Q&A Scene: Throwback Thursday: Ben Ottewell

Ben Ottewell is back this week for an Australian Tour. Here’s a Throwback Thursday interview Mary Boukouvalas impressed Ottewell with on his last tour.
BEN OTTEWELL (Gomez)

National Australian Tour 2013
Mary Boukouvalas talks Shades and Shadows, Led Zeppelin and muses with Ben Ottewell ahead of his Australian tour.

Hi Ben, so whereabouts are you at the moment? Home? In the middle of a tour?

No I’m in Southport. It’s my kids’ half term holiday so we’re up seeing their grandma.

Oh that’s lovely

Yeah it is nice, it’s really good.

Let’s start at the beginning: Who were your main influences growing up?

Ok cool well let me see … I guess first it was the records my parents used to listen to like right, they were real hippies so they were into Neil Young, Joni Mitchell was around a quite a lot, the Beatles were always there. Actually my dad listened to a lot of blues records, jazz records as well. Then I think when I was about 11, I was really into Michael Jackson, probably like every kid. Then I got into metal. Well like hard rock, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Sepultura, Pantera.

Very eclectic. I can’t say I can hear it in your music.

Well no … yeah every so often it crops up but that was when I was suppose 13. But then Nirvana came along and changed everything. And now I’m just a music fan I guess. I listen to everything, anything good.

Do you remember your first single or record you bought?

Shakin’ Stevens Greatest Hits. Quite embarrassing. My wife has it bought as well. Yeah, it was meant to be. Yeah my full length album when I was about 11. It wasn’t the Sex Pistols, it wasn’t some sort of new wave thing or anything like that, it was Shakin’ Stevens. (laughs)

You mentioned being a music fan, is there anyone you love to listen to at the moment?

Yeah well, there’s loads. I listen to loads of people. At the moment I’m into this guy called John Smith. He’s a singer songwriter, great guitar player and he just released a record called Great Lakes, a great mellow record, great songs. He’s very good. Also, Mark Kozelek, singer from Red House Painters – been following him quite a bit. He is amazing.

What or who inspired you to become a musician?

Led Zeppelin – again you probably can’t hear it in my music. I had Led Zeppelin II I think that had the most profound effect on me. I don’t know why but it was just very exciting. Funnily enough not from a singing point of view, I think he’s a great singer, but more from the guitar angle and a writing angle, the way they mixed things up – that was probably the biggest influence, combined English folk with blues music.

Well, I think everyone wanted to play Stairway to Heaven at some stage.

Well I don’t know about that, I think that is kind of banned (laughs)

Not when you’re thirteen …

No, not when you’re thirteen. Oh no. Yeah I think you’re right. (laughs)

And now you have your solo material which is very exciting. So what prompted the decision to release solo material?

Well I’ve always had a lot of songs; you always have a lot of songs, particularly if you’re in a band. Gomez is great, a collaborative effort, a real kind of creative place to be. But if you’re a songwriter you get to release twelve songs every few years from five guys, we’ve all got different songs, songs which either lyrically or stylistically don’t fit a Gomez record. And I always tend to gig a lot. I did a lot of solo gigs. A friend of mine said I should play solo shows. So it all sort of worked out. Doing a little gig here and there. It just felt very natural cause that’s how I write. You know with Gomez I’m very much the electric guitar player and it’s just a different side to what I do. It just felt right to do it and I had the time and the opportunity to do it. And I felt I had a strong enough set of songs to do that with and it all came together basically.

It sure did. Can you tell us a little bit about your solo release Shapes & Shadows and then maybe where you are heading with your solo work?

Shapes and Shadows was, and it was very intentionally, very much an acoustic album. Well not ultra-acoustic but it’s as bare bones as anyone listening to Gomez will get.

From an electric guitar player

Yeah this is how the songs are written, produced in a very honest way and it’s crazy the songs span, some of the songs were written eight years ago, you know kind of re-written. All the stuff on the next album will be pretty new, it’s going to be a lot harder.

So, we’ll be able to hear a bit of metal in it will we?

Ahh maybe (laughs) I think it’s going to be a bit bluesier. But not like bar room blues rock. Interesting. I’ll be shouting a bit more. A few fans complained about the last record, they said ‘we really like it when you shout’ so maybe I’ll try to give them a shout.

And when can we expect this one?

I don’t know. It’s like two-thirds written. Hopefully next year if I can get it together. Maybe this time next year would be good. I’ve been like randomly throwing out dates, like May 2014. So let’s just go with that.

Sounds good. If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

I have no idea. I mean, at this point I’m unemployable. I have no idea. I’d probably be … actually I don’t know at be. You know I was always good at … I probably would have stayed in the comfort of academia, with my head in a book.

Well we’re glad you’re still making music. And how do you feel about touring?

It’s good. It’s different on your own, not have a pack around you. You get to eat where you want which is good. It’s always a thing when you’re on tour; everyone wants to eat somewhere different. You get to eat where you want, when you want. It’s good. You do sort of miss the guys but in the end, it’s alright.

Have you got any touring stories you really shouldn’t tell us about?

Yeah there’s a few but I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. There’s a particularly disgusting story –this is going to completely explode the romance of the road – this is kind of actually what happened. We were on a bus, an eighteen hour drive, trying to get to a festival in Tennessee, the air-conditioning broke down, it’s like padded seats, pretty hot outside, and the bus stopped and we kind of sat there and then a smell arrived and we were stuck behind a bacon truck spillage. So that’s the kind of thing that happens.

It’s rock n roll; it’s very glamorous! What about in Australia? Any standout moments from past gigs down here?

There’s been all sorts. Oh yeah, so many. I mean Cockatoo Island was brilliant. That was great. That was one of the highlights. Any time we’re in Byron Bay it’s great. You know I just love the whole place. We got to spend some time in Margaret River once. We all decided we were going to take three days off, so we stayed at Margaret River and did some wine drinking. That was fabulous. We’ve just had fun wherever we’ve been in Australia.

And how are the rest of the guys in Gomez? Any plans to release new material with them or concentrating on your solo material?

Yeah, we’re just on a bit of a break. We decided to take a break. It’s not been that long. And the idea is to not think about it.

Okay well we won’t talk about it either then.

It’s probably going to be a good year or so before we start thinking about it. The idea was to have a complete break. I’m sure we’ll be back.

Do you think your music, your style, has changed?

I don’t know. I hope I’m getting better (laughs) I think I’m essentially the same. I think a lot of it is confidence and, I think Gomez are really good at this, not being afraid to fail and not sticking to one formula, that has worked for you, for too long. That’s something we’ve learnt. If you want to be creative, have a fulfilling career in this industry, don’t be afraid to fail.

So how do you feel when you tour and have to sing work that you may have produced over ten years ago?

Um, no. They’re kind of part of you, I don’t really think about the words anymore, they’re like an extra limb, they’re just there. I can’t help them coming out. The funny thing is listening to the recordings of these things. It’s like when you look at old family photos. It’s like that. You look at yourself and you wince. It’s like sixteen years ago or something.

Well let’s get back to now, what is the general feeling of Shapes and Shadows, and what is your favourite song?

My favourite song is Blackbird.

Oh, yes, that’s beautiful.

Yeah for a whole bunch of reasons that song works. It’s a bit like a triumph. I’ve had that song for a long time. That little riff. The verse line for so long was in the back of my mind and then it happened. I think the string arrangements are amazing on it as well. That was probably my favourite. And thematically it’s about growing up, not about becoming an adult but just growing up and looking back. You have children and you change, you think back to when you were a child, what sort of things happened to you. So there’s kind of a strong feeling of that running through the record. Hopefully it’s not overbearing. You know particularly with songs like Chose, and Shapes and Shadows, Step Right Back. Whether it is looking back at the early days of the band. Actually Blackbird is about losing your muse; about the idea of having to respect your muse, whatever makes you special.

Whatever inspires your creativity.

Yeah, basically, if that goes, it’s very hard to come back.

And who do you think your muse is at the moment?

My wife and my three kids. The little one is only 18 months old and she’s awesome.

Bless

I got four of them now. Four muses.

Let me end with one final question: what can Australian audiences expect from this upcoming tour?

Um, I don’t know, songs I guess (laughs). It’s going to be great. New stuff. Old stuff. And should be good.

Thank you for your time Ben. I’ll let you get back to enjoying your time with your family.

Thank you. Take care. Bye.

See Ben Ottewell on his Australian Tour

Interview first appeared online: theAUreview.com, 2013 

2015 Australian Tour:

DATECITYVENUECOUNTRY
BEN OTTEWELL SOLO
Fri, Nov 6, 2015Perth, AUFOUR5NINEAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Sat, Nov 7, 2015Adelaide, AUGrace EmilyAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Sun, Nov 8, 2015HobartFranklinAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Wed, Nov 11, 2015Melbourne, AUNorthcote Social clubAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Thu, Nov 12, 2015BelgraveSooki LoungeAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Fri, Nov 13, 2015Elsternwick, AUThe Flying Saucer ClubAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Sun, Nov 15, 2015Coogee, AUBunkerAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Wed, Nov 18, 2015Sydney, AUNewtown Social ClubAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Thu, Nov 19, 2015Cronulla, AUBrass MonkeyAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Fri, Nov 20, 2015Brisbane, AUBlack Bear LodgeAU
Time: 8:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Sat, Nov 21, 2015Mullumbimby NSWMullum Music FestivalAU
Time: 12:00pm. BUY TICKETS
Sun, Nov 22, 2015Mullumbimby NSWMullum Music FestivalAU
Time: 12:00pm. BUY TICKETS

About Mary Boukouvalas 1191 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs Rocklust.com where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos, blistering.com, theaureview.com, noise11.com, music-news.com. She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.

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