- 07 Feb 24
Ahead of releasing his latest album, Some Things Break, indie-folk artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich talks breaking old beliefs, his adoration for CMAT and learning brutal honesty.
Singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich returns this month with a transcendent new album, Some Things Break, which sees the English artist at his most raw and honest – and that’s exactly how he wants it.
“You know, thank God my ego has been crushed," he remarks. "It needed to be."
This ‘crushed ego’ marks a new dawn for Leftwich, and a departure from his previous material. We start talking about Some Things Break, which immediately grabs the listener’s attention with its rich, resplendent instrumentation. He’s embraced new levels of narrative ambition, honesty and specificity, writing songs that are honest and sometimes despondent, orbiting serrating self-awareness, failed love, the woes of grief, and a bone marrow-deep sense of life’s fractures reflected by the record’s title.
Following his 2021 LP To Carry A Whale, Leftwich approached this record three years later with fresh ideas and more room to breathe. Some Things Break has been a few years in the making, which Leftwich says was necessary to exact upon his desired sound. He broadened his music tastes, testing the waters of genres he previously just observed from the shoreline, such as country or bluegrass. The writing and production sessions also brought him back to the safe harbour of his all-time favourites.
“I really love an album called Mid-Air by Paul Buchanan, he’s the singer of Blue Nile. I love their album Hats, they’re my favourite band of all time. I also listened to a lot of classics: Edith Piáf, Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters."
"There’s a few albums that really shook me up. One’s from a guy I worked with in Nashville called Josiah and The Bonnevilles who dropped an album called Endurance. Also the Gang of Youths’ Angel in Realtime is exceptional. I also loved Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves. I mean, what an exceptional album,” he exhales a tempered sigh. "So I listen to a lot of that stuff for songwriting and sonic inspiration."
The time in between his last record To Carry a Whale and his latest Some Things Break gave Leftwich the space and latitude to draw inspirations and explore his desired soundscapes. He met with producers, record execs and musicians, forging new relationships within the music industry and maintaining the old ones, too. Leftwich wanted a less-is-more angle for the new record, something raw and organic on levels both lyrical and sonic.
“I feel like the best producers are reducers,” he remarks. “It’s easy to throw loads of stuff on it, and I’ve done some of that myself and made some mistakes in the past.”
Across a career spanning nearly 12 years, it’s a new dawn for Leftwich as he prepares to release Some Things Break. He’s confident, unperturbed, ready for whatever comes his way, with the creative tools at hand to confront them. Here, music allows him to navigate life.
Whether in the unrequited conversations with his late father in ‘Spokane, Washington’ or the hopeful forecasting of ‘Break in the Weather,’ this record occupies a space of reflection and sees Leftwich at his most honest. If the inspiration is there — which it often is — then he’s there, as well, with a guitar in one hand and pen with paper in the other.
We talk about his period of soul-searching during the COVID-inflicted hiatus. He called up old friend and producer Jimmy Hogan, who's worked with the likes of Paolo Nutini and Amy Winehouse, to start making tunes together and generate ideas for new music.
During the first wave of quarantine, Leftwich started writing one of the LP's single 'New York' in an apartment he shared with his then girlfriend.
"I got really into country music in 2019," he smiles. "And I started writing a jokey country song during the pandemic by myself. I jammed a verse or two and said 'I really love this!' From then, I went on zoom and wrote basically the whole song as it is on the album with my friend Josh Finn, from Wounded Bear."
The song is about "going to New York and getting up to all kinds of nonsense, the whole lot. It's about going to big shiny cities for big shiny and flashy things, and then missing the humanity and imperfection of what you’ve run from."
"For me at the time when I first went to New York — and I grew up in Yorkshire and I’m 34 now — but when I was 21 and started touring, I went to New York with Jamie O’Brien and I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is too much, it’s so intense and crazy!' And I was never one for wanting to go out, I’d spent a lot of time in hotel rooms in self pity."
Leftwich started to see inklings of new material fall into place, but he did not yet have a complete vision. He put 'New York' on the back burner for a while to work on collaborations with other artists, gaining fresh ideas and experience. But after a while, Leftwich sent the voice memo to longtime friend and peer, The 1975’s Matty Healy, for feedback.
“I texted it to Matty and he was like ‘there’s something real in this bruv. I love this. Can I do a collab with my girlfriend?’" he recalls. "I was like ‘of course, man.’ How could I not? My thing with songs is that whoever can get it for the most, that’s who should do it.”
During an opening set for Phoebe Bridgers in 2021, Healy performed ‘New York,’ which at the time was unreleased and somewhat inchoate. Lacking a bridge, Healy wrote one for his supporting gig, which he developed into a separate song for the album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language — which features songwriting credits from Leftwich on ‘Oh Caroline’ and ‘Human Too.’
A recording of Healy's cover in 2021 gained swift traction on YouTube, amassing a slew of comments from fans who saw the same electrifying light in Leftwich’s ‘New York’ that Healy saw.
“So yeah, Matty really encouraged me on that song. He was very gracious. He’s a lovely guy and I’m so grateful for him. I kind of forgot about ['New York'] and was like, ‘Yeah, maybe [an album] will happen after all.
"Then of course, when he dropped that video on the internet, some of their fans loved the song and wanted him to release it. Matty didn’t want to do it and I was like, I’m gonna do it, I’ll do it.”
Thus came Some Things Break. It’s his most collaborative work to date, which took him a while to come around to, on account of his own reservations about sharing artistic creation with others. It’s no easy feat to be vulnerable and create with another person in the room, but it was a necessary feat he needed to overcome.
“I love collaboration now, it took me so long to get there,” he reflects.
These days, Leftwich approaches songwriting more openly, and it’s led him across the somewhat uncharted territory of collaboration. It’s given him new tools, ideas and inspiration.
“I’ve been lucky enough to fall into this game of writing so many songs with other writers, but I never write them. Sometimes my job is to just chop it up and say absolutely nothing, let them write. But, you know, everyone’s ego has to be out of the way, mine included. I’m not immune to being human. I love collaborating with people, but sometimes it doesn’t work. If everyone’s ego is out of the way and in the mindset to go just, then something magical happens.”
Who's inspired that kind of magic?
"CMAT, I fucking love her."
Leftwich first heard about the Irish star through his friend Oli Deakin, who produced CMAT's Choice Prize-winning If My Wife New I'd Be Dead, many years ago. He was instantly smitten with her music: the sound, her voice, the honesty. The two connected a couple times for a writing session over Zoom while CMAT was in Portugal.
“I thought she was awesome and so real, she’s just doing her own thing,” he beams.
Leftwich recalls later meeting CMAT in the studio: “She comes in with this beautiful — and I mean, just, beautiful — song called 'Stay for Something.' We were lucky to have a little hand in it, and get to poke around a bit. And, you know what, damn it! She’s amazing, and I truly mean this, I’m not being playful: I’m only as good as I’m lucky enough to be in with.”
In just four hours, they recorded a demo for 'Stay for Something' with a similar sound to the released version.
“I’m such a fan, but I’ll say this: In my opinion, she doesn't really need to co-write with anyone. She’s amazing, you know, we were lucky that we got that song.”
We start chatting about Dublin and his fondness for Ireland, its music scene, its audiences: “I’m not just saying this, but the Whelan’s shows are literally my favourite shows ever. I love the people there. I love the legend of that venue, I’ve had some great shows.”
“There’s always like one or two people who were really wasted in a good way, which ups the vibe even more, just shouting out mad shit I don’t understand, then everyone’s cheering.”
When he returns to Dublin this Spring, Leftwich will trade Whelan's for Workmans, in which he’ll perform on April 13.
“I haven’t played [Workmans] but I’ve been there many times,” he quips. "But, man, I love coming over to Dublin. I love getting a ferry and I can’t wait for April.”
It’s a year of beginnings for Benjamin Francis Leftwich. He’s come far, and he has a lot to look back on. With a new album, he’s ready to dive headlong into the unknown, confident and earnest.
He’s approached Some Things Break without scruples or some grand design, breaking down his own creative barriers in the process.
“As cheesy as it sounds,” he remarks, “the inspiration for me now at least is to ask: Where's my heart at? What do I want to say?
“Sometimes I think of songwriting as an audio will, you know? If I leave the studio tonight, and a meteor falls on my head, it's game over,” he adds. Which leaves him with the vital question: "Have I been honest?”
To tear down such walls, to be truly honest, is to break something deep-rooted, he reflects: "Music is where it all comes back together for me."
Surrounded by the pieces of his life, Some Things Break sees Leftwich as both wrecker and repairer. He’s older, wiser now. He knows his way around life’s fractured contours. He trusts that, after all, some things will break — but that, more importantly, some things must break before they can mend.
- Some Things Break is out this Friday, February 9, via Dirty Hit. Benjamin Francis Leftwich plays Workmans Club on Saturday, April 13. Tickets are available here.