Last 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 , 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.