Ben Howard's music has become progressively layered and freer over time, and looking at the new performance video for the song Days Of Lantana below there's clearly a lot of effects pedals being using between the members of his band with dual delays a-go-go. But his solo demo gear couldn't be more different – it's his phone.
"Usually little voice memos," Howards tells the Tape Notes Podcast of his process as he sat down with producer Nathan Jenkins – who goes under the psydonym Bullion – to discuss latest album, Is It? "Inevitably you get stuck on the sonic qualities. "Acoustic guitars through voice memos on iPhones sound really good and then it's really difficult when you try and chase sounds, so you have to try and put it down and believe that it's a sketch and never try and search for it too hard because you'll send yourself mad. But that's my process – sketches and voice memos. Hours and hours on nonsense."
Howard will then start building these sketches with a drum machine at home. And he uses the demo for the song Walking Backwards to illustrate the song's genesis. But even at this stage the vocal is only a mumbled guide melody. It sounds instinctive and Howard is building the initial sketch up simply with guitar, a delay pedal and drum machine and just allowing the creative idea to flow. It's a conscious decision too.
"I get stumped by having a decent recording setup so actually voice demos for me are a nice way to get a clear picture really quickly of whether there's a song in there, rather than worrying about getting levels and getting into a computer," says Howard. "It would cut me off quite quickly, so voice demos are a nice way to put it on the phone."
Drum machines have been an integral part of Howard's songwriting process since third album Noonday Dream and a Korg Volca Beat became a go-to. "It's a great starting point – a really versatile drum machine that you can take everywhere with you. I used to take that everywhere with me. Stick it with a nice delay pedal and you've got a world of possibilities."
Check out the full Tape Notes podcast interview above.