New Music To Know: Ben Howard

Author: Annie Reuter

Ben Howard may be opening for Mumford & Sons in America but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, it was the opposite. While touring in the U.K. years ago, Mumford & Sons opened for Howard.

Howard is the latest U.K. singer-songwriter making waves in America, and has been likened by some to Jack Johnson. This makes sense, as Howard is a surfer himself, but the difference between the two lies within the tales of their songs. Johnson is a laid-back singer whose lyrics embody a certain optimism. Singing of how “it’s always better when we’re together,” Johnson’s music is easy to escape and hum along to. Howard’s music, on the other hand, is something you can’t help but stop and pay attention to.

“Oats In the Water,” a haunting track off Howard’s 2012 EP The Burgh Island, shows off his wavering vocals combined with slowed electric guitar distortion. As the song picks up speed and the music crescendos to tell a somber tale of darkness and loneliness, his depth as a musician is apparent. According to Howard, the track came about in a rather unconventional way.

“I was in Morocco and I had a fever,” he told Radio.com. “I ended up writing ‘Oats In the Water’ over those few days in a basement with natural light in Morocco. That song came out of it. All the songs [on The Burgh Island E.P.] came from really weird places. Hopefully the second album will be a little happier. It’s been nice to have that freedom and play what I want.”

He continued: “I had a fairly good upbringing. People ask me where I get some of the melancholy songs from. I don’t really know to be honest.”

Howard’s Burgh Island E.P. deviates from the acoustic music featured on his debut Every Kingdom, but he said he welcomed the musical change, as did his fans in England.

“It was really nice to do a more electric album and electrify those sounds rather than have those acoustic little bits,” he said. “They were more electric and soundscape-y with guitar turns and reverbs and overdrives. There will definitely be a more electric stuff but I still play quite a lot of acoustic. I like to mash them together and have a bit of both. That E.P. was really well received in England. More than I thought it would be because they were really weird little songs that came from a really dark place.”

Howard has a busy year upon him. Just last month, he won two BRIT Awards, England’s equivalent to the GRAMMYs, for Best Male Solo and British Breakthrough Act. While his album was well received, many still didn’t know who he was. That night, “who the f*** is Ben Howard” trended on Twitter, something Howard said he was flattered by. Similar to Miguel’s big GRAMMY win and Kelly Clarkson’s shout-out during her acceptance speech, the BRIT Awards brought Howard’s music to many more ears.

Howard’s also gearing up for several festivals including Coachella, as well as a performance at Central Park Summer Stage in July. A self-proclaimed festival monkey, Howard is excited for the chance to bring his music to the masses.

(Matt Kent/Getty Images)

“I’m probably about 80 percent child in me and 20 percent serious,” he confessed. “When I get to a festival, I wind up going a bit mental. I love going and seeing bands. It’s so refreshing for me to go and see shows and sit in a field with your friends. You stumble across stuff you’ve never heard about before or you go and see a band that you’ve heard lots about but never really seen. It’s a real proven ground for so many artists. I really enjoy playing them.”

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