British singer/songwriter Ben Ottewell has announced the impending release of his third solo album A Man Apart on 25 May.
The former Gomez vocalist will tour Australia soon after its release, taking in major cities across Australia as well as the Bello Winter Festival in Bellingen.
After years of touring and working in a band, how is it now to stand, as your third solo album declares, ‘A Man Apart’?
I’ve been playing solo on some level now since 2011 when Shapes and Shadows came out and Gomez have been on a break for three years, so it’s kind of become the norm for me now. It’s definitely different without the safety net of the band, particularly live, as I’m no longer part of this 10-legged beast. The shows are more intimate and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s also different writing and recording without the guys. There was always a sense with the band that I was writing more universally, as though representing Gomez, the solo songs are a little more direct, or feel that way.
You move across genre like it’s a road trip and you’re crossing borders in the night. What is your take anyway on this concept of an artist being a proponent of a particular ‘genre’?
It’s tricky as influences, musically or otherwise, shape so much in terms of style and expression that sometimes I think that even if I tried not to, I’d end up sounding like me, particularly with my voice. I think if it feels right musically, if it serves the song, do it. I don’t really judge in terms of genre; if it’s good it’s good.
Tell me about the songs on the album. How did you write them?
I’m not much of a craftsman when it comes to songwriting, never really give myself a brief or attempt to write a certain kind of song. I’m more in the Keith Richards school of waiting for them to come to me. This time round I started three or four of the songs on these little guitarleles that I’d purchased for my then-7-year-old twin boys. They’re a cross between a guitar and a ukulele and have a really interesting dry tone. I certainly got more use out of them than the kids did.
How did recording in LA and Sheffield influence the shape of the songs?
Not sure. They’re both places with which I have deep connections, both musical towns, both places where I feel comfortable creatively. Need a test case – perhaps I’ll record the tunes again in say Vienna and Timbuktu – who knows, might be exactly the same.
Tell me about your relationship with co-writer Sam Genders. I imagine it’s quite ‘special’ to find someone you can write with. How does the collaboration make your songwriting better, or perhaps different?
I’ve known Sam literally since I was nought. We grew up together in a small Derbyshire village called Bonsall; strange really that we both ended up in music. He’s exceptionally talented and there’s a trust there which I find important. With collaboration the rule for me is to find people who are better than you; don’t let ego get in the way; makes things better.
How do you move the music from the album to the stage? Do you lose much in translation?
Well at the moment I’m playing solo, just me and a guitar, so it’s different from the record and you lose the drums, bass and keys immediately. The songs are stripped back to pretty much how they were written; same with the Gomez tracks I play but I think they translate well. At first with the acoustic shows I’d rattle through the tunes but I’ve learnt a little more about dynamics of an acoustic show. Crowds are different too. When I first started playing solo I think 50 per cent of the crowd were expecting a Gomez show, came to get pissed, throw beer about and dance. People get it a bit more now.
You’ve had what you call a ‘20-year run’. How has your approach to music and being in the industry evolved in that time?
My approach to music is surprising pretty much the same. Dealing with the industry is a different universe. People used to buy music.
What should we expect for your performance at Bello Winter Music?
Ben Ottewell plays Bello Winter Music Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 July.
For tickets and program info go to bellowintermusic.com.