A Conversation with Ben Marwood & The Retrospective Soundtrack Players

Ahead of their 5 date tour which kicks off in Cheltenham this Friday, I’ve managed to catch up with two fabulous singer-songwriters; Kyle Evans of THE RETROSPECTIVE SOUNDTRACK PLAYERS and Mr BEN MARWOOD. We talk labels, Johnny Cash and cake… why would you not want to read this?!

Hey guys! For people unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe yourself?

Ben: Faintly ridiculous folk-ish acoustic music

Kyle: the world’s greatest (only) country-pop-folk-punk concept band

Ben, your 2nd full length “Back Down” was god damn awesome, have you thought about album #3 yet?

It’s something I have been thinking of a lot more lately. I have new songs, but no news to report as yet. Slow and steady, Rob, slow and steady

And Kyle, your “The Catcher in the Rye” album is probably one of my favourites of all time, how far along are you with album number 3?

that’s very kind of you. It’s completely recorded, minus a few guest vocals. Then it just needs to be mixed and mastered

Can you enlighten us with the theme for this one, or is it still a secret?

Still a secret I’m afraid. But just think Jamaica and bobsleigh. That’s all I can say for now

So will we be treated to some new material on this tour?

I think just one song will be ready for the tour. As much as we’d like to play more, the album probably won’t be out until after the Summer so we don’t want to get too carried away…

Going back to you Ben, how did you enjoy not having to produce/record Back Down in your bedroom?

Not as much as I thought I would, but I think that’s largely down to circumstance. When I was recording things in my bedroom I could spend endless hours tweaking and re-recording, all for free. The end result didn’t sound as good, obviously, but it was so carefully crafted. What I wasn’t expecting from recording the second album ‘properly’, if you will, is that time became of the essence, and that’s pretty much the enemy of creativity. But, I think the end result was good. There’s a huge list of things I would change about the way I approached the second album if I could do it all over again, but the decision to record it in a studio would stay. Due to overrunning costs, I actually ended up recording some of the album in my room anyway. ‘An Escape From Yeehaw Junction’ was recorded sketchily right here where I sit now, and we did the bass and the backing vocals here too. If it came down to it, I probably enjoyed recording the first album more, but it’s all about the end result, isn’t it?

In the Back Down album notes, you quote the album as “the closing chapter to a trilogy of releases”, can you elaborate on this for anyone that hasn’t either a) picked up the hard copy album (shame on you all) or b) looked inside that little booklet?

Yeah, looking back over This Is Not What You Had Planned (from 2008) and the two full-length albums, there are underlying themes of murder and death running throughout, but there was a progression as well. ‘..Planned’ was quite angry/bitter and the first album was more sarcastic and accepting of the world, so Back Down seemed to be the final part of all that, a return to the same themes but from a different standpoint. I think the first two releases were more about the world outside, but Back Down was very much an album from my perspective. By the end of Back Down I’ve killed someone, denounced the music industry, wrecked countless relationships and then walked in front of a train in Oxfordshire, so that definitely felt like the final act of the story at the time

So, what made you want to go on tour with each other?

This is something we’ve been working on for a while. Back when The RSP first signed to Xtra Mile, Kyle dropped me an email to ask about tour dates. The problem’s just been finding time when we’re both free. I have enough trouble finding time when I’m free, so god knows how they manage it. There’s a million of them. I’ve never toured with a band before though so I’m excited for the upcoming five dates in Cheltenham, Leeds, Southampton, Swindon and London.

He’s a lovely chap and we all love his music. I’ve been trying to convince him to let us be his backing band for years, and he has finally caved in and let us

Ben, your work is so often described as “raw”, do you have a particular songwriting process or do they just kind of, form?

Ah god. This question. There really is no fixed way to write them. Sometimes it happens with a chord progression whilst I’m noodling, watching Formula 1 (I should mention, I wrote a lot more songs last year due to how entirely boring the season was), sometimes I’m humming something whilst I’m loading the washing machine and the cigar-chomping Texan that lives in my head goes “hey kid, that’s a HIT!” and other times I’ll write everything in my head whilst I’m walking. In general, inspiration strikes when my brain is switched off. Maybe I should endlessly watch turgid ITV prime-time shows and I’d write a song a week

Kyle, the literature-based aspect of The RSP makes you (I believe) almost unique, was this something that was a passion of the whole band or just you as a songwriter?

Some members of the band don’t read at all (one member had my copy of ‘The Damned United’ under his coffee table for about five years) but that’s their wont – they have other skills that they have probably honed in the time I have spent reading dusty old books.

Xtra Mile Recordings celebrated its 10th birthday last year, that’s a great label to be part of right?

Yep! It has certainly given us a leg up and we’ve made some great friends since we’ve been on the label. We’ve also all been able to buy new cars with the royalties.

Yeah, absolutely. They’re a great bunch of people. Coming from the DIY scene and having access to every aspect of writing, recording and releasing, it was a big decision to hand a chunk of that responsibility over to a record label, but they’ve been great. It’s not easy to find a record label in the current climate who are willing to put money into and support a part-timer, so I’m glad they’ve taken the chance. They’ve funded the releases, sent me to the States, hooked me up with other acts.. yep. Sold.

Who were your biggest musical influences growing up, and have they changed at all?

Hah. When I was small I wanted to be Michael Jackson.. so.. no! I used to like all kinds of stuff. In my teens it was metal, then it was ridiculous Euro-pop, in later teens I became hooked on the alternative indie and US scene courtesy of Radio 1’s Evening Session with Steve Lamacq, and it all went from there. Punk followed, then US country-pop-blues-indie-whatever, then folk, and rock runs throughout.. these days I just look for anything with a passion. I want anger or love or disappointment all wrapped up in melody. Over the past few years, my main influences were Frank Turner and Mountain Goats, but I honed my basic songwriting craft from the likes of Elliott Smith and Jeff Lewis.

Growing up – 60s pop songs. All my parents ever listened to was 60s pop compilations from their hey day, so I think that’s why I can only write very melodic music. Now – I couldn’t possibly say. Never ask a musician their influences! They’ll give you a pretentious answer or none.

From all of your time on the road, who are you favourite people to tour with?

The only band I’ve ever toured with is The B of the Bang, who we did two tours with back when I was in The Dawn Chorus. They are the most underrated band in Britain and hilarious, friendly, ego-free guys too. We’ve never done a proper tour as RSP, the Marwood tour will be our first.

They’re a couple of absolute gems, and they’re two people without whom I wouldn’t still be anywhere near a stage: Frank Turner and Oxygen Thief. The former is obvious, right? Frank is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met, and that hasn’t changed a bit no matter how big the divide is between how many albums we sell, you know? He still has the time, although it’s at a premium these days, obviously. Oxygen Thief, meanwhile, is one of my best friends in the whole world. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him in a bad mood, he’s an excellent travel companion, and he’s funny, and he’s married so he doesn’t try and steal the hundreds of women that flock around me everywhere I go. Wink!

What’s been your strangest experience on the road?

That’s such a hard question because being on the road is mostly like living in a dream world. So, some experiences which might be nuts in day-to-day life seem perfectly normal in the tour bubble. So, I really don’t know. I’m pretty tame on the road. I would say “the road is a strange place” but I BET Frank already said that.

They are all quite odd when you are as small a band as we are – probably playing a 60th birthday party where someone offered us £100 if we played something they knew. We winged ‘Ring of Fire’, even though half of us didn’t know it, and during the last chorus someone came and put £100 in notes down my shirt. At least they were good to their word…

If you could’ve been in one band ever, who would it have been and why?

The Hawks, backing Bob Dylan around 1966. Watching ‘Don’t Look Back’ makes me want to cry it’s so good.

This is another question whose answer changes every day. God. I used to really want to be in Biffy Clyro, probably less so now. Mountain Goats are a strong contender, CAKE and They Might Be Giants look like fun. Let’s go with that. Let’s go with They Might Be Giants. They’ve been on an incredible journey for the past 25 – 30 years yet they still look like they’re having so much fun. Failing that: Vengaboys.

Do you have a favourite show you’ve ever played?

In recent memory, definitely 2000Trees 2013. Every year the tent grows slightly, but this year there just was nowhere near enough room. So many people all there to have a good time and the weather was great. And my parents were there!

Probably opening 2000 trees festival last year. That was a pretty perfect moment.

And what about attended?

Arcade Fire at Hackney Empire, just before ‘The Suburbs’ came out. Glorious. It couldn’t even be spoilt by the presence of popular howling wench Florence of the Machine and her stupid mates in the seats next to us.

Argh, gosh. I’m not even sure. So many contenders. Too many, indeed. I couldn’t decide on just one, but over the years I’ve had the pleasure of seeing amazing shows from CAKE, They Might Be Giants, Long Winters, Jetplane Landing, Snow Patrol, The Wrens and Mclusky. There was a great show a few years back with Future of the Left + Pulled Apart By Horses + Fight Like Apes, and I stood near the front and blew my hearing. I couldn’t hear much of anything for two days. I was sat at my desk on the phone that week going “HELLO SORRY CAN YOU SPEAK UP?” and so on.

What is the one question you wish people would ask you?

“Hey, aren’t you Ben Marwood? I’d like to pay you a moderate sum of money to not go to work for a few years..”. Does that count as a question? YES.

Would you like to support us on tour please?

What’s on your iPod at the moment, got anything you’re hooked on?

I don’t really listen to my ipod, but the record player has been heavily spinning Mogwai’s ‘Rave Tapes’, Ezra Furman’s ‘Day of the Dog’ and Danny Brown’s ‘Old’.

At the minute, all that’s on there is the track list for the next podcast I’m doing for [edit] radio which is due in a couple of days. But recently, I’ve had the recent album from Future of the Left on repeat, which was my album of the year for 2013. Absolutely killer in the ears. Also, I’ve been into the recent Oxygen Thief mini-album, an EP from lovely folk songstress Pip Mountjoy, and the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis album.

Finally, any tips for artists we should keep an eye out for in 2014?

Referring to the previous question, I’d say keep an eye out for Pip Mountjoy. She’s a gentle folky Northerner who I’m playing some shows with soon, and she has a good appreciation for sarcasm and cake. Basically I recommend any musician who likes cake.

I think you should listen to Ezra Furman and The So So Glos. Neither particularly new, but both great.

Brilliant. Thanks Ben, thanks Kyle, it’s been a pleasure.

You can catch Ben and The Retrospective Soundtrack Players on tour together NOW!

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