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Ben Ottewell on finding inspiration for his third album and returning to Australia

After spending the past 30 hours travelling from Brighton in the UK to Wellington, New Zealand, Ben Ottewell was kicking back having a beer (“Starting to feel human again.”) with a mate before remembering at the last moment that he had an interview with Beat. Fortunately, he was able to locate a phone and make it happen.

As the one time singer of Gomez, the gravel-voiced Ottewell has toured Australia and New Zealand many times both with the band and as a solo performer. It’s his third solo album, the folksy A Man Apart that sees him back on the plane and on the road again throughout June and July.
 
“This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve been here solo,” he says. “It’s a really easy place to tour. When you’re on the road, it boils down to the essentials and Australia is pretty much set up for eating well, travelling easily and good beer. All the flying is tricky, but Australian audiences are some of the best in the world, making it very easy for me.”
 
While Ottewell has indeed toured solo throughout Australia many times since the days of Gomez, he still reflects on the differences between solo touring and having bandmates for company.
 
“It’s become the norm for me, although initially touring solo was very daunting. I was part of a five-headed beast with Gomez, whereas it’s me by myself live now and it took time for me to work out how to deal with the smaller crowds and the more intimate relationships there.
 
“It’s much harder to be a solo artist. For me, it’s really just about being myself and knowing most people – hopefully all – in the room are on your side. There’s a really immediate connection with the crowd and how they’re responding.”
 
A Man Apart is both the album title and the first track Ottewell wrote. Inspiration for the name came from the current climate overseas.
 
“Certainly in the UK and the US, political life is all about these demagogues using hopes and fears to take control.
 
“Brexit was like a dark cloud hanging over us. In the age of social media, you get tailored opinions and what you’re seeing is your own world reflected back at you. It came as a great shock that there were so many people who didn’t feel that cooperation and integration of the EU was a good thing, especially for me as someone with so many friends from all over Europe,“ he says.
 
A Man Apart is not a lament on politics though. Intimate and yet with plenty of riffs for those who want to rock, Ottewell brings it back to the craft.
 
A Man Apart is a lot more song based. It’s concerned with the art of the song rather than being riff-based like a blues or rock record. The cast of players is very similar but the songs are different. It’s always been about what serves the song best. The one wildcard is John Smith who played a fair bit of guitar on it. He’s a great guy.”
 
As for expectations and the experience of playing the album live so far, Ottewell is both assured and humble about the reality of being an experienced artist.
 
“I’ve been doing this a long time so particularly now, I just make sure I’m happy with it. It’s totally baffling to me, the music industry at the moment. I make sure my kids like it – if they can sing along, then I’m doing alright.
 
“I’ve only done a handful of gigs for these new songs and I’ve got a really strong core of fans here in the UK who really listen to what I’m doing and are really supportive.”
 
As for Australian audiences craving some classic Gomez, they won’t be disappointed.
 
“I play probably four or five Gomez songs in a gig. I used to be quite resistant but you learn that a song takes on so many different meanings for people that it seems sadistic not to play some of those songs.
 

Ben Ottewell will perform at Northcote Social Club on Friday June 30 and Caravan Music Club on Saturday July 1. A Man Apart is out now via Cooking Vinyl.