You’d have been forgiven for sending out a search party for Benjamin Francis Leftwich. The singer-songwriter vanished fairly promptly in the wake of debut album ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’, with barely a word heard since. As it happens, there was a fracture beneath the silken surface of his music – one that turned into a gaping chasm.
“I wanted to write to you all to explain my absence for the past few years, explained a letter posted to Benjamin’s website at the start of the year. “In April 2013 I lost my father to cancer. I was helpless. Without purpose… It was as if the sun had been sucked out of my sky in the most unfair and unexpected way. It totally broke me.” Explaining the impact it had on him is something that still seems difficult – it fed into a deep depression, and a desire to escape; one that led to the breakdown of a romantic relationship that he to this day seems to regret.
Today though, that confessional feels like a turning point. “Putting that letter out was amazing, and the reaction was really humbling. Really beautiful and inspiring,” he says. It’s an ironically rain-soaked day at the end of his first run of dates in support of new album ‘After The Rain’. “On this tour, it’s the cleanest I’ve ever been,” Ben continues, “I haven’t been high or drunk before I’ve gone on stage at all. Not even one night, whereas in the past, I would be. Your perspective is so different because you’re fresh.”
"It is weird releasing music again."
— Benjamin Francis Leftwich
The desire to find a fresh headspace led him to a new home in London, too – one that fuelled ‘After The Rain’. “To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be here forever or not,” he admits, “but I want to be here right now because I feel so creative and I’m making so much music.” He speaks of an “energy” that he feels, one that threads throughout all his musical life, both as a listener and a musician himself. An avid fan of hip-hop, he cites ‘The Life Of Pablo’ as an unexpectedly huge influence on his 2016.
“To be honest with you, it is weird releasing music again!” he says of his year so far. “But I’m cool with it – I love these songs; hopefully they’ll mean something to people.”
“It’s really hard,” he does concede, to know whether ready to put himself out there once more. A five-year gap between albums one and two is a huge one – particularly for someone who, by his own admission, is always creating and capturing moments in voice memos at any given second. “Being honest, a lot of the time I’m creating, some of the stuff just isn’t that good; musically, melodically, rhythmically, lyrically. It’s about being patient, and waiting to release stuff that you’re really proud of, that you can stand behind.”
He laments the more modern nature of artists’ high-speed desire to put things out in the world. “I’m kind of lucky – I just missed this crazy SoundCloud, Twitter boom when I started writing music. Now people just go ‘boom’ and put things online straight away. It’s cool, and there’s a value to it, but the risk is that new artists are better at making a Twitter page, and a beat sound really crisp all from the comfort of a laptop, than looking into themselves and really creating beautiful music.”
That desire to create, and to create slowly and with worth, is what spurs Ben on these days. Through tumultuous times, family tragedies and romantic collapses, it’s the want and need to write that’s kept him going.
“One of the things I’ve said about writing that letter, is I don’t think anyone can ever really be healed. From grief, or whatever – it’s not something that just goes. You live with it, and you’re trying to do your own thing. But the problem we have as creatives, is any emotion that comes in we amplify a million times. When some people are sad, they might put on… Major Lazer. I would put on ‘Accidental Babies’ by Damien Rice, which is about his ex-lover having a baby with a new man!” He laughs. “Just throw yourself even further down.”
In turn though, finding his way through the darkness is something that’s created Ben’s most complete package to date. “All the good energy and that nostalgic romance, that’s pro fuel for songs.”
Benjamin Francis Leftwich's new album 'After The Rain' is released August 19th via Dirty Hit Records.