Ben Marwood is returning to the stage and touring some of the best small venues in the country, including The Hug and Pint on Saturday. His new album, Get Found, is a long time in the making. You should go to his gig.
Before he went out on tour, he had time for a chat.
It’s almost three years, exactly, since your first tour, Ben, so I’m just wondering how things have changed from then in terms of your live show?
Yeah, I mean, it’s been three years since the last time I was on tour in the UK, I think. Do you know the background on why it’s been a little while since?
I saw you were laid low for a year but didn’t realise why.
Yeah I got … I went down with labyrinthitis, which is that inner ear infection thing that stops you being able to have any balance and get around, you know? And then from that, that became like a post-viral thing. So in the end, I had to move back home with my parents as a thirty-something year old, which is just great, what every thirty-something year old really wants to happen.
So from gigs to back in your old bedroom?
That’s right, yeah. I was kind of in this … I didn’t even have my old room I used to live in, I was in the spare room. I started getting really into Doctors, and Coronation Street, and all those soaps that my mum watched. But apart from that, I just basically had to retreat and give up on music things.
So I ended up just sacking it in for a while. And then upgraded my home studio at the start of 2015 and just started slowly starting the work as I was getting better, on recording this album. So I guess the main thing that has changed between then and now, is that I’m going to try and be slightly more sensible as to what I can do. You know, I have to stay stress-free, so no ridiculous party missions. The last time I was in Glasgow I went to the — I ended up in the Cathouse, which was wonderful.
Yeah there’s always a story when that happens. And did it feel like picking up where you left off then, or was it a starting again situation?
Some of the same, it’s not an entirely fresh start but I do feel like it’s a new chance. Because between album one and album two, there wasn’t that much of an upset, in that I played more or less the same venues and the same crowds and that kind of thing. So maybe this is a chance to get some renewed energy in there. And I’m really happy with how the new album came out, so I’m looking forward to playing those songs.
It will be a good opportunity to play these songs, because I wrote the album … the album was pretty much done by the time I got ill in the summer of 2014, certainly in terms of writing, it was pretty much there.
But I hadn’t really played any of the songs live, so this is going to be the first opportunity that I can properly have to get these new songs, which are now three years old, into the set and with, you know, people actually in a position to buy them. Which is going to be a relief, a great relief.
So, apart from episodes of Coronation Street and Doctors, what other influences have informed your songwriting for this album?
Well, obviously soap operas are a key influence on every songwriter. But lately I’ve been listening to Frank Turner, who’s been wonderfully supportive of the whole thing ever since we met, like, years ago.
He’s one of the reasons I signed up to the record label I’m on, Xtra Mile. He was … he had his hand in that, we’ve been on tour a few times. So I listen to him a lot, and I’m a big fan of a band called the Mountain Goats from the States, who are … they’ve got an extensive back catalogue these days, about 20 odd albums I think.
With folk music, is it what you were going to listen to when you were growing up?
No, I mean, growing up I was more or less a pop kid.
I think I was one of the only one of my friends to have that Rednex album on cassette tape. Not too many people I know had a copy of that. But yeah, I was mostly into pop, and then … My first of many gigs that I went to was probably Michael Jackson when I was ten. So then the second gig I ever went to was Reef, like in, I guess it was written about 1997 when Glow came out.
Yeah, I remember that tour.
And I went off on, like, a pop, or more like a rock thing. I started listening to the Evening Session on Radio 1 with Steve Lamaq. He’d play stuff like Duchess of Wayne, Grandaddy and Elliot Smith. And then from there, it just kind of went … I didn’t really ever look back. Except for, I guess, a soft spot for 1980’s pop.
But when I got that out of the way, my influences were more or less kind of more like Duchess of Wayne, Grandaddy, and all the older indie stuff.
So that was kind of the point where you started to develop your own kind of sound, and …
Yeah, yeah, a little bit. First of all, I joined bands when I was about 18.
As one does.
Yeah. Then when I went to uni, joined some more. And then I realised didn’t work very well with people, that was a main thing when. I think I was a bit too much of a control freak in my youth. And then I did that most clichéd of things, and I went solo. And then, because it’s really hard to have a falling out with yourself, I stayed solo for all the time, and …
How many songs do you kind of write when you’re putting an album together? Is it a lot of stuff that kind of doesn’t make it, or do you pretty much have a very fixed idea of what it’s going to be?
It kind of changes. I mean, for the first album which had ten songs on it, I wrote eleven. The second song which … the second album which had twelve sets on it, I think I wrote about 20, 25. So there wasn’t really any upset in the quality between one and two. I think I just wrote more dross. So I try and aim to have, you know, a solid ten or eleven songs, and then for this most recent album, I think I did 13 … 15 and then chose 13, you know. How … I found out quickly that how many you write doesn’t have much bearing on the final quality, so I try not to … I try to focus on getting good songs finished, rather than just writing, quantity-wise.
And how does.. an independent singer-songwriter judge success for something like an album. Is it being able to grow and, you know, do a bigger album next time, bigger tour next time, or are you still looking at the charts and stuff?
That’s a really good question. When were you born?
What year were you born?
1980. I was born in 1981, so we are more or less the same age. I used to judge everyone’s success by the charts. But with streaming being now as part of the singles charts, and all that kind of thing, and hearing songs in the top ten, or something. It really has put the kibosh on that.
I still do pay a little bit of attention to the album charts, because I think that is more of an indication on where people’s tastes are going, but in terms of how I measure my success, I was … I keep it on the Indie Charts, but part of the Indie Charts, there’s a chart called the Breakers Chart, where they take all the songs on the albums on independent labels and they strip out the most successful ones. And it’s always been my goal to get an album in the top 20 of the Breakers Chart, which didn’t happen for the first two.
I’m hoping this time round I might kind of squeeze in there. But it does come down to, in the end, how big’s the tour, how many people are coming out. I still try and get on the radio, even though I’m not quite sure how many people still listen to the radio.
In terms of the venues that you’re going to, The Hug and Pint, I mean, it must be quite reassuring to know that there’s still a circuit for musicians to go out and find an audience.
Yeah, you’re telling me. I wasn’t sure who was going to take up this tour, but it’s looking really good. I’ve had some really good responses. I’ve not been … I’ve not played in Scotland for three years, so it’ll just be really good to get up there, because I … I think last time I was there was just before the referendum, the independence referendum.
Ben Marwood, playing in Glasgow before referendums since 2014, buy tickets here
THE HUG AND PINT, GLASGOW
Saturday 15 April 19:30