BEST known as one half of Everything But The Girl, as well as a DJ and record company boss, Ben Watt is heading out on the road with a new solo album, Hendra.
The hits started 30 years ago with Each And Every One and continued through Come On Home, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Walking Wounded and the massive worldwide success of Missing.
“I needed to get back to words and songs again after 10 years of DJing and running a label and listening to beats and notes,” says Ben, explaining Hendra. “Don’t know why. Just an instinct.
“At first I made space to finish my recent book Romany and Tom (about his parents). Then, unexpectedly – perhaps triggered by the unexpected death of my half-sister in late 2012 – a new batch of songs came out. It turned into a folk-rock record with electronic edges.”
He has been touring as a duo with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who plays on the album, and says he needed the help.
“When I started writing I retuned all my guitars into new unfamiliar tunings to make them different and harder to play – a new challenge. I ended up with some very languid, loose, suspended folk – fresh sounds compared to what I was used to playing on the guitar. New shapes.
“But then I realised I wanted a counterweight. Some blues, some overdrive, some rock. So I asked Bernard. As soon as we played together it sounded great – never in each other’s way, light and dark. It added tension to the songs.”
But Hendra is still very much Ben’s album. He stresses: “I said right from day one, just be the lead guitarist, just accompany the song. Don’t offer too many ideas in the form of words, just play.
“He got it straight away. I think he liked the idea. He’d spent years in his studio as a producer and song-collaborator. Just being asked to play electric guitar again excited him. He rolled off the tone, turned up the distortion and added a voice on the shoulder of the album.”
Watt has enjoyed creating the new album but it won’t spell the end of his diversity as a songwriter, performer, DJ, record producer, radio presenter, and author.
“I enjoy all of them. At the right time,” he says. “They’re all just vehicles for expression of your ideas. A Japanese journalist just said to me that my 6Music 6Mix was largely electronic but sounded right when played next to Hendra and I think it’s because they stem from the same sensibility. Regardless of genre I look for similar things – pathos and melancholy edged with resilience – in musical form. Doesn’t matter if it’s a foot-to-the-floor club track or a ballad.
“I also think there’s an unspoken link between clubland and folk music. They’re both about ritual, about the communal experience, about finding common emotions, removing the artist, getting down to real feelings that we all feel.”
Ben has been plugging his book, Romany and Tom, at the same time as Hendra and says he based it on his parents because they were popular characters in his previous book, Patient, which was based on his own battle with the rare illness Churg-Strauss syndrome.
“People said I had to write more about them and I felt I’d uncovered a natural writing style in Patient,” he says. “I wanted to write more, I just had to find the opportunity. My dad died in 2006. That was the kick-start. But it wasn’t until 2012 that I was able to tell the story in full.”
Some of the book is based on an envelope full of his mother’s memories and he admits: “Some people have questioned whether I should have made them public, but I reveal the contents to show how we’re all the same. Regardless of age, we face down the same problems, have the same issues. It’s easy to see our parents as solid and untroubled but this isn’t the case. They’re only human.
“Writing it, I felt I got closer to them because I realised they were flawed like all of us.”
As for music, he says another Everything But The Girl album is not on the horizon, as his partner Tracey Thorne has no intention of returning to the music business – and will not be joining him on tour.
“No door is shut forever, but that’s not a subtle hint,” he says. “Tracey is happier having walked away from that kind of spotlight. She still records and writes and talks in public, but singing in public is behind her these days.”
Ben Watt and Bernard Butler will play at the Boileroom in Guildford on Tuesday, April 22.
Other upcoming Boileroom gigs include The Dualers (Friday, April 18), Slaves (Monday, April 21), Blitz Kids (Wednesday, April 23), Young Kato (Thursday, April 24), Leatherat (Saturday, April 26), Ezio (Sunday, April 27) and Johnny Borrell (Monday, April 28).