Ben Montague chats with Kevin Cooper about his Pledge Music experience, going to his first gig, his fondness for Nottingham, his as yet untitled new album and his forthcoming tour.
Ben Montague is a young British musician, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Farnborough, Kent. Best known for his single ‘Haunted’ from his first full length album Overcome, he received high praise from UK Radio Stations, when his single from the same album; ‘Can’t Hold Me Down’ was added to the BBC Radio 2 playlist for 5 weeks.
It is to his credit that as an independent artist he has managed to have his follow up single, ‘Haunted’, similarly recognised when it became Radio 2’s Record of the Week, followed in June 2010 by ‘Broken’ which also topped the Radio 2 A List for 6 weeks.
After successful tours supporting The Wanted, Shane Filan and Amy MacDonald, the time has come to tour on his own. With established tour dates and the release of a new album early next year, Kevin Cooper caught up with him whilst he was having a few days holiday in France, and this is what he had to say:
Hi Ben, how are you?
Hey Kevin, how are you mate, are you alright?
I’m good thanks, so what are you doing over here in France?
I’m just taking a few days out to relax and hopefully get to do some surfing before my tour starts in September.
I have to tell you that I have seen you twice previously; once supporting The Wanted and the other supporting Shane Filan. So it is time that we saw you out there on your own tour.
That’s fantastic Kevin (laughter). I am really looking forward to doing my own thing and it’s happening in September. After that I am going back out on the road with Shane. That’s going to be another really good tour I think.
So you are looking forward to doing it on your own?
I really am, I can’t wait. It’s been a long time since I have been out on the road on my own and it feels as though the fans really want me to see me. I am really excited.
What can we expect from the tour?
I have to say that after supporting Shane Filan on his tour, I kind of fell in love with the intimacy of just me and my acoustic guitar, a stomp-box and a piano. I think that for this tour I am pretty much going to do the same thing. I’ve got my friend Charlie Grant supporting me, and who is going to get up on stage and play a couple of tracks with me. So generally speaking I am just going to strip all of the tracks right back to their very basics and come out a bit Ed Sheeran style and just do it with one man and a guitar.
You recently got involved with the Pledge Music scheme and it only took 30 days to raise the cash for your new album. How did that feel?
I think that is was actually a little less than that Kevin. It was an incredible experience and I couldn’t believe just how quickly we hit the 100%. Pledge Music are an amazing company to be working with. As amazing as the pledges are, it is really all about the fans Kevin, and I was overwhelmed at just how quickly the fans responded to the campaign, and how they all wanted to be a part of it. That’s the best thing about it, it is so instant and you are immediately interacting with your fan base. It really is an incredible experience.
So taking that on board, when will the new album be ready?
Well, I have written the album. It’s all done now and I am now at that tricky stage of picking all of the songs, which is always a very difficult thing to do. You write a whole bunch of songs and then you try to pick the ones which you think are going to be the stand out ones and those which the fans will like the best. I am doing that bit as we speak but the album is set to be recorded during the first three weeks of October so I have now got a pretty full-on schedule (laughter). I don’t have a single day off in September because obviously throughout the whole of September I am on tour, and then I go into the studio the first three weeks of October. After that I go straight out on tour with Shane (Filan) for about 30 days until December. So it is a busy time for me (laughter).
The main bulk of the album will be recorded during the first three weeks of October and then whilst I am out on the road touring, the album will be mixed, and hopefully it will be set to be released in either February or March next year (2015).
Will you be showcasing the album on the tour?
Oh yes, definitely Kevin, definitely. I have got to get my teeth into the songs (laughter). I will probably pick the main four or five potential singles that may be included on the album, and play them on the tour. It is always good playing them live on the road because you then get a feeling for how the audience reacts to them. Hopefully it will be a good reaction (laughter).
Have you got a title for the album yet?
Do you know what Kevin, I don’t have one yet. I have got a couple of titles that I am playing with but I can’t say yet as I don’t want to give the game away (laughter). This album is going to be very personal to me lyric wise. I have lost a grandparent and there are a few other things that have been happening in my life so it is going to be quite an emotional album. I have got a couple of track titles that I think will be the name of the album. I don’t think that I will do what I did last time, which was Tales Of Flying And Falling. I don’t think that I will go for something that isn’t a lyric. I think that I will either pick a lyric or a song title. You will have to wait and see (laughter).
Please don’t take this the wrong way but you seem to be in Nottingham all of the time. Am I to take it that you like our fair city?
Kevin I love Nottingham. I have always had really great gigs in Nottingham. The reaction that I got from the gig that I did with Shane (Filan) was incredible; absolutely incredible. When I came out to do my signings the queue was just so long and was going back up the stairs. Everyone who works at the Royal Concert Hall are really lovely. I have done a whole bunch of gigs in Nottingham but I have never played The Maze so I am quite excited about that. All of my gigs have been great. I even did a gig for Smooth FM on the beach in front of the Council House up there which was a lot of fun. I love looking around the shops in Nottingham and I have to say that I have never had a bad experience when visiting.
At least you didn’t say that Nottingham has some fantastic curry houses
(Hysterical laughter) I’m always so blooming busy that I never get to eat out, I just do a gig and then I’m out. Maybe this time around you can recommend a good curry house for me to visit (laughter).
You have supported both Shane Filan and Amy Macdonald. What experiences have you gained from that?
The thing is, for artists that are coming through the independent route, it is all about playing live really. For me personally it is all about building a live following which is possibly at the top of the list of things that you are wanting to achieve, because that means that your career can go on a lot longer. The one thing that was really incredible supporting Shane and Amy was that it has enabled me to play in front of their big crowds; some of whom have now become fans of my music which I am very grateful for.
You mention big crowds; you have been playing the Festivals this year. How has that gone?
I have Kevin, I have played a number of Festivals this year actually. It has been a real mix; I have played some big ones like the Isle of Wight Festival, and I have done a whole bunch of little ones too. I have done a lot of work with the Hard Rock Cafe this year, so I did a gig in Rome which was quite a big one. I then did another one in the O2 Arena in London which was really great. And then I did lots of little ones like the Hazlemere Festival and the Fringe Festival which I really love. The smaller ones are just as much fun as the larger ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big stage or a small stage Kevin; it’s just nice when there is a crowd of people there who have all come to listen to your music.
On the subject of large and small crowds, do you have to adjust the set to suit the occasion?
Do you know what, I used to think that you did, if I am being really honest. I used to think that when you went out in front of a big crowd, that you need to go out with a big band and be really full on. However, we have got such great singer songwriters now who are really doing well; the likes of Passenger, Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard and Amy Macdonald. All of these singer songwriters do not necessarily go out with a massive band; they are quite stripped back. So I think that as you do more and more gigs, you adjust your set naturally to the size of the crowd and what they are going to want to expect from you. So in a word, no really (laughter). It’s actually quite an organic thing, you just go out there and you just do your thing. I think that if you are doing it genuinely and honestly then people will fall into that and appreciate it.
You have mentioned singer songwriters, does the song writing side of the business come easy to you?
To be honest with you Kevin, I have good days and bad days (laughter). It’s like any other job in the world, some days you feel like you are on top of it whilst others are a bit of a struggle. I have written a song for the new album called My Father Said and I literally wrote that song in an hour. I just sat down with the guitar one morning and the lyrics and melody came out very, very quickly. But then you have days when you have written the track and you have written the melody, but you are just not quite happy with the lyrics and you want to tweak them. So I would say that it’s never something that I struggle with, because I think that if it doesn’t come out organically as in the melody and the music, I will put it to one side and start something fresh. I don’t think that you should ever really thrash something out for too long otherwise you will get too caught up in it you know.
How did you get started in music?
To be honest Kevin I landed on my feet in many ways. I came out of University and did the whole working thing in the pubs and clubs. I was doing jobs to try and keep music going, working in bars and playing on live music nights, all that kind of stuff. Then when I had got a bit of money together I made an E.P. with my Manager at that time, and then we met a radio plugger who said that the songs were really good. He advised us to take them to the radio stations. I told him that at that time I didn’t have much money in order to do that. He said that if the songs got played on the radio then we could work something out then.
So taking his advice we put together Haunted as an E.P. and the first song was a song called Can’t Hold Me Down which went straight onto the C List on Radio 2 and we were all like “wow we can’t believe it”. None of us ever expected that as we didn’t have a label behind us and everything was being done independently. And then I went in with the next single which was Haunted and we got record of the week. And it all sparked from there Kevin. And here we are (laughter).
Who were you listening to when you were growing up?
I suppose that I was influenced by what my dad listened to really and he was listening to rock such as Cream, The Who, (Eric) Clapton, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, all of those guys. So I listened to a lot of that whilst I was growing up together with Buddy Holly and all those types of classics. They would always be playing in the car. But then my mum always loved the slightly more soulful stuff, like Stevie Wonder, Prince, George Michael, so it was quite an eclectic mix. I would have to say that for me Kevin it was always slightly more the singer / songwriter roots so more The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that were really my passion.
What was the first record that you ever bought?
Wow Kevin, good question (laughter). I think that would be (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (laughter). You really made me think about that (laughter).
That’s not a bad first record (laughter). And who did you first see perform live in concert?
That would be Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall in London with my dad. I do remember that; my dad was pretty good and he would take me to a lot of gigs. I remember going to that one and listening to all of the songs in the car; White Room, Lay Down Sally, Layla and all those kind of songs that when you see him play them live it was like “oh my goodness me, that is what I have got to do, I want to be like that” (laughter).
Who has influenced you most in your music career?
It’s a funny one that Kevin. I always say the same thing; I was just always influenced by really good song writers such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There are so many, even the likes of Prince with his lyrics and melodies but I guess growing up, it would be people like Noel Gallagher from Oasis, who is a phenomenal songwriter. Even down to songwriters like Gary Barlow, he has had an effect on me definitely. It’s quite a wide range really.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight for me has to be getting Album of the week on Radio 2. That was probably the highlight for me.
Ben thanks for taking the time to speak to me. I am sure that you will be successful in everything that you do in the future and that the tour will be a great success.
Thanks Kevin; that’s nice of you to say and I look forward to seeing you at The Maze. Thanks mate, cheers.
Ben Montague Solo Tour Dates
Date Venue Location
Sep 04 Boileroom Guildford
Sep 05 Gorilla Manchester
Sep 06 Junction 2 Cambridge
Sep 11 Komedia Brighton
Sep 12 Mr Kyps Poole
Sep 13 The Louisianna Bristol
Sept 14 Clwb Ifor Bach Cardiff
Sep 19 Cluny 2 Newcastle
Sep 20 Kings Tuts Glasgow
Sep 21 The Maze Nottingham
Sep 25 Arlington Arts Newbury
Sep 26 Chequer Mead East Grinstead
Sep 27 The KPH London
Sep 28 The Brook Southampton
Oct 02 Academy 2 Dublin
Oct 03 The Empire Belfast