Last week folk artist Ben Howard released his sophomore album, I Forget Where We Were. 3 years after his debut album, Every Kingdom, Howard has grown and it shows. His new album cuts deeper. The first album left with you catchy lyrics and melodies stuck in your head, and that’s why we fell in love with Ben Howard. But this time around we’re left with more of a sense, more of a feeling. How did the 27 year-old take the leap? Let’s take a look.
Ben was born in 1987 in Middlesex, West London. At age 8 his family moved to the southwest part of England, near Totnes Devon. At age 11 he was already writing music, as well as learning how to surf (sounds a bit like Jack Johnson huh?). If Howard wasn’t playing his guitar, he was out surfing. As he started his writing career he would also jam out with his sister and her friend India Bourne (who played the cello). Today Bourne is still very involved with Howards music career, adding harmonies and bass to a lot of his tracks.
Later in life, Howard went to University College Falmouth to study Journalism. To keep up with his surfing he moved north to Newquay, England’s surfing capital. Despite being able to earn some credits after his move by working for a surf magazine, he dropped his studies and started to fully invest himself in a music career.
The surf community was just what Ben needed to propel himself onto the scene. He gained tons of support and played to full audiences on the beaches of Devon and Cornwall. He was able to develop his style and build a following simultaneously by touring relentlessly across the southwest region of the UK. To build an even larger following, he went on tour across Europe in 2008 with Xavier Rudd. He also went on to release 3 EPs before any sort of record deal (1 in 2008, 1 in ’09, and 1 in ’10). Howard had plenty of material for a full-length album, and soon that time would come.
In 2011 he signed with Island Records, the perfect label for Howard due to their history of signing British folk singers. One in particular was John Martyn, one of Ben’s major influences growing up. In September of that same year, Howard released Every Kingdom in the UK. It was recognized right away and received a nomination for the 2012 Mercury Prize, which annually acknowledges the best album in the UK and Ireland. Even though he lost to Alt-J, Ben Howard had now been catapulted onto the scene; especially once the album was released in the US in April 2012.
So many fell in love with Ben and his debut album. You can hear his surfer roots throughout almost the entire album. In the first line of the opening track, “Old Pine” we even find ourselves on a beach. The rest of the song tells us the story of a camping trip he took at age 16. Later on the album, “Everything” harps on change, and how things that are stagnant and remain constant are actually what upset him. The rest of the album goes the same way, not creating one unifying theme but focusing on different ideas or stories. On “Keep Your Head Up” the main message is to stay strong, but on “Black Flies” (the next track) the theme shifts towards heartache. This contrast throughout the album created a lot of independent, relatable ideas. Combined with an infectious voice and amazing skill, it’s no wonder why success came so soon.
After 3 years of touring and festival stops, last week Ben released his second LP, I Forget Where We Were. A lot has happened and has changed for Ben over the past 3 years, and now he had the opportunity write about it. After my first listen, no specific lyric, track, or riff stood out; instead I was left with a feeling. Howard builds slowly and pieces a puzzle together; he welcomes a sense of loneliness. He’s not depressed, but more so anxious, and that’s ok. This feeling may come from his past. The surfer has turned into a rock star, and that alienates him. Instead of waiting for the next, perfect wave, Howard is forced to act at every chance, and he’s not used to that. In a world full of egos, I think Ben just wants to be himself; a songwriter that writes about ideas that come to him at the perfect, yet random, time. However now, due to his success, that is difficult to do and he puts this feeling into his recent music beautifully. The entire album reflects how he now feels, yet lets us know that he isn’t going away anytime soon. Check it out today, and make sure you listen to the album all at once in its entirety. Also make sure to catch his upcoming tour when he comes to your city.
By Ben Lowden