Interview: Ben Watt

Across four decades Ben Watt has maintained a committed forwardlooking course, from the ardent echo-drenched folk of his early solo work with Robert Wyatt, through seventeen years as musical mainspring and co-lyricist in the best-selling Everything But The Girl with Tracey Thorn – and ten at the helm of his smart electronic label Buzzin’ Fly – to his recent moving non-fiction and mid-life solo albums, the awardwinning ‘Hendra’ (2014) and ‘Fever Dream’ (2016).

Ben Watt will play on Saturday 7th March 2020 at The Castle & Falcon Birmingham. Tickets available here.

We caught up with Ben ahead of his headline performance at The Castle & Falcon on Saturday 7th March 2020.

Hi Ben, we’re loving your new single ’Summer Ghosts’, it’s a great track. We hear it’s inspired by Japanese tradition? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Thank you. I was writing a song about the mental strength you need to deal with demanding relationships from your past – perhaps those with your parents, or those connected to a particular time and place – and how those memories always seem to stalk you, and have the power to turn you upside down when you least expect. While I was writing it I ran into John Grant one night, who was just back from Japan. He told me was there during the ‘summer ghost season’; and he explained there is a tradition there that believes ancestral and family ghosts come out in August, whereas we usually associate ghosts with darkness and winter. I thought it was a very poetic image that suited the lyrics and mood of the song.

This track is the final release before the release of your upcoming album ’Storm Damage’, what can fans expect from the rest of the album? Are there any surprises in store?

I think the five released so far give a good flavour of what to expect. The album is largely the sound of a driven piano trio surrounded by lone buzzing synth and cut-up sound effects that hopefully dramatise the voice and lyrics in an atmospheric and distinctive way. That said, there is another guitar-based song that might have my favourite vocal performance.

Your last single ‘Figures In The Landscape’ throws nods to feelings of powerlessness, can you tell us a bit more about this?

Yes, I wrote it during a difficult period after a family bereavement. At the same time the news was full of stories of political and environmental upheaval which left me questioning whether even voting for anything meant anything any more. I felt very powerless and debilitated for a time. But then I realised you do actually have a simple choice – to celebrate what you have or to get out there and take issue with it. And that is what the song is about.

There’s a deeply personal feel to your music, is this something that’s important to you?

I just write it as I see it.

All of your tracks seem to have a really interesting and powerful meaning behind them, how does this reflect in your writing process, does that make it easier or harder do you think?

Words are important. They are powerful. They can change things, move people. I just try and respect them.

What do you think about the current state of the music industry?

For the labels with large catalogues and artists with long discographies, streaming has brought a lot of financial stability after years of thinking it was all over. But I am concerned for the next generation coming through. No one can make a living from streaming with a debut album. And touring at the grassroots level is not the money-spinner people think it is. The market is saturated with music which is great for the consumer but not easy for the new creators. How this ultimately plays out will define the music industry over the next ten years.

We’re really looking forward to your return to Birmingham! What can fans expect from your performance?

I love my new band. It is a tightly-focused trio, but we all multi-task, adding texture and colour with an assortment of samples and footswitches. It is entirely live, often improvised, and includes songs and stories from across my career. We road-tested the show in London in November and I was very excited by the sound.

Your tour stretches beyond the UK and USA, reaching the likes of Australia, where is your favourite place to perform live?

Anywhere there is a full room and an attentive crowd.

Is there anywhere that you haven’t yet performed that you would love to?

I have no bucket list. I am grateful to be allowed to play at all.

Beyond the album release and the tour, what’s in store for you in 2020?

At the moment I can’t think beyond next week, let alone the rest of the year!