Ben Ottewell Interview

By Kevin Donnellan

Ben Ottewell is best known as the gravel voiced singer from Mercury prize winners Gomez. But February 4th sees the release of his first solo album ‘Shapes and Sounds. His UK & Ireland tour kicks off in Cork on February 26nd followed by shows in Dublin on the 27th and Belfast on the 29th. Meg.ie caught up with him ahead of all this excitement.

So what prompted the decision to release solo material? The album’s been a long time coming by the sound of things…

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now and it was simply about having the opportunity time wise and, of course, the songs. Gomez generally keeps me very busy but I managed to carve out a little time and the people I wanted to work with were available so there was a touch of serendipity to it.

When writing did you generally have a clear idea ‘that’s a solo song’ and ‘that’s a Gomez song’?

A lot of these songs I’ve had, at least in part, for five years or more, are perhaps  more personal thing than generally get aired in the band. When you are involved in a creative partnership with four other writers it’s almost inevitable that some tunes, regardless of their quality, won’t make it through. It can be about the lyrical content or simply that the vibe isn’t right for what the band is doing right then. These are songs that have been rattling around in my brain and have finally found a home.

The solo tour kicks off next month, it’ll presumably take a bit of getting used to being away from the lads?

I’ve done quite a few solo shows now and at it felt very strange at first not having the other guys there. We are a proper band and the interplay live, the ebb and flow and the knowledge that your all behind each other is something you just can’t recreate solo. That musical conversation just isn’t there.
It’s a very different dynamic but I really enjoy the intimacy and the freedom of playing solo as well.

Could you act the salesperson for us for a second; what can people expect from the solo shows in Cork, Dublin and Belfast next month?

Well I’ll mainly be playing stuff from my solo record but I’m sure I’ll throw in a few choice Gomez tunes as well.

Who’s going to be traveling with you?

My tour manager / soundman / driver / all round good guy Dave Hadley.

In terms of expectations that an audience have for a solo show, as opposed to the band playing, do you think you’ll have to change tack much? Maybe  a different wacky anecdote between each song…

I think the whole point is to change tack, you can play things differently, as fast or slow as you want. Miss bits out, add new bits.

You previously said (well at least the infallible internet told me you said) you like music because it allows you not to have to work for a living. Does that still hold true for you?

Definitely

You’ve been involved in the music industry throughout arguably the biggest upheaval it’s faced. Do you have any magic philosophy on how to survive in the industry these days? It doesn’t even have to be magical.

Things seemed so much easier when we were coming up, I think it would be really difficult now on many levels. The same two principles remain though; be good, be lucky.

How are the rest of the Gomez lads? Plans afoot for a release this year?

We are currently mixing the next Gomez record which should be out this May. Its great and the lads are in good form.

Influences-wise, anything released in recent years that’s particularly stood out for you?

Love the Tunng stuff, the Accidental, John Smith, Grizzly Bear, Sun Kill Moon…so much good music out there.

Any particular standout moments that come to mind from past gigs in Ireland?

I got absolutely drenched during one festival show. We were in a tent and it had been raining all day and, unbeknownst to me rain had been pooling on the outside of the tent all day. We went on and half way through the set it all came down, about 5 buckets full of freezing water, directly on top of me and I, along with my pedal board (lots of wiring – electrics) were saturated. Thinking this might be a little dangerous I glanced over at the crew for some assistance only see them laughing their asses off so I just carried on. Good gig.

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