Plan B’s comeback album could be his last
- Credit: THE JOCKEY CLUB LIVE
Critically acclaimed director, actor and musical maverick Ben Drew – aka Plan B – is back. Wayne Savage spoke to the BRIT Award winner ahead of his Newmarket Nights gig tomorrow.
The Jockey Club Live and Newmarket Racecourses welcomes Plan B for one of his first UK summer shows in four years.
He was propelled into the spotlight after his sophomore album, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, reached quadruple-platinum status; selling more than 1.4million copies in the UK alone and hitting the number one album spot on release. It also won him a BRIT and three Ivor Novello Awards.
His 2012 directorial debut and accompanying album, ill Manors, saw him break boundaries with his overlapping stories and interweaving rap-narrative, earning him his fifth BRIT Award nod, a nomination for his first Mercury Music prize and hit the number one spot in the UK album chart again.
Then nothing - until now.
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Q: Your latest album - Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose - has dropped. How do you feel about it?
All the work that’s gone into it, all the time I’ve spent away from my family, you want the best from the music, you want what you feel the music deserves. I think this is the best record I’ve ever recorded. All that rough round the edges kind of stuff you go through in the beginning of your career... I feel well rounded now, like a complete package. It would be a shame if it didn’t get the exposure it deserved. I’m kind of nervous about it, “is this the right time?”. Sometimes it’s all about luck and timing and it doesn’t matter how good the stuff you’re putting out is.
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Q: You last album, ill Manors, was 2012, why the wait?
Real life man. Being a dad and being a proper dad, being there. At the end of the day the lifestyle I was living, it doesn’t really mix with kids and that stuff. You have to make a conscious decision to walk away from one or the other. A lot of men walk away from their kids and their family to pursue their selfish wants and desires. My own dad was like that so I was never going to be like that.
I knew before I ever had a kid, years before, throughout my entire youth growing up without a dad, I knew I wouldn’t be like my dad. There was no way, so when this happened for me it was inevitable I would make the right decision which I have, that’s why I’ve been away so long.
Q: People have been calling this album a comeback?
It might be the last one (laughs). People calling it a comeback, it might be a swansong for all they know. All I know is that in order to balance what’s most important with something I obviously still love but isn’t as important as my child... I don’t really know how I’m going to cope with that, so we’ll see. If I can and it doesn’t have a detrimental affect on my kid then great yeah, If I can’t then I know which one I’m going to choose.
Q: Given your previous success and the time you’ve been away, are you feeling the pressure with Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose?
Probably. Building up such a name and an expectation for yourself, it’s not just about people expecting good music it’s about people expecting you to have an impact when you come back. People aren’t just judging you on the work you’re putting out, they’re judging you on how you handle your Twitter, your Instagram, your overall campaign.
What I find difficult now is like a song’ll be out like so long before you get round to shooting a video. I’m used to the song going on radio but you’ve already shot the video or you’ve got about three weeks before you then drop the video and then you keep the momentum going.
Now it’s like as soon as the radio start playing it, the record goes out and people can buy it and it starts getting judged on its chart position. The whole time you’re scrambling around, trying to make a video. I don’t want to just put out a rushed half-hearted video, I want to put out a really sick, visceral, creative video. I’ve always seen the videos as just as important as the music.
This time round I’ve struggled getting my head around the way the music industry now works and I think there’s definitely an aspect to the way you release music now where, sometimes, artists these days can have everything on point and it doesn’t matter if their music is not that good because of everything else they bring to the table.
I feel the heat when I’m in the studio and I do everything I can to make the best music I can with the tools around me. I’ve always felt as long as I do that and I have a sick video then I’m cool.
I guess the pressure is now that, nah, you can’t even work like that anymore. You’ve got to have sick music, a sick video, your social (media) and everything else that goes around it... that’s an added pressure but I’m ready for it man, I’m ready to take it on. There’s no way I would’ve spent this amount of time away from family to make this record if it’s all going to be for nothing. I’m going to do everything I can and if it sill don’t work out then it’s not supposed to be. It’s the wrong time and bad luck for me but it’s not going to be because of any laziness on my part.
Q: Talking about being judged, The Sun ran a story about how unrecognisable you looked on the sleeve of the In the Name of Man single?
I was always a skinny kid and the minute I looked old enough to buy beer I’d make a point of buying beer every day after college or whatever it was, that’s when I started putting on weight. Me and booze don’t mix and when I cut down the drinking when my kid was born I lost a lot of weight and thought this is probably the way forward for me, to make training and eating well a lifestyle switch.
I do look like a different person that’s the truth and then as with everything else... I feel like I need to re-invent myself with this album because I feel like I’m a different person, I’m not who I was before. It’s new music and I want to package it in a new way. Everything I’ve done in the past I’ve done already. Now I want to venture out and I want to do new things. Purely for the fact that I’ve been able to jump from genre to genre of music throughout my career means from a visual perspective there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do the same.
Q: You spent some time at school in Essex?
I used to commute from London to go to school in Year 7 and a portion of Year 8, so my first two years of high school. I met some proper diamonds out there that I’m still in touch with now.
Q: You’ve spoken in the past about feeling like an outcast. Did that start at school and has success and fatherhood changed anything?
At school, everybody wanted to fit in because it’s really difficult not fitting in, people make your life hard and it’ not nice being on the outside. When you leave school, everybody wants to be an individual, everybody wants to stand out.
It actually is those kids at school, the ones that got ridiculed for being different, that everybody wants to be like in the adult world, because nobody wants to be average, nobody wants to be normal. So I look back at my school days and although I do have fond memories, the whole school (experience) was very difficult for me because I was different. As I’ve come into my adult life and become successful... part of the things people have embraced is that I’m different.
But you’re still isolated regardless of the success. If anything it makes you more isolated and our artistic temperament and the way I deal with things, the way I work, it’s sometimes hard for the people I’m working with to understand. A lot of the times it really works out is because they give me the room I need to operate in the way I do.
But it doesn’t change the fact a lot what they do is just trusting me to kind of pull through. A lot of the time they don’t really know what it is I’m doing or how I’m doing it... I feel isolated all the time, I’m definitely on my own planet a lot of the time. The way I look at it, at school people make you feel bad about it and as you get older you feel great about it. I’m cool being on my own wavelength and doing things the way I do it and not toeing the line.
• Other acts coming to Newmarket this year include The Magic of Motown, August 3; Nile Rodgers and Chic, August 10; George Ezra, August 17; The Vamps, August 25.