When it comes to his first ever solo album, Shapes And Shadows, Gomez vocalist/guitarist Ben Ottewell insists this is no ‘vanity project’ or mere spin-off of his other, Mercury award-winning band. Instead, Ottewell’s new album sees the singer reflecting on his life’s journey with the help of co-writer and best friend Sam Genders [Tunng], the duo recalling the things that got left behind and the things gained along the way.
“Sam is a childhood friend of mine, he’s been around for a lot of my life,” Otewell points out. “We grew up in the same village in the country. He was in a folky band called Tunng, and he’s just a great, wonderful lyricist. With some of the songs that I was having problems finishing for whatever reason, he would step in and help me out… Okay – I just really wanted some of his lyrics, basically. The main thing was making sure that the songs we got together were good enough. I didn’t want this to be some self-indulgent fest of my own emotions or something, I needed these songs to have a proper identity and not just be some Gomez spin-off or whatever.”
The track Blackbird was the starting point of his and Genders’ working relationship. Adding his bluesy brand of folk and West African influences to the table, Genders felt like the only person who truly ‘got’ what Ottewell was trying to do on Shapes And Shadows. An easy feat considering nobody quite knows Ottewell as well as the man he grew up with.
“Sam knew what had happened in my life so it was easy to write songs about my life with him,” explains Ottewell. “Blackbird was the first song that we worked on together, so it’s probably also my favourite. I sent him some demos of what I had, and even he pointed out that Blackbird was quite a unique-sounding track. I really think we nailed that one really well in particular. Step Right Back was pretty much done, like 80 per cent, and Sam just stepped in to help with the arrangements with that, he took on a more producer role on some of the songs. All the tunes originate from me, though, it was basically stuff that I’d already had down but he just stepped in and helped.”
Genders also helped out when it came time to road-test the new tracks by joining Ottewell on the stage during a select number of dates. Most of all, it helped in the confidence department, the singer claims.
“Confidence was the biggest challenge that came up with me,” reveals Ottewell. “You wouldn’t think that after being with Gomez all these years, but it’s true what they say about being solo – it really is a whole different world. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this when you find yourself by yourself on that stage. It’s a totally different vibe to Gomez and it’s a different relationship with the audience as well.”
“There is a very strong sense of recollection in these songs. That’s going to happen when you’re a solo artist much more so than if you’re in a band with several other people who you have to run things by before they make it on record. It really helped me a lot that Sam got involved in this project because we grew up together. I’m also a dad myself, so when you have kids you actually start seeing yourself through their eyes sometimes and you’re trying to figure out what they’re seeing. There is some of that on the record too and that’s also made me look back on my own childhood and the things that I’ve learned along the way. The album is definitely about looking back on what you lost too, like family members and loved ones, but it’s also about things that you got along the way too, like kids, for example. It’s the journey of my life, and I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious.”
BEN OTTWELL is performing at the Corner Hotel this Sunday April 10. Tickets are $27.50 and are available from cornerhotel.com. Shapes And Shadows is available now from benottwell.com.