Having just dropped his new album, we catch up with Ben Howard to talk band projects, deceptive second albums and going to America
It was the week that British star Ben Howard released his rather long-awaited second album I Forget Where We Were. His UK tour has sold out and he’s well on the way to doing the same with his American line-up. So grabbing the main man on his promo tour, we found out more about his fresh serve.
Since Every Kingdom was released in 2011, the sound of Ben Howard has been inescapable with ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and ‘Only Love’ receiving major radio-play and massive hype online. Awards followed this initial success with a 2012 Mercury Prize nomination and two wins at the 2013 Brit Awards, and rightly so. But whilst there has been a gap between his releases, we can confirm he hadn’t been lazing about, but producing his EP The Burgh Island. “I think the EP was nice to play something a little different”, says Ben in his soft-spoken English drawl. “The songs were nice to work on because it didn’t feel like I was working on an album.” The EP, however, did give fans a chance to hear where Howard was moving, a taster of his new sound that he’d been developing.
“It felt like it was just where we were going with stuff with the other guys we were playing with, just to try something more encompassing. It’s very much a band project,” Ben continues. Following a two-year hiatus, on a warm August evening the Internet was treated to a dramatic track release without any prior notice. At eight minutes long with a moody build up, ‘End of The Affair’ is not one for the radio. A risky strategy perhaps, but one that leaves you with no doubt that the Ben Howard sound of 2014 is a far more significant one.
“It takes concentration, and perhaps that was the only bold thing about it, the assumption that people would listen to it. I think also for me, it felt like a nice introduction into the music, it felt like people would listen to the album with a different set of ears,” says Ben. With the success of Every Kingdom making him a permanent fixture in the British music scene, Howard admits to feeling far less pressure to appease the masses this time round. ‘The first album was so much more successful than we’d ever hoped for. I think it definitely took the pressure off a bit. I’ve never been one to try and understand what other people want, as soon as you start assuming and playing songs for other people you can get really lost.”
While it’s not the catchiest of titles for the notoriously difficult second album, I Forget Where We Were is one that Howard believes in. “It was just something I kept coming back to. It’s such a funny turn of phrase, it just seemed to fit it quite well,” he truths. That’s what strikes me most about Ben, how open he is about the importance of his band and everyone around him. He’s a British artist gathering up global success, on their terms. “It comes down to who you want to impress in this lifetime and we’re very luck to be surrounded by our closest mates,” says Ben. “You know I come and play a song for the boys and they like it, that’s just as much justification as I need to record it.” I believe every word he says, before commenting on how expansive and expensive the album sounds. He instantly breaks into laughter: “It’s ironic because we were just pottering around chain smoking, I lost loads of weight, in this barn in the middle of nowhere playing on keyboards.”
The UK tour later this month sold out in under one hour, but perhaps more importantly, there’s a US counterpart follow. Kicking off the fun with two sold-out shows in New York and Los Angeles, it goes without saying that America is so crucial to an artist’s global success. “Yeah America really excited me. I’m looking forward to going over there… it’s just an amazing opportunity to see different places and different people.”
Howard seems excited by the opportunities for musical evolution that touring the US in particular can bring, and whilst the new album evolves his sound, he’s not ruling out another change for him and his friends. “Right now it feels like an honest reflection of where we were this year. I don’t know how it will change or how we’ll keep evolving. I’ve been listening to a lot of great bands out of America like The National and The War on Drugs, and there’s some incredible music coming out of America’s indie scene. Perhaps we’ll venture off that way for a bit.”
For now though I Forgot Where We Were is the album that’s pleasing Howard fans worldwide, whilst drawing new ones in. It’s a warm, grand album that suits our British winter, whilst remaining typically Howard at heart. Where Ben Howard goes next, however, remains a mystery. As Howard aptly puts it himself: “The possibilities are endless.”
Words: Josh Williams