Benjamin Clementine on new album ‘And I Have Been’ and pursuing acting: “It’s time for me to do something else that I’ve discovered”

The Mercury Prize winning singer-songwriter tells NME about the thematic concepts of his next three albums, and why he is focusing on acting after his debut role in last year’s Oscar-winning ‘Dune’

Benjamin Clementine has spoken about the details of his forthcoming trilogy of albums as part one ‘And I Have Been’ is released today – read NME‘s interview with the singer-songwriter below.

The Mercury Prize winner’s first album in five years is out today (October 28) via his own label Preserve Artists, revealing to NME that he has already written the next two parts that will follow.

“I started writing them three years ago. So I finished them last year, they’re all there,” Clementine said.

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Speaking about ‘And I Have Been’, the follow-up to 2017’s ‘I Tell A Fly’, the singer-songwriter said this album is the “light” one of the three. “I hardly ever sing about love, it’s just a weird thing for me,” he explained. “And so this first album is trying to sing about love, because I met my wife and she’s a great human being and I love her. “It’s the first time I’ve actually experienced this thing called love.”

In a press release, the singer said he was “confronted with a lot of lessons, complications and epiphanies to do with sharing my path with someone special” during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that ‘Part One’ is just “setting the scene” as the “tip of the iceberg”.

He explained in a statement that lead single ‘Genesis’ is about “the constant denial of my roots”, adding: “But as always, no matter what we do in the new world, our old world is buried in our subconscious. I found myself in a love-hate relationship with my roots.”

‘Genesis’ was followed by ‘Copening’, ‘Weakend’ and contemplative single ‘Delighted’, describing the latter as being inspired by when “arrogance becomes the culprit of complacency”, adding that we “turn away from what we’ve painstakingly morphed, we burn all the years of passion, patience and practice. Luckily, we are humans, so we can start again, hence we are delighted.”

Clementine also told NME that part two will be more “bleak”, exploring “how love eventually becomes the responsibility”.

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Benjamin Clementine has released the new single Delighted
Benjamin Clementine CREDIT: Akatre Studios

“My father’s passed away now, but [I’m] remembering him, and then looking at my son and what he expects of me and my wife,” he added. “It goes deep.”

He explained that the third part will focus on “hope”, adding, “but it’s all for humanity”.

The singer resided in the mountains in Santa Monica, California, during the pandemic when he first started thinking about writing a new album. “I started getting anxious and worried about my career, my future and the fact that everything just stopped, everything is frozen,” he said. “In the beginning, I always thought that I was used to being lonely, but when Covid happened, I realised that actually, no, I need people around me.

“That’s what started to inspire the album. And when I started writing, I got a son with my wife, Florence. And that brought a lot of past trauma out of me. I had to see a few therapists to get to understand that. And in that process, of course, as an artist, you write what you go through.”

The singer also reflected on life since he won the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2015 for his acclaimed debut album ‘At Least For Now’ – beating out Jamie xx, Florence + The Machine and Wolf Alice.

“I think an artist can’t be a person who is affected by an award,” he said. “But what we do, if it’s good enough, affects people, and people have perspectives.”

He continued: “The Mercury Prize definitely changes people’s perspectives about your artistry and what you do.”

He also compared his life as an artist now to when he used to busk on the Paris Metro. “People will listen but pretend they’re not listening. They’ll give me lots of money and food. Then when my music started getting recognised and I started playing professionally, 5000 people will come to the show. And I’ll be literally doing the same thing,” he said.

“But what I realised is that actually, people are not there to see you perform, they come to see themselves, to understand themselves, to make peace within themselves. That’s why people actually go to see an artist. So the Mercury Prize gives incentive, or a path for people to tread on to go and maybe find solace within themselves.”

Asked if he had any advice for this year’s Mercury Prize winner, Clementine replied: “It will push you to the place that hopefully you’re trying to go. People will see you a bit differently. But don’t get too carried away, you’ve got to just stay focused and do what you do.

“Those things are just to help you to get to where you want to go. Don’t think that you’ve reached a place that you really want to go.”

Besides music and songwriting, Clementine also spoke to NME about his debut acting role in the Oscar-winning Dune last year, in which he played the Herald of the Change.

Speaking about how the opportunity came about, Clementine explained that he had auditioned for a couple of other film roles at the request of a talent agent from his tour manager’s company, but was told he wasn’t right for the parts.

Then, the opportunity to act in Dune came from the director himself. “Denis Villeneuve called me and said, ‘Benjamin, I’ve got a role for you. You don’t have to audition. Just come to Budapest’. I had to, obviously,” he said.

“I learned my script, went there and performed. And it was a great experience, the people were lovely. Timothée Chalamet is a lovely guy, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa. They were all very nice people.”

He added: “It was very intense. But again, they all make you feel very comfortable and reassure you that you’re doing very well. And that’s something that’s so important. I think for all of us. We all become like kids when we’re in a place that we haven’t been before, and we just need grown-ups and experienced people to say, ‘You’re doing well!’”

The singer also shared that he may start putting more of his energy towards acting, adding that he is “doing acting now”, though remained tight-lipped about what exactly the roles are.

“It just felt very natural. And I have no problem remembering my lines, because I spent so many years singing the same songs over and over again.”

He added: “I absolutely love music. But I think it’s time for me to perhaps do something else that I’ve discovered, which is acting. It is happening right now.”

‘And I Have Been’ is available to listen to now here.

‘And I Have Been’ tracklisting:

1. ‘Residue’
2. ‘Delighted’
3. ‘Difference’ 
4. ‘Genesis’
5. ‘Gypsy, BC’
6. ‘Atonement’
7. ‘Last Movement Of Hope’
8. ‘Copening’
9. ‘Weakend’ 
10. ‘Auxiliary’
11. ‘Lovelustreman’
12. ‘Recommence’

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