Interview: Fenech-Soler’s Ben Duffy -New Album “Rituals” and “Pop isn’t a dirty word”

Fenech-Soler, having formed in 2006, now have two full albums to their name. Their dance-led pop, indie/guitar sound has dazzled many, picking up devoted fans along the way. Having recently started a UK tour promoting ‘Rituals’ and visiting Brighton on the 20th of November, I managed to have a chat with lead singer Ben Duffy , which you can feast your eyes on below:

Hello Ben, how are you on this cold November morning?

I’m excellent mate, hope you are too.

All the better for speaking to you! It’s been quite a big 12 months for you. You previewed the first track from the new album last year titled “All I know”. How did you feel about it, and what has the response been to it?

Yeah, it feels good! It’s really nice to get to a point where it is out there, we’ve always wanted that, big time. With the second album there’s a bit of nerves involved in it, the third and fourth are probably easier. We had our struggles with it, but at the same time we felt up-beat about it, to make a really good record that we were happy with. It ended up with us just bashing ourselves over the head with it. But no, it feels really nice for it to be out there, and for people to hear it, whether they love or hate it.

It must feel great, after all that time working on it. So, I’d say it builds on the dance, kind of Pop roots you have with your self-titled debut album – did you knowingly do this, or was it a natural progression?

I think at the heart of the band, even when we started the band, there has always been that electronic side, and we’ve always wanted to keep that. We are fans of pop music – it isn’t a dirty word to us. We like pop music of old, and even pop music of late. The clinical song writing of the late 70s and the early 80s, that pop soul vocal harmony style; pop has always been a part of the song writing process. We just wanted to make a bigger and better second album in that sense. Achieving the delicate sound scapes and the biggest that we’ve ever managed to get down on the recordings are what make the second album perhaps better than the first. The first album makes more sense as a band, but the second is where our head is at right now.

Personally, I’d say it is a better album. Would you –

Oh cheers man!

Oh no no, I’ve listened to it; I like it. Now would you say it is a better, more rounded album that the first?

I think it is. We’ve been a band for 5-6 years now, so as a band we are better song writers. We built the studio, we write the songs. There’s always been a DIY element to it, and we wanted to do it in the same way. Every song we have ever done has come from us. Starting in Andy’s bedroom, and now in a little shed type thing near his bedroom. I think it better, but it’s tricky to tell what it sounds like.

How have the new songs been received live on your recent tour by your fans?

Oh it’s been awesome. It’s totally fitted in with the first album, and it’s been nice to have two albums to pick from for the setlist, and we’ve been doing that this week for the tour. Tracks like Maiyu, the ones that have a solid dance beat to it have been great; “All I know” started off as a ballad, but we got together and added some stronger, more powerful chords to elevate it, and now it has turned into a really enjoyable track to play live.

That’s something I’d say about the new album: it’s more powerful, and comes out at you a bit more than the first, if you compare the singles.

Yeah, I think it does. With the new album we locked ourselves a way in a couple of different places. It’s hard to say by yourselves “is this an album?” It wasn’t like that with the first, we had someone come in and draw a line under it all and say “this is your first album.” This one was much more a start to end thing. Just feels like a progression, we changed it up a little bit when we locked ourselves away. The dynamics changed, we don’t just play our instruments now. It took a little bit longer than we wanted, but we got what we wanted in the end!

Is there any venue, after Brighton obviously, that you’re looking forward to playing on this tour?

It’s funny you say that because Brighton was one of our favourites on the last tour, because my younger brother Ross who plays guitar for the band studied there for two years. So it feels a little bit like a piece of home while away really! We spend a lot of time in Brighton. Aside from Brighton, Shepherds’ Bush in London is an incredible venue, we’ve wanted to play that for a long time. I’ve seen some incredible bands and had some great nights there, and that’s what I’m crapping myself about really. But everyone is looking forward to it, it feels like it’s been too long that we were away. We feel much stronger as a band, and we feel comfortable with the space that we occupy in music. We’ve found our sound, what we do. That’s the difficult transition for a lot of bands between album one and album two for a lot of bands. We are in a really good place, we’re good.

That’s great to hear, as a lot of bands are perhaps not where they want to be in music. At this point in your career, are you where you want or wanted to be?

There are not many bands out there that don’t want to become successful, and for as many people to hear their music as possible, and if they don’t want that… that’s weird. We’ve always been driven to become more successful in music, it has never been an overnight thing for this band. Never tonnes of heat that we have to back the hype with an album. Arguably band with big albums it is, I think, easier to fall off the map. If you just make good music, and keep being solid with your fan base and keep going out and putting the work in, playing with people going to your concerts, that’s the main thing. We’ve always seen this as a career band, something that steadily increases with every album. At the start of this album, we know we need to push new singles and promote the hell out of it. We’re touring America in January to March, which has never been a thing we’ve really tackled, there’s a big focus on that now. But we are still going to be around loads here!

That’s good to hear Ben. America is a whole other market, and if you crack that, you can get another fan base.

Yeah it is. We’ve managed ourselves and made our own decisions, fought our way through the industry. America has always seemed like this foreign, ridiculously hard thing to crack, but with the social side of music, Facebook posts and twitter, it is more achievable for bands to get out there and be successful. Who knows, after 3 months we might kill ourselves or split up, I don’t know.

Hopefully not, eh! Talking about the industry, I see you do remixes for other bands. Is that work you actively seek out, or do you do it out of your own interest, and then they like it? I particularly loved your remix of Everything Everything’s “Don’t Try” (which you can listen to here).

Oh cool. Andrew, our drummer, is very good friends with the drummer from Everything Everything. We massively respect them guys, and love their album. It wasn’t a big industry type of thing, we just love their music and they asked us to see what we can do with it, and the remix was the result. With remixing you don’t have to worry too much on a focus, and actually I think that is the best way to write music, not too think too much about it – otherwise it kind of goes wrong.

Just a quick, hopefully not intrusive Question. Sadly in 2011 you were diagnosed with testicular cancer, you were very open about it, donating sales of your single “Stop and Stare” to the Teenage Cancer Trust. At the time, how did you feel about it, and was it a shock?

Yeah, completely a shock. For a period after it, I was frustrated by it. I got frustrated when writing this album, it came along when we were meant to tour the first album, and by the time I was well again the bubble of the album had kind of died down a bit. It was just one of those things, out of frustration, that pushed the new album and in a way helped with the song writing. I was frustrated, but you go into this natural human instinct response by thinking “it’s fine, I’ll be okay.” Your family have to do that too, and so did the fans, which I was grateful for.

It is a bit of a shy topic, people don’t really talk about it as much as they perhaps should. Do you have any words of advice for anyone who doesn’t think it is a big deal?

Yeah, I think testicular cancer is a bit of a taboo subject. The one thing I learned from it, and I think is obvious now, is to just check. Just look online, and find out what you have to look for and check. With that type, and other types of cancer, the earlier it is caught, the better.

Bringing it back to the band, are there any moments in your career that are really memorable? Perhaps a favourite gig or festival?

I remember after cancelling everything, I gave myself 6 weeks to recover after the last chemo which was just enough, coming back I was concerned whether anyone would really remember us. The first show back for us was Glastonbury, and it was packed. That was a really good feeling, so it has to be one our favourites.

It must have re-enforced your feelings about the band

Yeah yeah, big time. Totally, it was that. It was a nice way to just jump back into it through that. After that we had 30 odd festivals, so we were swallowed up pretty quickly, but at the time I remember it was really pertinent at the time.

And finally before I let you go, could I ask you-

Oh no, go on!

Could I ask you to describe Fenech Soler in 3 words? If you could rattle it down to that.

In 3 words, wow. I suppose electronic, melodic and I’m trying to think of something else that would rhyme with that but I can’t. Errrrr Pop?

Pop! Yeah, I’d go with that

That’s going to sound *sooo* boring to your readers. If you can think of another word to go with electronic and melodic, you can stick it in.

Oh, thank you!

As you can see, I think it was best to leave it at that. A huge thank you to Ben Duffy for the interview, to The Verse (where you’re reading this from, hopefully), my girlfriend for realising I was interviewing whilst calling me on Skype, and to anyone that reads this.

Written by Harry Barnes
The Verse


The Verse Staff

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