One does not simply forget a name like Benjamin Francis Leftwich. It is, naturally, the linguistic acrobatics of the British indie folk singer-songwriter’s name that flirts with one’s curiosity at first glance. What lingers however, is his ability to command as much attention as Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball circa 2013, with just a guitar and his delicate harrowing vocals.
Often compared to the likes of Bon Iver, Damien Rice and Ben Howard, the 27 year old Yorkshire native released his critically acclaimed debut album Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm in 2011, before recoiling into an abyss of mourning and melancholia that detached him from the public eye, triggered by the unexpected passing of his father. A 5 year hiatus and a whole lot of soul-searching later, Benjamin returned in 2016 with his sophomore album of tranquil tunes and soothing melodies, After the Rain, a riveting exhibit of the solace one can unearth through music.
At the dawn of his upcoming gig in Hong Kong, we caught up with Benjamin Francis Leftwich to talk about touring routines, Netflix, and Madonna.
Michelle (M): Where in the world are you right now?
Benjamin Francis Leftwich (BFL): I’m in Tottenham in North London, about to be in my garden so I can speak to you.
M: Are you a morning person or not really?
BFL: I really am a morning person. I love waking up and getting on with the day. I wake up really early and go to bed early. It’s a new thing over the past year. I don’t mind the mornings at all.
M: I want to talk to you about your upcoming tour in Asia. This will be your second time in Hong Kong right?
BFL: Yeah, I’ve played in Shanghai and Hong Kong before. I’m so excited. I’m visiting places I never thought I’d get to, especially with the music. I’ve known for a few months that we’d be going out there so, I’m ready. I’m buzzed up and I’ll be packed and ready to get on the plane.
M: What can fans expect when they come to one of your shows?
BFL: I’m going to be playing totally solo on stage, so it’s going to be a very chilled out gig. And I’m going to be playing a mix of songs from Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm and After the Rain. And yeah, just calm music.
M: When you’re on tour, are you the type of person who likes to head out and explore, or do you hole up in your hotel room with Netflix?
BFL: There are times when I’m holed up in my hotel room watching Netflix, because it gets so tiring when you’re on tour. You’re always moving and sometimes you just want to relax. As I’ve grown up and as I’ve toured more, I’ve come to love seeing the cities where we’re at. Being able to take in bits of the culture, see as much as possible, and really be grateful for the part of the world where we’ve ended up because I may never be back in these places, you know. I really like seeing as much as possible, so if you have any tips and places I need to see when I’m over your way, then let me know.
M: Did you get to see much of Hong Kong the last time you were here?
BFL: Not really. I got a bus through the city. I remember eating at a really nice restaurant. We got the boat across the harbour, I think. But I want to see more. We tried to go to the temple but it was closed.
M: To be honest, my favourite place in Hong Kong is Stanley. It’s kind of a little beach side market where they sell Hong Kong souvenirs and other trinkets. So I would check that out. Or the Peak. If you’re into hiking there’s a short ~45 minute hiking trail up there with great scenery, overlooking Victoria Harbour.
BFL: The Peak? Ok great.
M: What kind of shows are you watching on Netflix at the moment?
BFL: The Crown. I’ve been watching Narcos. Stranger Things is amazing. The sound track for that is so good. House of Cards is amazing. And I’m watching a show called the Path at the moment. It’s not on Netflix but stars Aaron Paul.
M: The last song you released is a cover of Pure Morning by Placebo. What does that song mean to you?
BFL: Placebo was the first band that I properly fell in love with. I started dressing like them, trying to sing like them when I was like fourteen years old. They’ve got so many amazing songs. I love what they stand for, I love that they’re an inclusive band. They were probably the first band that I was obsessed with you know, so I really wanted to pay homage in my own way, and do a version of one of my favourite songs by them.
M: Are there any other songs you’re considering covering in the future?
BFL: I’ve got a few plans, but nothing concrete. I always cover songs that I’m loving in the moment, and I record a lot of the covers live so, it really depends on the day and what I’m feeling on that day. But I’ll always do covers you know, just because I love doing them. I really like singing other people’s songs. I rarely play them live, but I like recording them and sharing them with people for sure.
M: I feel that a lot of the songs you’ve written bear a lot of emotion and honesty. Does it ever get hard putting yourself out there every night and being exposed, in a way?
BFL: Yeah, it is hard sometimes, but that’s a deal I made with myself when I started touring, that I was going to be as honest as possible and share as much as possible. So I feel like, in a way, writing these songs and sharing these songs and seeing the reaction is therapeutic, and really humbling obviously.
M: When you’re on tour is there something you have to bring with you?
BFL: Pictures of my dad and my sister. And I’ve got a lucky elephant chain. They’re my charms that I have to have. My phone and my laptop, which are useful, but not 100% essential… my record label will probably disagree.
M: There’s a playlist you curated on Spotify, the Always In My Ears playlist, that you shared via Twitter. What went into choosing these songs?
BFL: It’s just music I love and I listen to all the time. I listen to music everyday.
M: It’s a very diverse playlist, ranging from Madonna to Drake.
BFL: Do you like it? You sound like you’re a bit shocked by it.
M: I feel that it’s very different from a lot of your own music
BFL: For sure. I think that’s one thing I love about music. It’s full of energy. And my favourite music is music that is full of energy and honesty. Whether I can relate to some of the lyrics or some of the stories is kind of secondary to me if I can get energy off it. Madonna and Drake are two of the great creators of our times so, more life to them.
M: Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
BFL: Cher. Believe. But it’s a hard song to sing.
M: That’s what makes it great for karaoke though. It doesn’t matter how badly you do, it’s just you being in your own zone.
BFL: Hahah yeah totally.
M: So what’s next for you music wise?
BFL: I’m going to release new music this year again. I’ve got festivals on over summer. I’m touring Asia for a few weeks, then coming back and doing more festivals, and writing more songs.
M: It was great talking to you. Thanks for taking the time. And I wish you all the best with your upcoming tour in Asia!
BFL: Thank you so much. I look forward to meeting you.