As a fan of dance music, remixes entrance and entice me but most of my musical friends especially of the acoustic variety are not so enamoured and would certainly find it difficult to trust their creations to other ears and influences, fearing appalling mutilation, despite best assurances. So, the courage of this young man and beautiful simplicity and clarity of his songs, led me to pluck up mine to take up the offer of an email interview, my very first of any kind. Though I am known for pinning musicians to the bar, the alcoholic kind, for cross examination, I am not renowned for coherence nor brevity so, in formulating my dream list, questions ran away with themselves and even limited to absolute essentials, like holiday packing, the email bulged, so thank you Benjamin for taking the time and for your honest and inspirational responses though think I might take Pixie Lott with a pinch of salt, or is that what you meant?
Here goes, a fascinating glimpse into the musical life of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who has had a lucky escape, because face to face, the bar would have been well closed by now and his ears chewed.
CHUMKI: What is your earliest musical memory?
BENJAMIN: I'd say it was my dad playing Nina Simone on the record player at home. I think I must have been about 5 or 6. I just remember thinking how amazing it was and not really understanding why I liked it, but I knew it was something really special though.
CHUMKI: What was the first piece of music you recall falling in love with?
BENJAMIN: ‘Octopuses’Garden’ by The Beatles. Such an amazing song!!
CHUMKI: What made you realise that music is your life blood, passion, what you need to do?
BENJAMIN: To be honest it was never really a specific thing. For me music is a really spiritual thing and I'm a huge music fan myself and sometimes it moves me so much. I started playing guitar when i was about ten and started to feel a connection to songs and so I tried writing some for myself. I feel that music is the one thing I really love and understand in my own weird way.
CHUMKI: How did you learn to play guitar, sing and compose songs/music?
BENJAMIN: I had a few lessons when I was about ten but I quit them because I didn't like learning theory or any of the technical stuff. I didn't play for a few years and then picked up the guitar again when I was about 14 and just taught myself from there.
CHUMKI: When did you compose your first piece of music, what was it and what does it sound like to you now?
BENJAMIN: Erm, I can't really remember any of the really early stuff I wrote, Im guessing I'd cringe if I heard it now!!
CHUMKI: How do you compose your songs and from where do you draw inspiration?
BENJAMIN: I don't really have any rule or formula as to how to write a song. For me it's a really natural thing and I draw inspiration from anything that moves me. Being away on tour a lot and seeing new places allows me to experience new things and I read a lot too. I try and be really open minded and use lots of different things for ideas for songs.
CHUMKI: How do you translate what is in your head to a performable piece of music and does it always translate as you hoped?
BENJAMIN: Sometimes it's hard to translate my ideas onto record but I guess it's just a matter of keeping on trying but also not pushing to hard. If somethings not meant to be it's sometimes best to just leave it.
CHUMKI: The age old question, is it tune or lyrics first?
BENJAMIN: I dont really have a rule on how to write, I usually just jam a bit and do whatever feels right.
CHUMKI: How long does it take you to get a piece of music to how you want it?
BENJAMIN: Sometimes it can take minutes, sometimes it can take months. If somethings not working for me then I might leave it for a while and come back to it later. I have quite a chilled approach to writing.
CHUMKI: How do you edit and produce your recorded music and select the sounds and effects which enhance?
BENJAMIN: I worked with the producer Ian Grimble on my e.p's and album. We got together a pallet of sounds which I liked and then used them throughout the recording process. I like my recordings to be quite minimal from a production point of view though, sometimes less is more i think.
CHUMKI: Your lyrics are very apposite, poetic, do they arrive naturally or do you have to work at them? For example: “…I am young…I am yours…I am free…but I am flawed…I am in your heart… I was here from the start…” (Box of Stones), “…I will remember your face…I am still in love with that place…when the stars are the only things we share…will you be there…” (Atlas Hands)
BENJAMIN: My lyrics just kind of come to me gradually.... Of course I work on stuff to get it right but I never sit down and force myself to finish something of for the sake of finishing it. All my favourite records are really chilled and natural.
CHUMKI: For one so young your songs peer into the human soul, recognising our frailties, fears and failings. What is it in your life which has imparted such insight and reflection?
BENJAMIN: I really like to spend time by myself chilling so I guess I like to think about things too.... There is no one specific thing really but I do like to look at things around me and think about them in my own way.... whether that's religion, sex, violence, love... whatever... it all means something to me, just like it would to anyone.... I just have my own way of interpreting it I guess.
CHUMKI: Your songs are very clear and direct, melodically and lyrically they flow easily and naturally. Is it difficult to be so uncontrived, retain clarity or are their moments when you feel frustrated that a song just will not flow naturally? If that happens, what do you do?
BENJAMIN: If this happens I just move on and try other things..... I don't like to force anything. All my favourite records are really honest and natural. Bruce Springsteen’s – ‘Nebraska’ is an amazing example of that type of record. So, so good!
CHUMKI: Though you seem to perform solo much of the time, how do you convey your ideas to collaborators and ensure they “sing the same tune”?
BENJAMIN: I've never really had that problem yet... I guess I have a good idea pretty early on if somethings going to work or not... but also I'm really careful of finding the right people to work on stuff with.
CHUMKI: What inspired you to issue a remix of Atlas Hands and what did it feel like to trust something that precious, to someone else’s musical reinterpretation? Did you have an involvement in the Mike Skinner remix and what do you think of it?
BENJAMIN: I love the remix. I'm a huge Mike Skinner fan, he's such an amazing songwriter and producer and I was really pleased he was up for the remix. The vibe of it is so cool.
CHUMKI: There is a lot of competition from vocal/ acoustic guitar songwriters, what do you think distinguishes you, sets you apart?
BENJAMIN: It's kind of hard for me to answer that question because it's hard for me to be too objective about my own music. I just do my thing and if people like it thats cool and if they don't thats cool to.
CHUMKI: How do you reach the audience, grab them, immerse them in your world?
BENJAMIN: Haha, erm..... I don't really have any like magic potion or secret trick... I just do my thing.....
CHUMKI: I guess as an acoustic act, guitar and voice, you place less reliance on venue sound systems than a band but where amplification is necessary, do you find that a barrier between you and the audience and does it affect the way you perform? What do you do if the acoustics or sound system does not allow you to present your music in the best light?
BENJAMIN: I feel most comfortable when I'm playing without a PA or mic...... it does kind of fuck up the vibe a bit sometimes but to be honest I never try to worry about that too much.
CHUMKI: What would be your dream venue to play?
BENJAMIN: If they set up a venue which was on top of the empire state building - that would be fun.
CHUMKI: What is the latest piece of music (apart from your own) which has set your heart on fire?
BENJAMIN: The Streets – ‘On The Edge Of A Cliff’, I heard it tonight for the first time, it’s fucking amazing, listening to it right now whilst writing this. BEST song I’ve heard all year.
CHUMKI: If you could play a gig with any bands or musicians, dead or alive, what would be your dream line up?
BENJAMIN: I'd love to see a gig with Jay-Z, Sigur Ros, Bruce Springsteen and The Streets, that would be an insane night.
CHUMKI: What are your musical plans for the future, gigs, new releases and such like?
BENJAMIN: I've got a UK tour in October and then more shows before xmas. I’m hoping to take some time after Xmas and go away to the Lake District to start working on some new material.
CHUMKI: What do you aspire to musically?
BENJAMIN: Pixie Lott...…. [smiles]
Benjamin will be appearing at: Mojo, Liverpool- Tuesday, 1st November, 2011www.benjaminfrancisleftwich.com