Interview: Ben Ottewell

Written by: Karthik Murugesan

Touring off the back of his critically-acclaimed 2011 release Shapes and Shadows, Gomez man Ben Ottewell’s live performances are an eclectic range of solo material and acoustically-arranged Gomez favourites.

The Void’s Karthick Murugesan caught up with the Mercury Prize winner… 

Gomez singer and solo artist Ben Ottewell

Ben Ottewell

Were the songs for Shapes and Shadows written specifically for the album or have they been floating around a while?

Yeah, I would say about 60% of them have been around for several years or so. However, the Gomez stuff always kept us really busy so there was not really a lot of time to actually get in the studio and get them down if you know what I mean.

Was it always your intention to release a solo album?

It was never actually my intention to get these songs out, but as Gomez is taking a break at the moment the timing seemed good to get to work on these songs. As I said before, they have been around for a while.

You recorded the album in Los Angeles. Is there a specific reason for this? Do you think it added anything to the sound of the album?

Well, I really wanted to work with a particular guy (Will Golden) to record the album initially. Hmm, I never really thought about that. Yeah, I guess that it must have added something. Being in a place like California would definitely have had an effect on the certain tone of the album. The bulk of the song writing was all wrapped up before recording, but in terms of arrangements and general sound… yeah maybe.

Would you say that Shapes and Shadows has a lyrical theme?

Well, a lot of it was written with a guy I was born with called Sam Genders. Well, not literally born together, but we were very close. I feel that with him being involved, it brought out a fairly strong sense of nostalgia in a lot of the songs. However, these songs were written over quite a long period of time. I mean, a lot of things have changed. Major events have happened in my life such as becoming a father etc. I guess all of these experiences have been touched upon in the album. The album title itself Shapes and Shadows refers to looking behind you. At the same time, the themes in some of the songs can be incredibly vague, sort of just a mixture of experience from the last few years.

How does doing solo tours compare to touring with Gomez?

It’s a completely different experience. With Gomez, there would be five of us taking on the audience rather than one guy and his guitar. I was absolutely terrified for my first solo gig! I can’t really compare the two as they are two completely different breeds. When I’m playing a solo show, the crowd just seems to become a lot bigger and prevalent and I seem to notice them a lot more. Everything becomes a lot more personal. With Gomez, there is a lot more of a casual, laid back atmosphere, as that’s the tone of the music we perform.

Singer Ben Ottewell

You released Whatever’s On Your Mind last year, has the recording process become more difficult with two members (Ian Ball and Olly Peacock) living in the US?

Not really, I think it has even benefited us in a way. Certain pressures seem to disappear that were there when we would write songs together. We would share ideas online and use Logic, so the albums would basically get written on the internet. All of the band members are very active in the song writing process and this just gave us another avenue to form an individual idea and then put it out there for all of us. It would give us the chance to look above it all, sort of another perspective, and see things more clearly. Sometimes when we are writing together, things could get mixed up or missed.

Your albums seem to display quite a diverse range of genres. Do you consciously try to change your sound or is it more of a natural progression?

I think it’s just the way that it has always been to be honest. We all listen to a lot of diverse music and it just seems to be the natural thing to do. No, we don’t try to be as different as possible; we just play what we think sounds good and fresh. The variety of what we play is just a product of that. (Laugh) I mean I don’t think any of us could really tell you what type of music we play, but I think that’s a good thing.

Gomez has been going for over 15 years, is it hard to stay creative for such a long period of time?

I think that there are so many different things that we all still want to do, that creativity has never been a problem. I mean, there have obviously been ruts, but the trick is to learn how to get out of them. I mean you can play on a different instrument or take a break and try a fresh approach to whatever it is you are trying to do. With Gomez, we have always freshened things up with different arrangements and instruments. There are a lot of things that you can do to keep it all flowing nicely.

You’re a very successful band; you’ve sold countless albums, won a Mercury Prize and toured the world. However, in some circles you are still seen as a ‘cult student band’. Why do you think this is?

(Laughs) Yeah, I wish we were that age again. To be honest I have no idea. It may be because we were never part of anything. The whole Britpop thing just passed us by and we never really stuck to a particular scene. We are not really one thing. Most bands can be defined by a particular scene or genre but we were always kind of stuck in the middle of it all. It’s very difficult to describe us as a sound. (Laughs) That could be the appeal of the whole student thing.

With Gomez still going strong, is there another solo album on the horizon?

We are actually taking a small break from Gomez for a few years, but yes we are still around. Yes! I will be expecting to release the second solo album early next year.

Shapes and Shadows is available on iTunes and look out for Ben’s new album later in 2013.

Author: Karthik Murugesan

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