EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – BEN MARWOOD
Ben Marwood looked set to be the next folk punk star off the Xtra Mile conveyor belt of talent, before illness and real life got in the way, leading to a five year musical hiatus. After a long recovery process, Ben has returned with Get Found (RUSHONROCK 8.5/10), and is now hitting the road as part of the Xtra Mile tour.
RUSHONROCK’s co-editor Adam Keys caught up with him to discuss all things Ben Marwood:
RUSHONROCK – Thanks for joining us at RUSHONROCK, Ben! Let us start by saying it’s great to have you back in the music world again.
Ben Marwood – Thanks!
RUSHONROCK – How does it feel to have new material out there?
BM – It feels a huge, huge relief. There was a long time where I thought the album might not ever see the light of day aside from the demos I recorded for it back a few years back, so for it to be released and properly recorded means a great deal to me. And, hey, it’s nice to be able to play these newer songs at shows finally.
RUSHONROCK – Get Found has been four years in the making. A four year spell that almost saw you walk away from music completely. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
BM – I sure can. I started getting ill on the Back Down release tour in the middle of 2013, and I pushed through it for a year but eventually it got the better of me when I was hit by a bout of labyrinthitis which took my balance. I was on some pretty powerful medication for too long and when I came off it, nothing worked how I remembered. Have you ever seen that skit from Family Guy where Peter forgets how to sit down? It was a little like that. Nothing worked how I remembered it, and every time I thought I had it beaten – nausea, exhaustion, dizziness, lack of balance, pains, cramps and all – it would just sneak up on me and hit me harder.
Eventually they started prodding around for the terminal stuff and whilst all that was going on I took a good look at how likely I was to be able to play music and walked away for a while. In the end, the medical consensus was that it’s probably not going to kill me, so eventually (slowly) I got to work on Get Found and I’ve been working hard at finding ways around my limitations ever since then. I’m still crap at walking down stairs though. Those things are tough.
RUSHONROCK – How much of your life over the last few years has gone into this Get Found?
BM – That’s a hard thing to quantify, as none of it was done to any real deadline, I wrote 90% of the songs whilst touring and promoting the previous album, and then there was a big chunk of time in 2014/2015 where I wasn’t able to do music at all so that took up 0% of my time. Once the recording started, it ate up a fair amount of time. Whenever I left the house I’d do so with all the various takes loaded onto my mp3 player to make notes on when I was on the train, or on my lunch break or when I was out walking. I ended up with a whole wedge of cue cards and post-it notes with coded scribbles on to pick out the strongest takes and recording ideas.
RUSHONROCK – Can you tell our readers a bit about the sounds and concepts of Get Found?
BM – I tried to pitch it somewhere between the two previous albums – Outside There’s A Curse was recorded at home mostly with time to experiment with sounds, whereas Back Down had higher production values but with a tendency to watch the clock so there was less room for trying new things. So, for this one I upgraded my home studio with better equipment and that helped give the home recording a more professional sound.
We still did the louder stuff (drums, electric guitar, all the stuff that can get a guy evicted) at White House in Reading, a higher-spec studio than mine, but recording from home allowed me to mess about with different electric guitar riffs and recording setups plus the portable nature of the studio meant I could stick it under my arm and take it across town if I needed to. The general make-up of the album is the same – in the main it’s led by acoustic guitar, there are some solo songs, some full band bits and some pitched in between, and the lyrical themes are fairly dark, I guess, though I don’t really notice that kind of thing until someone reminds me how many times I mention death and dying. I’m not a miserable guy, honest.
RUSHONROCK – Although your folk punk style prevails in this brilliant release, you have experimented with the use of keys. Can you tell us a bit about the thought behind this?
BM – If you count mini-albums as well, this is my fourth ‘album’ release and they all have keys on, but I think this one definitely pushes a little more in that direction. For a start, there are a couple of points on the album where I’m playing the piano which is a brand new thing for me. I can’t really play, but it was one of the things on my bucket list and I was pretty determined to tick some extra boxes off on Get Found. There are three other (full band) songs with keys on too, I think they’re useful to bring out the tone of a song and smooth over the cracks.
We recorded loads of keys for those three songs (Church Of No Commandments, The Devil Makes Work For Jazz Hands, Baby You’re A Mess) and then just cut in and out when we needed to change the texture, capably played by some good friends of mine Tom Crook and Richard Goodspeed, who are fine musicians in their own right. Indeed, it was Tom who wrote Baby You’re A Mess, and I just stole it from him.
RUSHONROCK – There are a number of dark elements to Get Found, most notably in the (oddly uplifting) chorus of Nights, which focuses on death. Could you tell us about these elements?
BM – There are some people who like happy songs. I am not really one of those people. I like songs that show a little something extra other than “everything is fine!”. I like songs about facing up to adversity and adversaries, and I also like to deal with things that terrify me (death, dying, jazz hands) by singing about them and writing songs about them and forcing myself to face up to this stuff.
I like bands such as the Mountain Goats, Frank Turner and AJJ, and the songwriters involved there are all about not kidding yourself that life is perfect from start to end like some kind of sickening, saccharine show, and that you’re going to have to fight for stuff sometimes. Nights is about hoping that your very worst enemy occasionally can’t sleep at night because they have all the same fears that you do and how I’m perfectly happy about that.
RUSHONROCK – Lyrical wordplay is rife throughout, but perhaps comes across most prominently in Bones. Could you tell us a bit about your writing process and the influences behind your lyrics?
BM – I wish I could, but I think it’s all done by magic. I don’t think there’s a single formula to getting things done, but if you break it down to lyrics, melody and music, I’d say about 75% of the time the music happens first, then the melody, then the lyrics find the form over the top of that. The hardest bit for me is starting with a set of lyrics and then trying to fit a melody and a chord structure around that, but in terms of getting lyrics and wordplay to match the song, I find the pace of the song and the melody that you find in it really sets the tone for the whole piece. My one hard and fast rule is that I never, ever write any lyrics down. If a lyric’s good and if it fits a song that well, I shouldn’t ever need to write it down. It should burn its way into my memory.
RUSHONROCK – Punched In The Mouth isn’t your average album opener – it features a baby crying! Could you tell us a bit about this?
BM – I’m not sure it’s a baby crying but it’s definitely me as a child. While I was ill my Mum found all these old cassette tapes in a cupboard at home and we started going through them, and there were loads of me when I was maybe four or five and enjoyed the sound of my own voice (not much changes there). When it came to record the album I thought it might be nice to pull a piece out, as a nod to the past, and so I managed to track down a piece where I’m talking about how I can get a rabbit. I did get that rabbit!
RUSHONROCK – You’re about to head out on the road for the Xtra Mile tour. How does it feel having new material to bring to fans, and get back on stage again?
BM – It feels good! People seem to be really enjoying the album and it was great to be able to play some new songs from it.. though admittedly, I was only playing about three or four new songs a night. I try and get a balance between the stuff I know people like, and the new stuff that I’m trying to convince them is great. Hah! I actually just finished the tour as I type this. We finished in Manchester last night (Sunday) and I rolled into Reading this afternoon. Back to work tomorrow! Sigh.
RUSHONROCK – When are we likely to see a full Ben Marwood UK tour?
BM – I think that was as close to a full tour as you’re likely to see at the minute. On the whole it went really well. We did ten shows and it was well worth it – when everything went well it was great to be able to do, and when I hit rough patches it served me really well as a fact-finding mission. I’m going to try for another handful of shows in the summer, Frank Turner has kindly invited me to the Roundhouse for a show in May and then we’ll see where it all goes from there. I’d love to do some European shows this year, and there’ll be more UK shows over the course of the next year.
Northumbria University Journalism graduate, rock and roll enthusiast and co-editor of RUSHONROCK.com.