Interview: Benjamin Francis Leftwich on New Beginnings and Gratitude

Benjamin Francis Leftwich set foot in Oxford on April 10th with an emotional and mystical show in St. John Evangelist Cathedral. The venue itself captured the deep meanings that his music carries, and I had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with him right before his performance.

Walking in the backyard of the church, between one puff of vape and another, we ventured into conversations about his brand new album Gratitude and his music career in general.

It being his third studio album, audible differences can be noticed if compared to the other two, and Benjamin agreed, explaining, "The main difference in the writing is that it was a lot clearer in the message. I could tell you what every single song in the album is about, whereas in the first album there was more ambiguity and kind of metaphor in the lyrics. [...] And the recording process was just much smoother, more peaceful, more generous and blessed than ever before because I was not as angry or fucked up." I could see clearly what he meant. It is very visible in songs like "Real Friends" or "Tell Me You Started To Pray."

But Benjamin Leftwich's music is far deeper than how it appears, and as the conversation progressed he jokingly said that he "probably wouldn't" describe it—or better, know how to describe it—to someone who wasn't familiar with it. Rather, he would coin it as "chill, calm, kind love songs about all kinds of different relationships." But on Gratitude the signature acoustic aesthetic is overshadowed by an electronic tendency, but, according to Leftwich, "it wasn't a conscious decision. It was just me being more honest in the creative process and referencing songs that I love a lot. [...] I think it is an honest reflection of where my head and heart are at in music and less fear."

In my opinion, fear is a huge influence throughout the whole record, alongside delicate topics like sobriety. Benjamin felt comfortable enough to share with me a small part of his experience with addiction and how it has impacted the making of this album and his music in general: "I think [it has influenced my music] by making me experience real dark, depressive, suicidal, self-hating, self-doubt moments. And I am honest with the way I write, so I write around that stuff. And I am also experiencing those moments now, like in a beautiful evening, and even when I have those moments, I can feel it all. [...] There is a song on the EP called 'Numb', and that song is about how I want to feel real life."

"Finally can see it, I've landed on the ground. Look at all the peace I've found... better in the mornings, I appreciate the sound, birds sat in the garden now..."

"I am no angel; I am just working one day at the time. I am lucky I am still clean and sober. You can hear some of the madness of it and the pain of it in 'The Mess We Make.' I convinced myself I had to be in pain in order to write good music but that is such a lie. We gotta love ourselves, man."

This is totally true; many artists rely on bad experiences to make their music more "relatable," and perhaps it is what Leftwich is doing as well to a certain extent, but I perceived a much deeper consciousness of it all in his words. It was truly a new beginning for him and he is visibly grateful for all the progress he has made.

One of the strongest tunes on the album is, without a doubt, "Look Ma!," and I asked Benjamin what this particular song is about. "It is basically about an observation on just beginning recovery and getting clean and sober but it doesn't mean that everything is gonna be perfect; there is more to it. [...] It is definitely the most recovery-centered song of the album." It truly provides that strength that the album needed overall, as a purely structural factor. I feel like the album flows really easily; one song flows into the other almost without realizing it, and Leftwich expressed his pride in this work by saying, "I am proud of my other albums for sure but this is the first time that I really felt close to my work. I feel like it's less about singles and moments and more about a full experience."

A lot of this album was written in the five or six months before Leftwich got clean and he is "grateful to be more in touch with [his] own feelings and [his] own truth pre and post recovery." For sure he is a very inspirational character in the music industry and I truly believe that he is a role model for many. He brings that glimpse of hope in the darkest situations that, sometimes, is the only thing one needs. Benjamin Leftwich has proven to be free in his own creativity and he stated that this is what he took from other artists: there was not a precise phonetic reference or inspiration, but he followed his favorite artists' footstepssuch as PJ Harvey and Kanyein being free in expressing his message.

Dirty Hit as a label has brought into the industry a variety of artists that are very different, and Benjamin and I discussed how much of a strong asset that is for a record labelhaving names like The 1975, 404, Beabadoobee, Caleb Stephand Benjamin Leftwich himself proves that Dirty Hit is really trying to be inclusive genre-wise.

Though we were running out of time, I managed to sneak in one last question, this time about live shows: Having a repertoire composed mainly by intimate and personal songs, what is the most difficult thing about performing them live? Benjamin almost immediately answered, "To always try to be 100% emotionally engaged and focused on the songs, with all the distractions. Camera clicks, for example, really piss me off."

Benjamin Francis Leftwich is one of the artists who I look up to unconditionally, and Gratitude is one of the most honest and down to earth records I have ever listened to. In fact, it perfectly reflects the artist's personality. I was lucky to have an insight into his mind and way of thinking, I hope more success and recognition will come to him in his career because if there is one person who deserves it, it is him.


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