s creative production has gathered a newfound momentum which promises to raise his already impressive standard to new heights. In the past, Leftwich has teamed up with the likes of Kygo and Cascada while highly rated producer Charlie Andrew should provide a fine-tuned edge in Leftwich’s forthcoming album. In light of his latest collaboration, Leftwich is keen to form further partnerships.
“I would love to work with a producer called Noah ‘40’ Shebib, he does most of the OVO records and he is an amazing producer” he explains, before noting how he would “love to work with Mike Skinner again”. The Streets’ frontman remixed Leftwich’s single ‘Atlas Hands’ in 2012.
Regardless of future collaborations, it is Leftwich in his own right that will ensure his reputation continues to rise. The YouTube preview release of the impassioned ‘Tilkim’ from After the Rain suggests a more refined and mature artist. Leftwich’s artistic ingenuity as a songwriter has defined his success so far. All signs point to its continuation.
21 – The Brickmakers – Norwich
22 – The Portland Arms – Cambridge
23 – Academy 2 – Oxford
24 – The Bodega – Nottingham
26 – The Harley – Sheffield
27 – Electric Circus – Edinburgh
28 – Nice N Sleazy – Glasgow
30 – Live At Leeds
1 – The Crescent – York
3 – The Night & Day Cafe – Manchester
4 – The Shipping Forecast – Liverpool
5 – The Rainbow Courtyard – Birmingham
6 – Clwb Ifor Bach – Cardiff
7 – The Louisiana – Bristol
9 – The Cavern – Exeter
10 – The Joiners – Southampton
11 – The Forum – Tunbridge Wells
12 – The Borderline – London
13 – Green Door Store – Brighton
15 – Whelan’s (upstairs) – Dublin, IE
16 – Amstelkerk – Amsterdam, NL
17 – Les Nuits Botanique – Brussels, BE
18 – Theater der Wohngemeinschaft – Cologne, DE
19 – Le Klub – Paris, FR