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Ben Howard aims to conquer U.S. with "Every Kingdom"

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British folk singer Ben Howard admits he initially struggled with his entry onto the U.S. stage at last month's South by Southwest festival in Texas because the reception was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

Howard whose new album "Every Kingdom" was released in the United States this week, is the latest in a wave of British singer-songwriters such as Adele and Mumford & Sons who are rising up record charts and being embraced by U.S. fans.

But the crowds at Howard's South by Southwest debut in Austin and in live, sold-out shows at New York's Bowery Ballroom have been mildly unsettling for the 24-year-old who grew up in the peaceful English countryside.

"Coming from the UK, you realize how quiet England is, and as soon as you get to America, it's really big and brash and loud out here, and South by Southwest was the epitome of that ... I struggled with it for a bit to be honest, it was quite a full-on experience," the singer admitted in an interview with Reuters.

Still, he has settled into a groove as he makes his way around the United States and "Every Kingdom" gains fans, much as Mumford & Sons, Adele and others did before him. And Howard credits acts such as those for paving the way for his own sound.

"Mumford & Sons have really opened up everyone's ears to music with instruments again, acoustic-based music ... it's reassuring for people like me who have been brought up on acoustic guitar," Howard said. "It's an exciting time for English music over here, there's so much great music coming out of the U.K. at the moment."

The singer cites a diverse range of musicians who inspired him, including singer-songwriters James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, rockers The Black Keys and Icelandic ambient band Sigur Ros.

Howard, who springs from the county of Devon on the Southwest coast of England, also said he drew inspiration from the rural landscapes of his home for the songs "Every Kingdom."

Living in the countryside gave him time and space to nurture creativity, and his personal life provided grist for the mill of his songwriting.

"Songs became little time periods of my life, little tales from certain periods, and you build these kingdoms and memories ... they're all little personal relationships and places that I've stored in my head," he said.

PERSONAL SONGS

"Every Kingdom" is a collection of melodic acoustic guitar tracks overlayed with Howard's unique soft voice on singles such as "Old Pine," "The Wolves" and "Keep Your Head Up."

But it is the hauntingly somber track "Black Flies" that Howard said is his personal favorite. It is often mistaken by the audience to be a heart-felt love song, while in fact it is a tale of friendship run afoul.

"We ended up doing separate things and going separate ways," said the singer. "That's what I write about most of the time, the people who come in and out of our lives and the memories that you form around them," said the singer.

Despite his initial nerves performing in front of U.S. crowds, Howard is eager to play live and prefers fans come and listen to him rather than interacting through social media, as so many artists are compelled to do in this digital age.

"I don't really like encouraging people to go on the Internet too much, we're constantly distracted with the Internet and computers ... all this Twitter and fan management kind of frustrates me," said the singer, who currently has 138,000 fans on Facebook and 61,000 on Twitter.

For his next, sophomore album, Howard said he is eager to "evolve" his sound to include more electronic guitars and possibly explore rock.

But he remains cautious about experimenting with genres such as electronica and hip hop, with which bands like Foo Fighters and Bon Iver have attempted to fuse with their sound recently.

"There's a lot of people who have murdered songs by putting crazy floor-on-the-floor beats ... Kanye West and Bon Iver did a track together and that was hideous, so I'm not going to go down that route just yet," said the singer.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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