We’ve been big fans of Mr. Ben & The Bens since we first caught them in Leeds a couple of years or so ago. Up recently we’ve been more than taken with singles Watering Can and Beast in the House, and with their album Life Drawing coming out on July 10th via the ever brilliant Bella Union, we wanted to chat to main man Ben Hall, locked down in steel town, Sheffield.
Here’s what he had to say
Hey Ben, thanks for talking to us – We’ve loved your recent singles we’ve covered – beast in the house and watering can. Can you tell us a little about those tracks?
Thanks! Yeah so ‘Beast in the House’ is one of the first tracks I wrote for the record, and it kind of embodies sonically the new direction of the record. It’s written about an individual that’s been ostracised from their community, and I’ve tried to create an open-ended narrative where the audience can place their own experiences of knowing someone who fulfils this role in their experience. ‘Watering Can’ is the album closer and it’s a brassy number addressing small town hopes and dreams.
And the album, Life Drawing is out in July – Tell us more about that?
I came up with the idea of calling a record ‘Life Drawing’ and having the lyrical content of the songs be semi-lucid sketches of events happening in an imagined town. Vignettes of character’s lives would play out momentarily and sometimes cross over songs, but without ever being explicit. The hope was that a listener can interpret and inadvertently insert their own experiences of the content, much like I probably have as a writer inadvertently.
Seems like a lot of your music has Sheffield at its centre. Is it an important part of the band, and of the writing?
Sheffield is a really romantic place. All the valleys, moors and industrial estates woven by rivers through beautiful and ugly residential areas lend themselves to stories. It’s leafy and harsh at the same time. We moved over about two years ago from Lancaster and have really fallen for the city.
How do you write? Do the stories behind the songs come first, or are the added to tunes that you think of initially – or a mixture
I think the melodies almost always come first, then one line just seems to inform the next, it’s quite a lawless process and I have a lot of awful ideas wedged into the depths of my laptop haha. The act of writing is totally therapeutic for me as well so in that respect I like to indulge in language I might not necessarily use in my day to day vernacular.
It’s out through Bella Union. Fantastic label – how did that deal come about?
Yes! Simon from Bella just got in touch over the internet one day complimenting the single and helped me book some gigs in places I didn’t really have a network. Then I had a new record demo’d so I popped it in an email and luckily he liked it!
How are you coping with lockdown? Weird times to release an album in?
Yes definitely, very strange! I guess from my perspective I hope people can just enjoy the record from home for now. Luckily its a bit of a headphones number with some more introspective stuff over the poppier stuff I’ve realised up to this point. I’d recommend taking it on your daily exercise!
Have you been able to be creative? Or you filling your time with other things?
Yes I feel very very privileged to be able to spend this time writing music, drawing, making films with my housemates. I do a bit of lecturing too which has helped to keep me occupied. One of the lucky ones!
Tell us about your Art? It features on the cover of the record and there’s going to be an exhibition alongside the album launch? Is that right?
Yeah so I make loads of visual work alongside my music. Ceramics and oil painting have been mostly what I’ve been exploring this year. The cover is a carved earthernware plate inspired by those very beguiling perspective-less maps from the Middle Ages, I made a series of four that visualise some of the ideas in the record. I had planned a big exhibition for the album launch but hey ho, these things happen, it’s currently being re-arranged so hopefully in the future it can still go ahead.
Difficult to say, but have you any plans for the rest of the year? If and when we get out of this lockdown?
I managed to re-book the UK tour for September but I’m not holding my breath, got a couple of music-led projects in the pipeline and some different tour contingency plans in place so here’s hoping!
Life Drawing is out July 10th via Bella Union