So, this year is drawing to a close, and I thought I’d inflict on you some of the highlights of my year. Then I realised the general highlight was winning £12.80 on the Euromillions, and I’ve managed to impart that knowledge in the space of one sentence. So instead, I’ve decided to write a bit about my favourite music, TV, and films from the past year.
First up is Ben Marwood, a singer/songwriter hailing from Reading, who released his debut album (Outside There’s a Curse) this year on Xtra Mile recordings. I first saw Ben when he was the support act at a Frank Turner gig last year (one of Frank’s festival warm up shows). His witty lyrics, down to earth demeanor, and keen ear for a tune really got the crowd going, and I certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the last I saw of him. Luckily, it wasn’t. 2011 has seen the aforementioned debut album release, and a full tour supporting Frank Turner (which I was lucky enough to attend). He’s very graciously agreed to answer a few question just for this site, so without any more wittering from me, on with the interview.
Since the album release earlier this year, you’ve been a very busy boy. How has 2011 been for you personally?
Overall, pretty good. I think this year was the year that I’d been waiting for for a long time. Xtra Mile and I got our acts together and released the debut album, and I think it was well received. Certainly it did well enough to merit a second album. And also, me and Frank (Turner) finally did the tour we were always talking about. That was really something; he is a great guy. I cannot emphasise enough how rare it is in this industry to find someone who is down-to-earth having sold that amount of records. His team are also great guys, and at a professional level too. I don’t think a harsh word was spoken all tour. Plus they didn’t make me get up in the morning, which was great news. Having Franz Nicolay as support was a big bonus too – now there’s a gentleman, and immensely talented. It was good to catch up with him and Chris T-T on their tour last week. Of course, the year wasn’t all good: the Sony warehouse blaze in Enfield in August wiped out most of the remaining album stock so I was forced to take to the road for the headline tour this autumn with just some Xtra Mile endorsed CDR-s to my name, and that tour itself was a tough slog – working Monday to Friday and then heading out for shows at the weekend was the only way it could be done though, and I owed it to Xtra Mile, Frank and I to follow up the May tour. My friend Ben (Morse) recently laughed at me for being a tortured musician recently because I was bitching about the tour. That’s the reason I keep him around, to keep me in check. Of course, it’s not the shows that cause the problem, it’s doing them in conjunction with the working week. I figure in 2012, I’ll do things more sensibly.
What are you most looking forward to for 2012? Any particular aims?
Yes, I need to move house in February, I also need to spend some time with my neglected other half in the States, also I need to get a new album recorded. At the moment there’s a small delay in funding, but that’s why I work. I didn’t approach Xtra Mile to fund the project because I think spending other people’s money adds an extra element of pressure that I don’t really need, so now it’ll be completed when it’s completed. I was aiming for a May release but I think Autumn 2012 is more likely, but I have a surplus of material for the album so there’ll likely be other releases alongside the album. I just realised I haven’t answered your question properly, so here goes: the thing I am looking forward to most in 2012 is finishing the album, and taking some time to myself without waking up every Sunday morning on someone’s floor.
Where will you be spending Christmas?
With my dear immediate family. I like a family christmas these days! I think you appreciate the family element the older you get. When I was younger, I just appreciated the presents. It’ll be good though – I’ll head home Christmas Eve after my brother finishes work, we’ll all stay in the same house for probably the only time all year, then spend Christmas Day together. On the 27th my other half arrives at Heathrow for what is threatening to become a tradition of her spending New Year in England. I go back to work on the 28th. Booooooo.
Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
If only! If I did, I wouldn’t spend so much time pacing around a venue before I’m due on stage. I’m definitely a Pacer. Sometimes people try and talk to me immediately before my set and I must come over like a total dick; I’ll be distracted and terrible conversation. General public: this isn’t because I hate you, it’s because there’s a little guy in the back of my head going RHHRHRRHR YOU HAVE TO PLAY A GIG and that can be pretty distracting. I always imagine him as the guy from the front page of my website. In general everyone who lives in my head is an MS Paint stick figure.
I’m a big fan of your District cover, you and Frank playing that together in Stoke was one of the highlights of my year. Do you have any plans for any other cover versions for b-sides? For example, would you go mainstream a la the Live Lounge?
Aaaah, the cover debate. Aside from the covers I’ve already released, there will likely be a cover amongst the second album’s collections. Whether it sees the light of day on an album or an EP or as a free download remains to be seen, but it’s recorded, it was spontaneous and, like ‘District’ at the time, 95% of people I meet won’t have heard it before. I really lucked out when Frank released ‘District’ before I did, I think it helped the way it was received, and it was a pleasure to do that live on the tour with FT and in some cases Mr Nicolay. As for Live Lounge, holy shit, if there was ever a more mundane set of compilation albums then I never want to hear it. Maybe we can start releasing re-makes of popular Hollywood films with the lead actors swapped around. Maybe Cameron Diaz can do ‘The Queen’ whilst Dame Helen Mirren stars in ‘There’s Something About Mary’. Sound like a bad idea? That’s exactly how I feel when I hear Arctic Monkeys reinterpreting Take That. I’d reinterpret all of those CDs to smashed.
How do you manage to juggle the music with your day to day job? And which do you see as your “real” life?
Honestly? They’re both my real life. My day job pays me well, I worked hard at my degree to be in this kinda position and it affords me healthcare benefits that, frankly, my position in the music industry cannot. At the same time, I would go insane if I wasn’t doing some form of music stuff, and so they both have their place in my life. If I had to jack one in, it would be the day job, but then the second album would be recorded using two empty yoghurt pots and a piece of string onto an old unwound cassette. As I do more shows and get more offers it is getting increasingly hard to juggle the two, but as long as I don’t try too much I won’t flip out and go postal. Generally I’m quite an introvert – my idea of a perfect day is staying in my house and not going outside unless I need milk for more tea, so to have a second occupation that is quite socially intense is.. interesting. But hey, I spent long enough playing to no-one to be able to fully appreciate the position I am in now, and I’m not stupid enough to think I have only myself to thank for it.
Some of my favourite lyrics this year have been from your album (particularly the “hate all life’s unanswered questions, but you still hurry home to watch Lost”). What have been the snippets of songs that have stuck out for you?
Are we talking.. my own stuff? If so, “outside there’s a curse / a test of the tired and terse” would be mine, or “you don’t have to be a looker just to see you’ve lost your way”. Other people’s lyrics are so much better though. To that end I would heartily recommend you check out, if you haven’t already, The Mountain Goats’ album ‘All Eternals Deck’, particularly ‘High Hawk Season’. John Darnielle can turn a good phrase, that’s for sure. I’m going to predict that the best lyrics of 2012 are going to come from Franz Nicolay’s next album. His new material is so good I’m going to write two new songs for the album to compensate.
Following on from the Lost reference, do you watch much TV? What box sets fill your spare time?
I don’t spend too much time in front of the idiotbox these days, largely because I have Freeview and there are only so many repeats of QI you can watch in a year. Recently I have been enthused by Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ mini-series and Psychoville series 2 was great. As was Campus, though I didn’t ever get around to watching the last couple of episodes. I caught only one episode of X Factor this year, which was one of the benefits of being out every Saturday evening. In terms of box sets, I’m a sucker for DVDs. The Oxfam Music shop in Reading is superb, but I don’t get time to watch what I buy. Subsequently I just buy and buy and buy, and then I end up with a big pile of DVDs I’ve never seen. From here I can see I’m currently waiting to watch Green Wing, which I’ve bought especially so my girlfriend can watch it (since it’s never repeated on TV). The best box set of all this year would be Futurama Season 5 but that’s not out til boxing day. It is great though.
Every time I’ve seen you play, you always have a cool t-shirt on. Where do you get your threads?
It really depends! I used to go to Topman and Urban Outfitters, which is a bit trendy for me now. These days most of my cool stuff comes from internet sites. I think I’m going to get some maths-based ones soon because I think I’ve developed too much credibility this year and I need to be taken down a peg or two.
You can vist Ben’s site here (his blog’s well worth a read, plus there are a few free downloads), and you can follow him on twitter at @BenMarwoodMusic