Category: ben leece

Interview: Ben Leece

Ben-Leece39.jpgLast year Hunter Valley singer-songwriter Ben Leece released his excellent debut album, No Wonder the World is Exhausted, and since then it hasn’t been hard to find fans of his thoughtful, and artful, songs. Leece is not, however, a newcomer – he may be relatively new to country music audiences but his love for and experience in music goes back several years and across genres. It was a pleasure to talk to him recently and find out about his album, his songwriting process and which type of music he loved first.

There’s been a great reception to the album. You must be very pleased.

Absolutely. It’s far beyond anything that I could have expected. Random messages from people that have found it and then positive reviews from people that I really respect. So it’s been pretty amazing.

How long before the release had you completed it? And why I’m asking you is to find out how long you were sitting in limbo waiting to find out what people thought.

The recording was wrapped up at the beginning of January [2018], essentially. There was maybe one or two overdubs that needed to be done by some other musicians, and mixing obviously, so maybe seven months with final mixes that were sitting on them. A long time.

In that time did you start to think, I wish I’d done X, Y, Z differently? Or were you just thinking, Oh, it’s done and I’m leaving it where it is?

I was pretty stoked. It exceeded my expectations. It turned out way beyond anything that I could have imagined that it would have. I guess it was just being patient with it and not to try and rush it out there. The thing is once you’re finished with something you’re excited, you just want to get it out there. So learning to be patient with it was hard. The biggest thing with that is I’d come out of this studio with Shane Nicholson recording it and essentially it was done. And then I went to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, so that was January 2018. And one of my gigs was playing on the floor of a Hungry Jack’s restaurant [laughs].

Which does happen at Tamworth, those sorts of gigs.

I was 36 at the time and I’d been doing music for a long time, and I’d just come out of this experience with Shane and I was on this massive high and it was this massive slump back to reality. And it was the worst gig ever. It was double booked, for a start. I was sitting there politely arguing with the other guy that was double booked about who was not going to play it [laughs]. In the end we decided to split it and the noise from the kitchen drowned us out. The two or three punters who walked through the door had zero interest in us being there. My capo broke in the second song. The power kept cutting in and out so I was fighting with the PA. It was the worst. I remember getting back in the car and just thinking, You know what, I don’t need this. I’ve done the record but I don’t need this.I literally got back in the car after that thinking that I was all but done and I got a message from my friend Tori Forsyth saying, ‘Hey, my gig at the Welder’s Dog has just sold out – do you want to come and open for me?’ And it’s just kind of been ascending ever since then. And that message from Tori is typical of this community that I’ve found myself in. It’s something really special.

And this year in Tamworth I know you played quite a few different types of gigs. I saw you perform at the Cake and Cordial sessions and then happened to head to The Press that afternoon, not knowing who was on the bill, and then you walked into that. I thought, He’s getting around!

Cake and Cordial was a great gig. I love Paddy [McHugh] and Megan Cooper that organise that. They’re great people. It’s good fun.

It was a great gig. I remember seeing you arrive before the start of the show and I
thought you must’ve been on first, but no, you were at last. So just talking about that country music community, I think part of it is that you all do show up for each other.

Well, I’ve got a connection to everyone on that bill. And it was random. I had no idea that was how it was being put together. Jenny Mitchell I’ve spent a lot of time with and I think she’s pretty special as far as songwriting goes. And obviously Paddy and Megan as well. And Michael Waugh – Michael and I had played a gig with Shane the night before. So it was pretty special.

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Album review: No Wonder the World is Exhausted by Ben Leece

unnamed-5.jpgWhen ‘Villains’, the first single from this album was released, I was quick to cover it because it was outstanding song. While singles aren’t always representative of albums, they can certainly whet the appetite, as they did in this case, given Leece’s skill and subtlety as a singer and songwriter.

No Wonder the World is Exhausted certainly lives up to the promise of ‘Villains’ and also declares that Leece is an artist who should be in the conversation, in country music terms, with the Troy Cassar-Daley/Don Walker songwriting combination, Shane Nicholson (the album’s producer) and Fanny Lumsden, who is one of the most versatile artists working today. He also fits neatly alongside Brad Butcher, whose musical style is quite different, although both artists are adept at crisp articulation of heavy emotions and experiences. But those are comparisons, not necessarily influences – although one might imagine that Nicholson has left an imprint.

Only Leece can know what his musical lineage is but there is one element that stands out quite clearly, at least to these ears, and that is Australian Crawl. Leece has a certain vocal similarity to James Reyne, albeit he’s easier to understand … as Reyne has become with time. But that’s not the main reason: rather, it’s that Leece’s album creates a portrait of Australian life that is the same swirl of ups, downs, quietude and activity, with a sense of place and character, that Australian Crawl were so good at producing. This is not to say that No Wonder the World is Exhausted sounds like an Australian Crawl album, because it does not. But it puts Leece in that particular, strong lineage of Australian storytelling in song.

At the same time, Leece is his own man. He has a distinctive, almost mesmerising singing style, and if ‘Villains’ was indicative of the quality of work on the album, it was not of the musical styles, which range through rock and several shades of country. At the core of each song is the story Leece is telling. There could be a song that is just Leece and a guitar, like the album’s closing track, ‘Stuck to My Guns’, yet there are many layers to it. That’s usually the sign that a song has taken a while to come to maturity, either because the songwriter has been carrying it around for a while before recording it or because they’ve refined it over time. It’s had time to find out what it is, and that sense of ripeness, for lack of a better word, offers the listener something deeply satisfying.

In short: ‘Villains’ wasn’t a one-off, Leece has produced an extraordinary album, and if you take your music seriously, you’ll take him seriously.

No Wonder the World is Exhaused is out now through Stanley Records.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

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Album review: Take Me to Town

TMTTCov-700x622.jpgTake Me to Town may count as one album but it’s actually three CDs full of Australian alternative country music artists, some of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog – such as Tracy McNeil, The Weeping Willows, Lachlan Bryan, William Crighton and Jen Mize – and some who may be unknown simply because they are new.

Take Me to Town is the creation of Dave Favours from Sydney label Stanley Records, in concert with Chris Hamilton of Americana site Post to Wire, and Areatha Bryant of Mother Hen Touring. The trio decided on a list of artists and also secured some tracks that are exclusive to this release, from Ben Leece (who is about to release his debut album) and the always-compelling Katie Brianna, Sam Newton, Den Hanrahan, Peta Caswell and the increasingly prominent Michael Carpenter. Indeed, almost half the songs are exclusive to the compilation, so if you’re a country music fan who is wondering if it’s worth purchasing, that alone should convince you.

I’m fond of saying that country music is a broad umbrella and this compilation is proof that alternative country, too, deserves that description. The 47 tracks demonstrate that alt-country is flourishing around the land and pushing that genre, and Australian country music in general, into bold territory. There are elements of traditional country forms in these songs, reworked in a contemporary way or with a vocal flourish that creates something interesting. In some ways the compilation is an education about how country music is being interpreted and fashioned by new or new-is artists, and also how the work of more established artists like Lachlan Bryan and The Weeping Willows compares with songs from emerging artists. In this way the compilation also serves an almost anthropological purpose: the artists on this album are all pretty much from the same generation, yet how they approach their work is 47 ways of different.

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Single release: ‘Villains’ by Ben Leece

unnamed (11).jpgIf you’re taking the time to read about music, you’re probably a person a bit like me: music infuses most of your waking hours, and one song can take over your day to the point that it can make you feel happy, sad, or whatever it’s meant to do. You feel like there’s not enough time in the day, month, year, lifetime to listen to all the music you want to, and you worry that you’re going to miss a great song. You will also, from time to time, get a shiver up your spine (in a good way) when you listen to a song for the first time – and when that same song keeps causing the same response, you know that it’s not only a great song but it has another dimension to what’s going on – not a dimension you can name or even visit, but it’s just there, and you know you will keep going back to that song for years to come, not necessarily trying to figure out what it is but just to keep experiencing that magic.

That was my reaction to ‘Villains’ by New South Wales singer-songwriter Ben Leece. Now based in Newcastle, originally from Quirindi, Leece recorded the song during sessions with Shane Nicholson for an upcoming album. Leece’s voice is an instrument of mystery and wonder, leading the listener into a story and holding them there. It cracks and bends its way through the song, and never lets you off the hook. But it’s such a compelling place to be that you won’t mind – and, like me, you’ll probably keep going back for more.

Listen to ‘Villains’ on:

Soundcloud | Spotify | Apple Music

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