After years of pouring over Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s music, on both sunshine-filled days and blustery winter nights, we finally got what we’ve always wanted. It took six years for us to see him perform, but it was worth every bit of those agonizingly long 2,000+ days.

Before we watched him perform, we, of course, had to spend some time with him to get up to speed with everything that had happened in that lengthy wait. Instead of crafting questions, though, we ended up just talking for a half hour. Nothing was planned, rather just two music nerds talking about life, and everything that comes with it.

TMN: You’re on a tour right now, going through the states, and you’re midway through. How’s the reception been so far?

BFL: It’s been amazing. We did a tour up here in July — a shorter tour. Kind of normal places to play. This time, I’ve played at places I’ve never been to in my life. Mobile, Alabama. San Antonio, Texas. Spent a night in New Mexico. Dallas. Houston. Orlando. Denver, Colorado, where we are now. I really take that stuff very seriously.

Where I’m at as an artist, some nights we’re playing to a lot of people, some nights we’re playing to very, very few. The truth is — I love it all. Even when it’s a few people. Those people have driven so far to be there and I’m so grateful to have them there. It spurs me emotionally as well. I know what it’s like to fall in love with a record.

It’s an amazing feeling and I’m lucky to tour with such a nice group of people. I’ve met some beautiful people. And, so much of the music I’m into is American, or heavily influenced by America in some way. Tom Petty. Springsteen. Even someone like Tallest Man on Earth. He’s one of my favorites. I know he’s Swedish, but he’s influenced by American worlds.

TMN: What’s it like to craft music on the other side of the world, then come over here and meet people you’ve touched. Especially in places like Mobile, Alabama, which isn’t always on an artist’s bucket list?

It’s amazing, man. It’s still totally crazy and humbling. I’ll make time to talk to anyone who wants to talk to me. I’ll make myself available. It’s a sense of purely creative achievement. Those kinds of conversations, what people say to me — some of it is so deep, descriptive, and meaningful. So much so that it would be inappropriate for me to share, because that person might read this interview and say, “that moment was between us.” It’s amazing. It’s humbling. It’s a sense of responsibility. It’s really touching.

It makes me sad sometimes, as well. I don’t know why. Just me being honest.

TMN: It’s interesting because music is this deeply personal thing for people, yet they rarely have the chance to meet the creator of something they’re so passionately tied to. I imagine you hear some intense stories.

BFL: It still floors me. It never gets to the point where I’m like “Oh, I’ve heard this story.” Every time, it’s a different human being. Human beings are equal.

Two words I hate that surround gigs, well, not hate. That’s such a strong word. “Fans.” I know that word is used a lot, and I understand its context. For me, it puts a separation between. We’re all human. The other word is “support.” Maybe I think too deeply about it, or maybe the Jack and Coke fucking with me. You know what I’m saying, though? It’s just all people in the room interacting. I think creators perform their art better if they’re feeling the energy of others.

Anyone who says they don’t care what other people think about their music is most likely a liar, in that context. I really do care. I want it to be good. Most importantly, I think it’s about listening to other people’s music. When I was recording Last Smoke, my vision was quite one dimensional. I only listened to singer/songwriters. But now, I listen to stuff like Carter III by Little Wayne. And while I would never use that kind of language, or pretend that I could relate to some of those stories, but I relate to is that unfiltered visceral energy.

TMN: Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is where a lot of people got introduced to your music. Lyrically, it resonates with a lot of people. Do you view yourself as a storyteller? Or, is it an outpouring of your own experiences? How do you view your songwriting?

BFL: If I had to choose between those two descriptions, it would definitely be more of an outpouring. I mean, the word “outpouring” isn’t necessarily it, but it’s definitely more that than a storyteller. It’s funny, with the comparison between the two albums, there’s a higher level of ambiguity to some of the lyrics in Last Smoke. The truth is, all of those songs mean a lot to me, and I know they mean a lot to a lot of people. I don’t necessarily know what they’re all about. I know they’re about something important.

With After the Rain, I know what every one is exactly about. As a songwriter, in every genre, the idea of songwriting as a craft changing. So many people are in bands at 17 years old — just friends in a room — creating, partying, making this amazing debut album. They’re not affected by the other things that come your way when you experience success. Things that come into your own mind. You think about things, and creators are quite sensitive people.

TMN: We get to connect to artists one-on-one a lot, and we’ve seen them cross over from playing music and having fun, to getting thrown to the wolves. Even if it’s positive, it can be overwhelming.

I don’t know many songwriters or creatives who don’t suffer with some kind of anxiety. Especially if you’re a new artist and you suddenly blow up. You get some money, sent around the world with some people who might not be the best to be around, and it can fuck with you. You don’t get that just because you’re playing Glastonbury and getting paid for it, that it might not be there that next year. You can go hard into and get lost. Get taken away from what took you there — playing music as a kid because it’s sick.

Also, being on tour and then coming home — you can be sitting in your own flat saying, “what the fuck do you do now?” And, that’s when people go mental, I think.

TMN: A lot of people have you in the conversation as being a factor in the rise of Trop House. With both Thomas Jack and Kygo remixing you in 2014. That was when they and the genre were just starting off.

BFL: They’re both personal friends of mine. I’ve sat in the studio with Kygo and he’s so musically talented. He’s got a great ear. I think the reason Kygo and TJ have been successful is because they make music that make people happy.

TMN: How did that come to be? Because, you were kind of in your hiatus at that point.

BFL: It was weird. I had finished touring at the end of 2013. I was in Australia at the time. I meant to go their for a holiday and ended up staying there for four months. This was right after I lost my dad. I was doing loads of mad shit. Met a lady out there and was with her for a while. Ended up in a room with indie artist and X Factor artists and just threw myself into music and spent time with my family. I was pretty self destructive, as well. I just sat back and saw what I had been a part of as friends of mine came through on tours — The 1975, Frightened Rabbit, Daughter. Have you interviewed them?

TMN: We haven’t, but Daughter is one of our favorites. They’re so fucking good.

BFL: Ah! They are. But, I remember my manager telling me “This guy Kygo remixed you and it’s blowing up.” I mean, that phrase is subjective, but I’m on the blogosphere a lot and…

TMN: So, it was a bootleg at first, right?

BFL: (Laughs) Yeah, he just ripped it off YouTube. Damn you, Kygo! I’m so happy for him. And, that introduced so many people to that song. I love it when people remix my songs, though. And, I have plenty of people that come to my shows who are more singer/songwriter-driven that see it as someone’s trying to kill me. Actually, it’s another genre and another way to connect. It makes people happy.

I’ll probably see Thomas down in Australia. I’m heading down to see my family over the holidays, after this tour, and I’m sure I’ll bump into him at some house parties. He’ll be wearing some crazy ass shit, I’m sure. He’s a good man. They both deserve everything that comes their way.

TMN: People shouldn’t be shocked by remixing anymore, right? I mean, you look back at acts like RAC and others — they’ve been remixing indie and folk for ages now. I feel like that’s an integral part of the blogosphere blowing up. People remixing Bon Iver and stuff like that.

BFL: The funny part is, Bon Iver has now done that on his latest album. Sampling other people. I think it’s beautiful and musical and has an element of hip hop in there, as far as the spirit of it. More life to all of them. More music and more love.

TMN: Moving onto the latest album, which we don’t need to go into why you took some time off.

BFL: Ask anything you want, man.

TMN: I know you had some personal stuff – losing your dad. And, I don’t want to dig into anything too negative or emotional. Rather, I’d like to know what the catalyst was that sparked you to get back? What’s the positivity that hit you and made you want to create again?

Many catalysts — love for my sister and being proud of who she was. Being inspired by other people’s music and the creativity of it. In fact, College Dropout was a big part of that. You know, Kanye’s debut album. I remember putting it on in Australia for the first time and I was just like “why the fuck have I not listened to this yet?” I love all the singer/songwriters, all the obvious ones from my generation, they’re all heroes to me. Being in love with creativity again and being in love with how other people are inspired helped me get out of being so sad for that while.

TMN: Did you get an outpouring of support from fans at that time?

BFL: No, because I didn’t tell anyone what happened.

TMN: Let me adjust that question. Did you get people tweeting you saying, “We miss you,” or “Where have you been?”

BFL: Yeah. But, I made a point to stay of social media for a year or two. I would occasionally post stuff, but it was random things, really. But, I do remember the support coming through from the industry side of things. It meant a lot. I was head-fucked from it. After finishing touring and then coming home. There were some amazing people around me.

I was just sad, man. As anyone would be. I think people like to romanticize that, but I was just sad and not looking after myself that well. Funny enough, well — not so funny — but I was creating a lot at that time. I was working with a lot of other artists and I was in the studio a lot, pushing and pushing. A lot of that time was really painful, and I know I had to get through that.

I’m really proud of the new album. I think it sums up about 90% of what I want to say about those two or three years in-between. The other 10% will be covered on the next album. I see songwriting as an audio will. Would I have said everything I wanted to say – being honest and kind. That’s all I know, really.

TMN: Let’s talk about the new album a little bit. I’m not saying this in a negative way at all. You’ve dispelled this with your talent and success already. But, a lot of artists say this. In fact, James Vincent McMorrow said this — “I never wanted to be the guy with the guitar. I hate that stigma.” You know, the folk singer/songwriter. Your first album was definitely that and it was fantastic.

BFL: As was James Vincent McMorrows’!

TMN: I feel like this is an evolution. You have some other elements that weren’t in Last Smoke. Again, I’m not saying anything negative. It’s a little bit of a departure from you and your guitar. What process led you to that point?

BFL: Mate, totally. It was a lot of the music I was listening to. It was so different — a lot of hip-hop and rap. It definitely opened my ears to the options of other sonic elements. I think working with Charlie Andrews, we found a way to bridge that gap. And, actually, I don’t think there’s room to jump further. That’s something I was keen to on this album — not diving too far away from what had started me off.

The stigma of the guy and the guitar is just because it was so big in 2011-2012. I don’t hear too much of that. There’s always going to be someone who disses on something or someone. Songs are songs. We both see how they connect with people — mine or James’ — in different forms and context. I think a good song is a good song.

A song can be production, sometimes. I don’t think “Get Low” would be that good without the production. I think it’s an amazing song. I don’t think “Tilikum” on my album would be as good without the drums and the synth behind it. Though, I’m sure if James Vincent McMorrow sat here playing “Get Low” on an acoustic, we’d both be in tears.

TMN: Honestly, though, that’s why I think that stigma is fucked! If one person, playing an acoustic guitar, can fucking bring you to you knees, that’s fucking incredible.

BFL: Totally man!

TMN: I think where it comes from is your open mic nights, where you get the guy who’s…

BFL: Singing “Firework?” On the flipside, there are so many amazing people I’ve seen on those nights. To be honest, I might get crucified by saying this, but I reckon the hit rate on open mic nights is about 20-30%. In terms of people who are creating from a raw place. That’s why that stigma exists.

TMN: Absolutely. Or, it could be people just fucking around with it. They’re seeing if it’s something they like.

BFL: Fair enough! I’m not saying — it’s great that those places exist. But, I think that some of those places exist, they can PR themselves as this open, loving, communal environments. As soon as someone leaves that place though, they’re so quick to try and pull them down. It’s standard, small-minded, small city kind of thing.

TMN: That was a complete tangent. So, talk to us about the set-up tonight. Do you bring any of the other elements from the recording here?

BFL: Not on the tour so far…

TMN: Oh, so you’re just a guy with a guitar?

BFL: (Eruption of laughter)I don’t feel the need to replicate the recording and the live. Well, I do emotionally, but not so much sonically.

TMN: Do you feel like fans expect to have just an intimate moment with just you here? In listening to your music over the years, I would expect to just come and listen to you.

BFL: I think so. I think that’s right.

TMN: You have touring going on, aside from that, what’s on tap for 2017? Are you hitting up any festivals you can talk about?

BFL: None that I can talk about just yet. I’m in the studio all through January, working on new music. I’m in Canada and the US in February. I’m touring UK and Ireland in March and that runs us into festival season.

TMN: Coachella maybe?

BFL: I’d love to do Coachella. That’s one of the big ones I haven’t done. It would probably be super early though. Like right at noon.

TMN: I saw Daughter and James Vincent McMorrow with small crowds at Coachella. I get choked up at shows all the time and definitely did at both of those. I’m so emotionally tied to music.

BFL: Good, man! I do, as well. I just cried at a Keaton Henson concert. I got so deep with it.

TMN: Hopefully I don’t get weepy tonight.

BFL: Just don’t cry on my shoes, mate.

TMN: This is kind of a fun one — more of an interview question. Name one moment that you’ve had in your career where you’ve said “holy shit, I can’t believe that just happened.”

BFL: Damien Rice asking him to have a glass of wine with him and asking me to roll him a cigarette.

TMN: (Laughing) Where’d that happen??

BFL: In Norway! Right after he just played the most amazing set. The other one would be playing a great show in Spain and then spending the weekend in Madrid, watching Neil Young play a headline set as the sun was going down.

TMN: Amazing. Well, we should pry let you get set up for the show. Thank you so much for chatting with me tonight.

BFL: My pleasure!

Related items::