Written by Emily Smith
“It was at an open mic night in ‘The Cool Rooms’ in South Croydon,” singer-songwriter Ben Haenow says as he reflects on his first live performance, “I was petrified to be honest…I just closed my eyes and didn’t really enjoy the experience at all.” Luckily, over time, performing to Haenow became an enjoyable experience and adds, “the more we played, the easier it became over time.” But gushes that he still gets nervous before a big show.
One of the biggest challenges for Ben as a musician is being away from family. “Spending a lot of time away from my family and my wife whilst I’m working is pretty tough. But sometimes I do get to take people with me if I’m playing abroad.” Haenow didn’t come from a family of musicians, but he and his brother developed a passion for music at an early age. “We started writing our own songs and got a band together,” Ben says, “We started getting more serious from then.”
Years later, Ben was convinced to audition for The X Factor, which Haenow attests is the best advice he has ever received. “It changed my life for the better, and I wouldn’t have gone for it if it wasn’t for friends and family pushing me to do it!” In 2014, he would go on to win the competition and sign with Syco Entertainment, an entertainment company established by Simon Cowell. Haenow would release his self-titled debut album with Syco before eventually parting ways with the company, a decision that Haenow says helped him learn to trust his own instincts more. “I think I’ve become a stronger person in that way and my confidence has grown a lot since the initial parting of ways.”
Since his departure from Syco Entertainment, Haenow has released his second album ‘Alive,’ which he wrote after his first tour, in awe of the support from fans. “After the tour finished, I was so inspired that we just carried on writing songs and ‘Alive’ was the first song written for this new album.”
When writing songs, the process differs with each new track for Haenow. It could be a melody, lyric, or concept that initiates the entire process. What remains consistent for Haenow is spending, “a LOT of time in a room with a guitar, and a pen, and paper” as he puts it.
Haenow generally writes about his experiences, since, as he says, “It’s all I can go on or relate to.” “‘Alive,’” for instance, takes inspiration from these recent years as a musician. “This album seems to be loosely based around my journey from the end of my time with Sony up until now, so maybe it’s a little more autobiographical than the first was.” The album showcases very real emotion that stems from everything happening during this time. ‘Rising,’ a favorite of Haenow’s, is one song on ‘Alive’ that feels “very honest” according to Ben.
In the end, Haenow hopes that people pay attention to the positivity in the album. “…overall [it] is about people, hope, and positivity,” he comments, “so if people can take anything uplifting or positive away, then that would be cool.”
As a musician, Haenow is pretty satisfied with how far he’s gotten and all he’s accomplished. He’s had the opportunity to play at Wembley, the o2, and Old Trafford and comments, “I literally can’t think [of] how to top that.” Ben tells us he’s basically checked off his bucket list at this point, but has a few more goals in mind. “Ideally, a world tour would be the time I could look back and say I truly made it,” he says, “that would be incredible.” Haenow would also love to collaborate with John Mayer. “The guy is an incredible musician and songwriter!”
For other aspiring musicians, Haenow has some advice. “Stick with it,” he advises, “It’s a tough industry, but if it all pays off, it’s all worth the hard work.” He also states the importance of using one’s time wisely. “Don’t count the days, make the days count,” is a motto that he follows when creating music. “It’s important to make the most of the time you have.”