Ben Howard: 'I know that one day I'll disappear for good'

By Jimmy Blake
Newsbeat reporter

image copyrightRoddy Bow

It's rare for an artist saying they "didn't plan to make another record" when they're doing an interview to promote their new album.

Then again, Ben Howard has never been the sort of artist who's forced himself into the spotlight.

After 2018's Noonday Dream, he was set on "just playing music" with The National's Aaron Dessner, whose name you can find in the production credits on both of Taylor Swift's 2020 albums, Folklore and Evermore.

"There was no great push at the start. But once the label paid for studio time and flights to New York, the push started," Ben smirks.

The result of "the push" was his fourth album, Collections from the Whiteout.

Or, as Ben casually puts it: "After quite a few sessions, we realised we had a body of work and it felt like 'we might as well put it out'."

image copyrightRoddy Bow
image captionBen says songs he "wouldn't normally record" ended up on the album, which he calls the "closest I've come to releasing a collection of singles"

Collections from the Whiteout is Ben's first studio release in three years - a gap both he and his fans are accustomed to and something he says he "wouldn't have any other way".

"One of the constraints of modern music is the idea of not being able to disappear and re-emerge," he says.

"Some people think in order to be an artist, you have to be present all the time.

"I've always worked the other way. I think by now there's no confusion of what's expected of me and where I am.

"I'm still here, I'm still making music and this album is my offering."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAaron Dessner from The National also produced Taylor Swift's duo of albums in 2020

Despite having three top five albums, Ivor Novello and Brit Awards and over a decade of world tours under his belt, Ben's managed to combine an air of mystery with mainstream success.

Ben says he's "quite happy popping off every now and then" and that he'll know when the time is right to step away completely.

"Eventually you get put out to grass, then I'll disappear for good, I suppose.

"There won't be a fanfare from me saying, 'this is my very last record, goodbye'.

"That's how it works, and I mean that in a positive way. There's plenty of other things in the world."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBen will play his first shows since the start of lockdown last year at London's Royal Festival Hall in September

The sessions with Aaron Dessner, which spanned across 18 months between Paris and New York, were "unfamiliar territory" for Ben.

It was his first taste of studio collaboration, having previously kept the process between just himself and his band.

Fans on Ben Howard deep cuts might be pleased to hear that the collaboration saw him tapping into "a bank of acoustic songs" which he tends to "lean away from" in the studio.

Among them is a track called Rookery, which had appeared as an untitled track during his live shows. Fans online have called it "an unreleased masterpiece".

"Rookery is one of Aaron's favourites," explains Ben.

"Sometimes the excitement of that early creation goes away little bit and it takes someone else to sort of reignite it.

"We were having a good time out there, so I had no complaints when he asked me to record some of those older songs."

image copyrightGetty Images

Despite finishing the album before lockdown started last year, Ben says there was "never" a temptation to "going back and tweak it".

"I just ignored it existed after a while," he laughs.

"Aaron was busy anyway, but I certainly wasn't keen to go back to it."

Ben is due to play live shows in September, but for now says he's got no issue with waiting out the end of lockdown and "seeing the reaction to coming back, sharing music and existing in people's lives".

"Well for the time being anyway," he says.

"I'm sure I get itchy feet for a show.

"We'll need to start doing something at some point… I'll turn into a couch potato, I'll need the exercise."

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.

Related Topics

More on this story