Interview: Childhood @ Deaf Institute
It’s tricky to see Childhood onstage without noting that you can’t imagine the band of eager equilibrists as anything other than performers. This particularly struck a chord whilst watching the seven-people-heavy soul, rock ‘n’ roll outfit take hold of the Deaf Institute mid-week in November. Guided to place by Now Wave, “heavy” is immediately the wrong analogy for this band, as the word portrays the idea of a meagre, soulless concept – which this is not. Led by frontman Ben Romans-Hopcroft and championed with saxophonist and keys amongst his tribe, Childhood created an onstage party that melted any audience member’s recollection of a bad day.
Prior to his on-stage triumph, we had a few words with the lead singer of London’s rising soul sensation whilst he nursed a Glaswegian hangover from the previous night of their tour. Watching the James Brown-like ease with which he took to the stage and aghast the audience, the hangover didn’t lurk over his performance or sway the presently happy mood that encapsulated the Deaf Institute’s music hall.
Since the introduction of their debut album Lacuna back in 2014, Childhood have unanimously altered their sound. Gone are the smooth 90s pop tracks placed before us by Blue Velvet and As I Am, now we can see the full transformation into soulful 70s-esque anthems. You get a sense that the inspiration behind their work has altered and their confidence has grown over the past three years. Which Ben himself confirms, with reference to having rediscovered his own music taste and matured in the sense that he no longer takes notice of what people are expected to see as being cool. “I’ve been re-introducing myself to music that I listened to when I was a child, with my parents. Music that I rejected in my adolescence because I thought it was inherently uncool. Looking back and rediscovering things. Also, the main thing that has changed is being more confident and learning that you can commit yourself to your influences without caring what you think people might think of you.” This refreshed mastery is clear amongst the new tracks featured on Childhood’s latest album, Ultimate High, which feels a world away from the tales of their unity.
Childhood began when Ben was at Nottingham University with guitarist Leo Dobsen. After a few drunken antics and their mutual realisation that they shared the same sentiment regarding the disillusion of University, it became apparent that they worked well together musically following a few late-night jam sessions. The name itself came initially was “just a word” formed by Leo and Ben in the early days when they were initially jamming for jamming’s sake with no major output beyond pure enjoyment, but it soon illustrated the theme to most of their work. “I guess we were just drunk and a lot of the stuff we were doing was a bit senseless at first. But there’s a lot of meaning in (the name) because a lot of the early songs are very nostalgic anyway. Not even intentionally. So, there was probably a subconscious interlinking going on.” From their early days of youthful frivolity to now, they still carry the same passion for their project as they always have.
The maturity though is clear in their music and clear in their themes behind recent work, with Ben mentioning that the theme behind their new album, Universal High, is about the universal connection that’s become much stronger lately, with the introduction of the internet and social media. If you look at the theme for their debut Lacuna as the child-like stage of their growth, Universal High’s theme is the adolescent stage of their maturity. “You can have a similar experience to someone who’s thousands of miles away. Everything’s so connected, through social media and the ability for people to connect so quickly. It’s a good thing, but also, it’s a bad thing because you lose your identity and your sense of surroundings. It’s a double-edged sword I think.”
The new album embodies this maturity process that Childhood have undertaken. It features the track ‘California Light’ , which has been respectfully splashed everywhere along with a video featuring Ben himself walking across London with a Del Boy-like vibe, greeting fellow Londoners along the way. Very fitting given that the song is about our capital city, with actual physically reference to a trip Ben made to the sunshine state which enlightened him in more ways than one: “We were being stupid and frolicking around in a field. I thought I could see all these amazing lights, but it was police lights. So, it’s about that sense of being like let down and humbled by sobriety. We used that as sort of an algorithm for certain situations that happened in London.”
Considering this new change in their inspiration towards more jazz-like, soulful sounds, it’s also intriguing to learn that Ben’s icons are of a similar classification. Including Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis, it’s easy to imagine these figures when witnessing Ben perform on stage, the stealth and artistic commitment that both himself and his band put into a performance is iconic and awe-inspiring. His icons are embodied in his own music. Upon hearing his favoured types of music, he could easily be describing his own sound: “A classic pop style behind it but voicing all these mad rock ’n’ roll methods whilst being soulful and psychedelic. I like that tradition of classic song writing. But kind of done in like a modern way.
Besides Childhood, Ben also has his fingers in other musical pies including a passion for song writing and recently, producing Fat White Family’s new album. Although mentioning that he writes songs for upcoming singers who aren’t yet on the map (whilst joking that he could one-day shock us and write for Rihanna) it’s clear that he has an enthusiastic attitude towards his methods.
Having always had music in his life and amongst his family, including his mother being a dancer whilst working in the music industry and his father being a musician whom he played with and often toured with as a child. So, the aim for Ben was always quite concrete: “I guess the dream from when I was like fifteen until I was 20 was “I wanna be a Rockstar.” Though as mentioned earlier, Ben’s ideals and theories have altered, so he no longer feels the need to live up to expectation. “As I grew up I decided that I just wanted to make myself happy. I don’t want to fulfil the prophecy that like any like music-loving-player-in-their-teens has to have. I love playing live, but I get more thrills from being in the studio and like writing, collaborating and taking my time.” This skill for music writing and working with friends of a similar capacity is characteristic that Ben enjoys. Mentioning that he wishes he could work with all his musically minded counterparts – this also being the issue as he puts it that it means he wants to “work with everyone” – Ben talks of trying to work with his brother and the idea of working with their touring support act: Sorry, as he appreciates their gritty guitar heavy sound and the method of pop song writing.
Other current acts that Ben is a fan of include the outrageous John Maus, who only recently played in Manchester too – also for Now Wave. Ben describes Maus’s music eloquently as “Synth punk and really absurd but also formulaic. But it doesn’t sound boring and I think it’s skilful to do that.”
Through his friendship with Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family, their own act Insecure Men has begun with Ben revealing that the duo’s first album will be out in February of next year. Similarly, other members of the band are also musically dispersed across the industry. “Max writes his own songs but he’s yet to be public with them. Thomas is in a band called Fake Laugh when we have some down time.” So, the apple never falls too far from the tree.
In terms of the future, there is no end for Childhood nor any soon end for the eager and inspiring aspirations that Ben Ramons-Hopcroft holds, with talk of new music coming our way in the new year as well as the apprehensive build up for festival season 2018. The level of skill and quality we hear time and time again from Childhood has – thankfully – no sign of disappearing.