English singer/songwriter Ben Howard has pretty much established himself as a musician back home but over here, his music was just released officially last spring and he has had to climb up the ladder all over again to win the hearts of the people on this continent. Whatever he has done though, it seems to have worked in Montreal because he went from playing the small Cafe Campus to the Metropolis in just a few months! His major debut “Every Kingdom” and his overall sound is usually classified as folk or folk/rock though he doesn't think it really fits in either. Read on to see what he had to say and draw when I sat down with him last week before his show.
CONFRONT: You were just here in April right? Did you have the time to see the city a little?
BEN: Yeah we had a little cruising around. It was really nice here; pretty.
CONFRONT: And what did you think of the Montreal crowd last time?
BEN: I was really vibing it! It was funny because last time, it was the end of a tour; the end of a nightmare US tour where it was just loads of driving and it was kind of hard work. We got to Canada and we were already tired but the crowd was amazing last time. It’s amazing to come back to a venue like this.
CONFRONT: That’s true, last time you were at a smaller one!
BEN: Yeah so this time is just epic just to come here; the soundcheck in here was just beautiful and it’s a really nice room.
CONFRONT: A big upgrade! And going back into the past a little now, you had really musical parents right?
BEN: Yeah to a certain extent. My parents always listened to music a lot; they were big music lovers so we always had music playing in the house. I think I’m still kind of drawn to 60s and 70s records in terms of sound and stuff like that because there’s something nostalgic in there for me; I grew up and that’s what my parents were listening to.
CONFRONT: Do you think that had a big impact on your career choice?
BEN: Not necessarily. I always played guitar and I would write out little songs but never thought of it as a career until I dropped out of uni and thought I should really do something with myself. I thought I could just try to make a go at it. I started to do a few open mics and thought I could actually do this as a profession.
CONFRONT: I also read that you’re really not looking for fame with this so what exactly are you looking to achieve with your music then?
BEN: It’s quite a privilege to actually go around, play music and have so many people go to the shows. To be able to share that with people, it’s a bizarre thing; you write on your own and then you share it with people every night. The fame side for me is funny because it’s really nice and really positive in many ways. It’s really nice to get recognized by people and I think we all live our lives in the eyes of other people to such a huge extent anyway, all of us do. But it’s funny that people recognize you quite a lot for what you do.
CONFRONT: You still want to keep your privacy.
BEN: Yeah! It’s a funny one, I’m not big into it but I see it as a by-product to being able to do what we love so much and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s amazing! We get to travel around the whole world and you meet friends all the time. You meet people who think they know you and even if they don’t, they come to you with such a positive energy and it’s really amazing to have that all over the world.
CONFRONT: You’ve been talking a lot about traveling and meeting people. So what is your favorite part of being a successful artist?
BEN: There are so many different aspects to it. The traveling side of it is amazing. I wanted to travel more than anything when I was younger and that was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to play music necessarily, I didn’t have any profession in mind; I just knew I wanted to travel. Originally, I went into journalism to be a travel writer. It was this sort of romantic idea of going out, seeing places, writing about them and someone would pay me for it.
CONFRONT: It’s hard though.
BEN: Yeah only a few people get paid to do that. But yeah the traveling is definitely a big thing; getting to be in so many places and to be able to play music is a really cool thing. And I travel with friends so I get to keep them really close.
CONFRONT: That must be really fun!
BEN: Yeah it really is!
CONFRONT: Now, before you came and officially released your music in North America, you were already pretty big in Europe.
BEN: Yeah stuff had really started moving at home definitely, yeah.
CONFRONT: How did it feel to have to go through all the “starting musician” steps again? Or was your name already pretty known around here as well?
BEN: That last American tour when we came here at the end of it, that was kind of going back to the basics. We were playing clubs of 200 people and dingy little places. It was a reality check because we had gone from playi
ng places like this back to level 1.
CONFRONT: How does that feel?
BEN: It’s grounding. I have to fight really hard against always getting your way and stuff always being there for you. You get to venues and people are happy you’re there, you get fed and then you go back to [the smaller venues] and you kind of expect it. It’s hard not to. But you go back to those tiny venues and everything sounds like shit, you got no rider and you got 5 beers between all of you, you’re not getting paid for it but it’s good. I wish every third of fourth tour went like that. We never forget how good it is but we definitely have to remind yourself sometimes because we did a lot of small and difficult shows especially at the beginning in England. And we’ve done one in Australia recently as well where it was back to basics. It’s good, it’s really good for you and it makes you realize what you want from it all and where you want to go from there. I think there’s a lot of people in England that just play in England and they become massive in the UK and they’ve got a really bad attitude about it because they never go anywhere else and they never see other places, never had to play a shit gig in their life. We’ve done all that and it’s worth it.
CONFRONT: That’s what matters right?
CONFRONT: Let’s talk about your album a little bit; it came out almost a year ago and then it was re-released here in April. Where do you think you fit in today’s industry where every genre is divided into 10 other subgenres?
BEN: I think we sort of just melt into a little section in music of sentimental music and there’s definitely something about the songwriting. But we’re definitely on the music side rather than the entertainment side. I like to think we’re just bringing good solid music to people. I don’t know what type of music it is; it’s not folk, it’s not really rock…
CONFRONT: Maybe you guys should create your own little genre.
BEN: Well the people I look up to don’t really fit anywhere. People like Radiohead, Bon Iver, these are the big examples, you listen to their music and you can’t put them into a genre. Even someone like Coldplay, I don’t listen to their records but they play their own music and it’s cool. They’re influenced by a lot of different stuff but it’s definitely Coldplay and anyone who comes after that, people say it’s a shit version of Coldplay or a weird version of Coldplay.
CONFRONT: That’s true. And I think every artist kind of looks for that right? To have that uniqueness in their sound?
BEN: I think half of it is unintentional and then half of it is definitely intentional. I think it’s an intention not to buckle with what people want you to play or what you want to hear. I’ve always been influenced hugely by loads of different people and true creativity doesn’t exist anymore. If you play what you want to play, you get some interesting people come out that. People like Ani DiFranco kind of set the bar for unique sound and then there are a lot of people that are similar but it’s very much her. Anna Calvi is another woman who has her own sound and you can tell when you watch her play that it’s how she wants stuff to sound like. You can tell [with people like that] that they love what they do and that’s the sound they like or whether they’ve buckled to other people’s ideas of what they should sound like.
BEN: Most of my songs are about people and places. They’re all about relationships one way or another; not necessarily girlfriend relationships but friendships and family. It’s quite an immature record. It’s me growing up, me starting to figure things out and it’s quite transparent in that sense. If you listen to the record, it’s quite obvious what I’m thinking about through most of it.
CONFRONT: That gives a more genuine feel to the overall album I think. Now, I’m going to ask you my last question which is to draw something that represents you.
BEN: I came from the city, lived in the country and it was always close to me. The sea, cups are always half full, family, Saint-Christopher who is the Saint of Travel and an airplane heading somewhere I don’t know. There you go, that’s all I got!
CONFRONT: I like it, pretty elaborate, thanks!
If you're interested in learning more about him or checking out his music, here are a few links:
Official site : http://www.benhowardmusic.co.uk/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/benhowardmusic
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/benhowardmusic