Hometown: Devon, England
Album: Every Kingdom
For Fans Of: Nick Drake, Alexi Murdoch, Ray LaMontagne
Ben Howard is a man with a sense of place. The 23-year-old British singer/songwriter was born in London, but moved to the countryside in south Devon near the coast as a child. Even on first glance, Howard’s album artwork and photos depict him engulfed in an endless blue body of water—possibly in homage to the Celtic Sea that cushions his hometown in the south of England, or possibly invoking something geographically or metaphorically deeper.
That album, his debut effort Every Kingdom, was actually recorded in a converted barn between the countryside and the sea in Devon. “It’s sort of a collection of songs from the last few years of my life, really,” Howard says during a phone interview between tour stops. “Songs about people and places…people and relationships. I think it definitely shines through a little bit. I think in terms of imagery and stuff, I talk about the countryside quite a bit—and references to the sea and land around me.”
The 10 songs on Every Kingdom run for nearly an hour in total. In form and structure, each four-to-six-minute tune builds and crashes, like the water so prominently illustrated on the cover. Individual tracks however, like “Keep Your Head Up” and “The Wolves” reference these simultaneously vague, yet clear entities of “home” and “hiding,” respectively.
And yet, Howard seems too, to be a man of perpetual motion. These days, with Every Kingdom charting in the United Kingdom and gaining traction in the States, Howard is constantly on the road..
He laughs about what a “full-on epic drive” the U.S. is and how nearly every interviewer on this press run has asked him about his SXSW performance and overall experience in Austin. It was “just wild,” he describes. “The gigs were rugged. To be honest, I’m looking forward to the outdoor festivals this year like Bonnaroo and Sasquatch. I’m more of an outdoor-festival person.”
This is Howard’s first time performing Stateside, and though he’s visited the U.S. before, he’s never been to New York City or California. “I’ve never been much of a city person,” Howard admits, “but I love going to places for a few days and being able to experience them.” He’s also looking forward to driving the Pacific Coast Highway, looking over the storied winding road, over the cliffs and to the sea.
The thing about music, though, is that for the lucky few, the places turn into wide-scale voyages and tours. “It’s amazing how English music manages to travel to America and obviously, American music in the UK is massive,” muses Howard. “Quite a funny little thing. We’re just really stoked that the music has gotten over here and people are actually listening to it and we’re able to play shows. It’s a privilege to be from England and be able to come over to America and have people listening to music and really enjoying it.”
So maybe there’s merit to that old cliché, after all. Maybe Howard’s story and Every Kingdom are more about the journey as a whole, rather than the place.