Interview: Ben Marwood on his new album, going back to performing live and more

The Reading-based folk singer released his latest record Get Found just last year. 

Ever since picking up the guitar in 2004, troubadour Ben Marwood has made his way into the hearts of folk-loving music fans across the UK. In 2011 he released his debut album Outside There’s A Curse via Xtra Mile Recordings. And after plenty more touring, as well as playing with Frank Turner at the 2012 Olympics, plus his first headline tour, Ben released second album Back Down in 2013. In April last year, Marwood then made his long-awaited return after a forced hiatus in the years before.

The singer is set to open the main stage at 2000 Trees alongside appearances at a few local Reading-based festivals this summer. Ahead of his headline show at Camden’s The Monarch last month, Ben talked about his new record, getting back on the road and more.

How did you get into writing and doing music in the first place? 

I don’t remember! I remember my mom said I used to write songs when I was about 3 or 4 I think? I used to collect vinyl records when I was very small, well I guess a child can’t go to the shop and buy vinyl when they’re 3, so I must have had help somewhere along the way. I do often wonder when all this started, I don’t ever consciously remember thinking “I should do music” – it just kind of happened. My first gig I ever went to was Michael Jackson at Wembley Stadium, like, the old Wembley Stadium, I think I was about ten or eleven. From then on it just kind of snowballed. And obviously what I do now is nothing like Michael Jackson, but you know, who is?!

What does Get Found mean to you? 

I guess the fact that it all just came together and got released, is really about persevering through because I got ill in between album two and album three so I had kind of written it before and it just felt like an album that was quite a personal album, it was about breaking up with people, about enjoying life and remembering to enjoy life was a big thing. And then I got ill and then by the time I came out the other side and had to record it and arrange it, it really had taken on a life of its own in terms of it feels like my own personal triumph. No matter how small that triumph might be in the grand scheme of things. So I’m very proud of that album and how it turned out given where it started from.

Do you feel like your creative process has changed at all since the illness? 

To be honest, not really. I mean, I seem to spend more time now writing choruses than I did before. Probably what I took away from that was just enjoying what I do rather than how I do it. I’ve been thinking about writing another one, so maybe if you ask me this question in another six months I’ll be able to tell you exactly how it’s changed! Obviously these songs coming up will be the first ones that I’ve had to properly write since then because obviously the third album was written before.

Talking about the album a bit more, the opening track starts with what sounds like baby babble….

Yeah that’s me!!

Oh, that’s you?

Yeah, that is me. I think there was one review that said it was my son, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have a son. When I was ill I had to move back with parents for a few months and we’re going through loads of old boxes, we found these old cassette tapes of me as a child. Most of them completely unusable, it’s mostly me singing Michael Jackson songs or just burbling away non-sensecally. But there was that little clip that I listened to and thought, come back to it. So when it came time to record the album I had to go through all these tapes again. But yeah it’s just me, I think I was about four, three maybe?

The cover on the album Baby You’re A Mess – what made you decide to release it as a song and what made you choose this song in particular? 

Normally, when I’m doing just the writing for an album, I’ll start playing covers as well just to myself and that one just turned out really well, so when as a band we came together to do the record and I played it through we thought, we’ll see how it goes. And it turned out really well. It was written by a friend of mine named Tom Crooke and his band Band Of Hope, and I remember him playing it to me in his front room just after he had written it and it was a really nice song. And then he released it but then I felt like it could do with maybe a broader audience than it got the first time around. So I finished the song, sent it to him with “listen to this, let me know what you think”. And then he was like “yeah that’s quite nice”. But then Xtra Mile chose it as the first single I think. So that was really a surprise as well.

You said in an interview once that you’re not one of those people who likes happy songs – which is probably not always true, but where do you take your inspiration from? 

Life, I guess. A little bit is just what comes into my head. If I see someone having a great time singing I think “Who are you? What’s wrong? Why are you having a great time singing? Come on, what are you hiding?” But I need a really strong emotion from a song, whether it’s fear or anger or sadness or happiness or joy or whatever, but quite often my favourite ones don’t tend to be the happiest ones.

You play a lot of the grassroots venues, how do you feel about the threat that they are currently under? 

Quite a lot of it defies common sense. A lot of it seems to come from people moving into an area where noise exists. And then complaining that noise exists. I think the work that the Music Venue Trust are doing to adopt the Agent Of Change Principle, to make the problem of dealing with the noise, shifting that from the people making the noise if they’ve been doing it for a long time to the broader community, the people responsible for developing. That’s a great idea, it seems like a common sense idea as well.

For someone who may not have seen you live before, how would describe your shows?

Just awful, it’s awful!! It’s me and a guitar and a room full of people that I try to get to sing along to stuff. The Monarch, here is always really good so this will probably be the rowdiest crowd we’ve had on the tour I’d imagine. It’s normally between this and Manchester. It’s a lot of focus on lyrics and themese of life. But generally what we aim for is we try to have fun and then go home having fun. It took me a while to learn. You’re going to play stuff that’s going to depress people, depress them first and make them happy.

Make them leave happy, yeah! 

That’s right, that’s the key!

How have the shows been so far on this tour? 

They’ve been good. This is the last tour that I’ll do for a little while I think, because things still aren’t quite right with me. When I set out to promote this album, my aim was one tour, ten shows. And this is now my third tour, and I think we’re on show number 29 tonight. So I’m on my 29th show of a ten-show run, so it feels pretty good. So far on this little leg it’s been good. We played in Newport for the first time ever, never been to Newport before after all these years. And then we did Nottingham, Southampton, Bristol and tonight. And then we’ve got three shows left after this. But a day off tomorrow which is great!

Ah nice!!

I know right? I’m just going to watch terrible horror films all day.

Sounds ace! So you said no more touring after this one, what else are you planning for 2018?

Well I’ll be at 2000 trees this year, which will be really nice. I’ll be playing a multi-venue charity all-dayer called Are You Listening in Reading in a few weeks time which is the highlight of the Reading music calendar, ignore that festival that happens, the main one is this Are You Listening  which will be pretty good. I’ve got some one-off shows here and there, And then I guess I’ll have to think about writing something new. I’m also going to see if I can go on some holidays. I’m going to Rome next month!