Veteran music maker, DJ, author, and label-owner Ben Watt catches us up with his latest happenings as he prepares for a string of US shows to promote his upcoming album, Hendra. He’ll be playing Joe’s Pub in NYC on April 1 (sold out), Rough Trade in NYC on April 2, and The Echo in LA on April 4. You aren’t going to want to miss these!
Giant Step: It’s been over two decades since your debut album, North Marine Drive, came out in 1983 and over a decade since your last work with Everything But the Girl. What inspired you to get back into the studio for your own project?
Ben Watt: Instinct, mainly. After Everything But The Girl stopped in 2002, I focused on DJing and running my two labels Buzzin’ Fly and Strange Feeling Records for ten years, but I felt myself wanting to get back to words and writing again, not just beats and other people’s music. The first thing I did was write a new book – a memoir all about my parents’ lives and marriage that will be published by Bloomsbury in the US in June. (It has just come out here to great reviews, which is very heart-warming.) And then right after that I fell into songwriting again. It was perhaps triggered by the unexpected death of my half-sister, Jennie. She died just as I was finishing the book and it was a heavy blow. A lot of stuff just tumbled out.
GS: Hendra is due out in the UK on April 14; so far we’ve heard the stunning title track which you’re describing as “folk rock” on your SoundCloud. What else can people to expect to hear on the project? How would you describe it in more detail?
BW: I guess I went back and reconnected with my twenty year-old self who was putting out records on Cherry Red in the early 80s, and who had the early career that was parked when I teamed up with Tracey as Everything But The Girl. I listened to a lot of the stuff I was listening to when I was growing up – folk-rock, jazz, soul – and tried to just be natural and true to myself. I retuned all my guitars in an attempt to find a fresh approach and ended up with a really languid impressionistic sound and sets of very vivid lyrics. I knew I needed a foil – a counterpoint. So I invited Bernard Butler to play with me. I knew he would bring a darker, overdriven, more distorted sound, a bit of grit. The two of us form the bedrock of the album. I asked Ewan Pearson to produce and add background atmospherics using vintage polysynths. We added bass and drums and then I unexpectedly ran into Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour just before starting recording and we got on really well so I asked him to add guitar to one track, so he plays a stellar cameo role on the album, too.
GS: Congratulations on recently releasing your second book, Romany and Tom, based on your parent’s love story. Tell us a bit about what brought you to writing books and what moved you to tell this story in particular.
BW: I wrote my first book in the mid 90s – an account of my surviving a life-threatening illness in 1992. People liked my writing style and they liked the characters of my parents who appeared in the book. Whenever I have told stories about my family people have been mesmerised by the details and hints of glamour, so I think I knew I would have to write about my mum and my dad one day. It also enabled me to bring them into focus as two human beings with flaws like all of us, not just iconic which is how we often view our parents.
GS: We’ve got word that you’ll be in NYC for two dates in April! What can folks expect to experience at your live performances?
BW: The album, Hendra, is out in the US on April 29. I am coming over with Bernard Butler for three pre-album shows just to kind of say “hello, I’m back.” We’re doing all the new songs in their raw form, just the two of us, intertwining guitars and my voice and lyrics and a bit of Wurltizer electric piano thrown in too. I might even go right back and play a couple of of my pre-EBTG songs.
GS: It seems like you’ve done a brilliant job going after whatever it is that you want. From being a revered musician to a world class DJ to a label owner to an author and on. What have you got your eyes set on next?
BW: I never try and second-guess the future. I just let it arrive and trust my instincts, and hope I don’t get it wrong!
Wednesday, April 2
Friday, April 4
Los Angeles, CA