YOUR 30s are a dangerous time for dreamers. It’s when unfulfilled aspirations weigh heavily and threaten to consume. It’s especially the case for musicians.
So it was for Newcastle’s Ben Leece. Three years ago his rock band The Delta Lions were seemingly plateauing after two albums, without reaching the heights Leece craved.
“I had a moment where I kind of trashed the house,” Leece said. “Everything’s music, posters, records, CDs whatever, and everything reminded me of failure. I’d put 20-odd years of time, energy and money into something that made me feel like shit at the end of day.”
Leece decided to quit music. But passion isn’t extinguished that easily. The Delta Lions continued for another year before breaking up and Leece started Novotone Studios rehearsal rooms at Carrington with bandmate Ryan Wilson.
But ultimately the 36-year-old persevered with his songwriting to the point that ARIA award-winning alt-country artist Shane Nicholson agreed to produce his debut album. The result is No Wonder The World Is Exhausted, released on October 19.
It’s the best collection of songs Leece has written, ranging from rousing southern rock (Rebel Alone) to country blues (Highway Not The Dream) to honky tonk (Sunny Side).
However, the crowning moment is the closing ballad, Stuck To My Guns, which two weeks ago earned Leece a victory at the Sydney final of the Listen Up Songwriting Festival. The festival aims to shed light on mental illness.
Leece, who endured his own mental health demons, wrote the sparse track to remind himself what was really important.
“I’d gotten to a place where I was pretty low and it was based around trying to make it and fit yourself into a box and compromising yourself to satisfy what you think the industry wants of you,” he said.
“It was just a reminder as to why I play music and why I love music.”
The irony is that since Leece has taken a healthier and more relaxed approach to music his career has began to gather momentum. Sydney-based alt-country label Stanley Records agreed to distribute the album, which enabled Leece to push ahead with its release this year, rather than financing it through a crowd-founding campaign.
“I’m still nervous about it going out into the world and whether people like it or not,” he said. “That’s a human thing. But I’m proud of what I’ve done and the few people who have heard it, dig it, and that’s pretty special.”
READ MORE:New single Villains investigates envy
The obvious reason for the warm reception is the songwriting. In the lead up Leece studied the craft of songwriting through podcasts and books and even used his love of old-school rap like Nas and Public Enemy to build greater melodic rhythm.
“To me that’s the art, telling a complex story as simply as you can,” he said.
“Talking a personal story and obscuring it so it becomes relatable, but still open for imagination.”
Ben Leece performs at the Take Me To Town album launch at the Stag and Hunter Hotel on Friday and at the Grand Junction Hotel on October 26.