‘Fearless, hopeful, surrendered’: In conversation with Benjamin Francis Leftwich


A week after the release of his newest project Some Things Break, and with tour looming, I caught up with Benjamin Francis Leftwich to talk all things music. 

Benjamin picks up the phone at the end of a morning walk, on his way back from grabbing a coffee. He scrambles to disarm his Alexa before she starts playing something to interrupt us. Virtually, we sit down and discuss the wonderful world of musicianship and songwriting that he’s curated over his 13 years in the industry.

First things first, how are you feeling about having the album out there in the world?

I feel so grateful to still be doing this after so many years. I think it’s the best album I’ve made. It’s definitely the most fearless. I feel as if we left no stone unturned with this one. Funnily enough one of my brothers, who worked on the album with me, sent me a gift on release day – this stone with the word ‘turned’ carved in to it – a play on that phrase. It’s like a relief, but I’m already on to the next one. I love writing songs and I’m so grateful for this gift I’ve been given, so we just keep going and throwing lyrics around. Me and my friends will send ideas and lyrics over texts at like midnight and we keep fishing – it’s like we are sat by a flowing river and we are fishing. Sometimes we catch nothing or sometimes we maybe catch a tuna.

Is that your usual starting process, then? How do you take these ideas further?

Often those lyrics will have started before that point with a guitar or piano. I was in Australia at Christmas visiting some family and three days in all my cousins were at work so I picked up the guitar and I worked out a few new ideas. I sent these little ideas to friends and then they either vibe with it or throw their own ideas in. We just start like that. Getting it over the line to an album, we try to find producers that we love and in this case it was Jimmy Hogarth. Me and him met in 2019 at a Spotify event and we became good friends and then me, him and a guy called John Green wrote two songs, Some Things Break and I’m Always Saying Sorry, and I wasn’t sure if they would be for me or not. But after listening to what Jimmy had done with them, I was really moved by it. Once we had a few recorded, and it sounded like what my heart envisioned, we were up and running.

So how far back do some of these songs go?

I think those two go the furthest back. But it still isn’t really that far. I’m going to say 2021. I’d had a breakup so I went to the studio the next day and the three of us went in so hard straight away. It was during the break in the pandemic, so we could get into the studio, so we did and once they were down I called my manager and told him I wanted Jimmy to produce the album. Because I’d been so busy co-writing with other artists, it’s like doing two jobs at the same time. So we had to carve out time to do that. A lot of these songs came by accident, to be honest.

Does that process differ from your previous work? 

I’ve always loved collaborating with people. I had to write my first album by myself, not out of pride but because I wasn’t in the industry and I’m grateful for that. I was in York, at school, just thinking about girls. It wasn’t much deeper than that. I was just an emo kid looking out my skylight, making songs and being in love with music. Somehow I ended up putting an album out on Dirty Hit that did well and so off I went touring. When I came home I thought well, what do I say now? No one wants to hear ‘I’m at Heathrow for the 10th time in a week’ or ‘I’m in a Travelodge’. I woke up in London with a hole in my heart and I needed to learn songwriting for the first time. All I’d ever know was the spark and grace of songwriting, and then it took me another 7 or 8 years in the wilderness to really start thinking about things the way I do now.

Even though you’re 5 albums deep now, the experiences you write about still seem so fresh. There’s this kind of duplicity to it where your lyrics are so specific but so universally applicable, tailored to you and to the audience. Is that conscious? Do you write for yourself or for those who will listen?

Any time I’ve ever wondered what anyone else thinks, whether it will work on the radio or on someone’s playlist, all the songs end up dead in the water. The ones that truly come from my heart have always connected somewhat. I think it’s quite dangerous as a writer to think too consciously about what people think. There’s an element to it. It can flip the other way where you’re so self-involved that you disappear into yourself but the song that’s getting the most ‘man, this has just destroyed me’ from my friends is one called Spokane, Washington. And that’s by far the most lyrically particular. I’m using first names, using places, York station, talking about my dad, and about a place most people haven’t been. But thats the one that you can feel. My method is always ‘do I believe them or not?’. If someone performs, do you believe their character? I always think the artist is right 90% of the time, but there’s always the other ten. Those times I’ve thought I’ve been 100% right, I’ve been in big trouble creatively.

I write a lot with other artists and one of the producers I work with is Steve Robson. In his life he’s written Year 3000, What I Go To School For, and half of the One Direction back catalogue. So his walls are covered in silverware. Me, him, Katie Gregson-MacLeod and Jamie Squire wrote a song called Sunday Drives with Brett Aldrich. We were in the studio about two weeks ago and we just wanted to change the lyrics to each chorus and see where it went and from the corner Steve goes ‘I just really like repeating good things’. It silenced the room. Because he has the respect to be able to make those calls it was almost funny. So I think, in regard to considering the listener, I think you’ve just got to be true and honest and I think that someone will always know. The creative will always know if that place is true and real.

My personal favourite is New York. Can I ask a bit more about where that came from?

So I fell in love with country music on tour in America in 2019. The seed must have happened towards the end of 2020. I was at home with my girlfriend at the time and I’d started jamming this country song as a joke, freestyling the lyrics, but I really loved the melody. So I got her to voice memo it, which I think consisted of the whole first verse in its entirety. I went on a Zoom with my friend Josh and we finished it in two hours, pretty much as is now structurally and lyrically. This story is so out of hand it’s funny. I ended up texting it to Matty Healy (The 1975), because I rate his opinion and we’ve been friendly over the years. Basically, he asked for it. I agreed, as I wasn’t sure if it was really for me at that stage. Whoever can put the most heart into it, you know? I’d forgotten about it until I saw a video online of him singing it opening for Phoebe Bridgers as a secret guest, and he did a beautiful job with it. He had written this bridge (at home, somewhere I don’t like/eating stuff off of motorbikes) which later became the chorus to the first single for their newest album, Part of the Band, one of my favourites off that project. I was lucky enough to work on that album with him, and it became clear that New York wasn’t right for them at that moment. So I took it back for myself, and it ended up on the album. Just without Matty’s beautiful bridge. It’s just a mad collaboration story, bouncing everywhere, as many of mine are. So often collaborative efforts get killed or brutalised by someones ego and thank god it didn’t. Everyone was so open and honest and true in all parts. I’m not a spokesperson for the songwriters’ guild but I love working with other people. The song is key – whatever I have to do to get there.

Obviously we’ve touched on the literal inspiration for the project. What sort of stuff were you listening to that influenced your direction?

I listen to too many songs. I listened to a lot of Edith Piaf and Frank Sinatra, for sure. The truth in their performances is what drives me. I was also listening to a lot of 90s country, specifically Don’t Take The Girl and Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw. The main reference spiritually is an album called Mid Air by Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile). They’re proper legends. I love the minimal vibe of that, it’s all feel and atmosphere, no drums or anything. I love classic songs too. A lot of pop songs. People don’t believe me but two of my favourite ever songs are Hero (Enrique Iglesias) and Believe (Cher). Imagine how many people have cried over Hero!

Right! It’s so important to understand the context of an album as much as it is to get the album itself. Drawing those lines between influence and product is crucial. Especially in how, as we said before, production can change everything too.

Those influences seep in invisibly to what I do, for sure. Credit to Jimmy Hogarth with this as he was so patient with me. I’ve made a brother for life there. We wrote like over thirty songs together that I ended up changing my mind over. He is such a legend. He’s been making hits since I was in primary school. The man co-wrote Jenny Don’t Be Hasty (Paolo Nutini)! He’s a star. This is testament to his humility right – his Instagram bio reads ‘collaborator and music maker’.

Tour is coming up for you soon. How do you feel about getting back on the road?

Man, I can’t wait. I’ve got all my friends coming with me. These days we treat tour as if it’s an art installation. We just want to serve every night. My favourite show in the past 13 years was in a venue in South Carolina in a 1000 capacity venue with 10 people in it. I’m the best at playing those shows. I was a taker and so self-centred for so long, and now I love just going out and giving it all. It’s all I know how to do. The setup for my time on Earth is looking good. As well, someone having to pay 20 quid for a ticket is a big, big deal. I’m awake enough now to know that that’s amazing, A lot of couples come down like ‘we fell in love at uni and now we are married and we listened to Atlas Hands when we used to-‘ well, I don’t know what they used to do but I’m sure I can’t say that here. I often wonder if my songs had eyes what kind of things they’d have seen.

What songs from the new album are you looking forward to translating onto the stage?

Spokane, Washington for sure. Break In The Weather. A Love Like That, because I’ve got Jamie Squire with me and the piano-playing is unbelievable. New York too. I play for over an hour now right, and I really love playing old songs. I know they mean a lot to people. I never want to be that guy that only does new songs because I know my audience might not be there for a set comprised of just the new stuff, you know? Plus, me and Jamie write so much I even want to play new songs that aren’t even on there. I’ve got a song that I wrote with The Script and it’s so brutal and it’s like, I wanna play that! But obviously I need to be careful. Thankfully I’ve got adults around me that can advise me with the significant costs of doing whatever I want. I just want to play the songs that move peoples’ hearts.

I just love music generally. Fat White Family and boygenius are two examples. I’ve got an artist called Bonnie Kemplay coming over today, an amazing singer-songwriter on Dirty Hit. So that’ll be fun. I’m kind of just a loser at this point. I think I might need to get a life. But I’m just playing the cards I’ve been dealt.

I’ll leave it with a very narrow question. How would you summarise the album into 3 words?

Fearless, hopeful, surrendered.

Some Things Break is out now via Dirty Hit. Benjamin takes to the stage from the 4th of April in Leeds, the first of 9 dates in support of the project, including a night at Earth in London.



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writer, photographer, lover of all things music.

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