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He was overweight, abusing drugs and fleeing from his self-harming past. So he took all his problems – and turned them into the sensational new album Witness
Five years ago, Benjamin Booker had a vision. He was living in New Orleans, just scraping by, when he saw himself on stage, playing a raucous hybrid of blues, punk and soul. He set out to make it a reality. Within a couple of years, he was touring an acclaimed self-titled debut album, supporting Jack White and Courtney Barnett, and playing late-night TV talkshows. It all felt surprisingly easy. It was only when he returned to New Orleans that he realised he was lost.
“It’s the cliche,” he says with a nervous laugh. “You think that when your dreams come true, it’s going to get better – and of course it doesn’t. Everybody knows it, but I guess everybody thinks it will be different for them. It only got worse.” Booker is sitting in the office of Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis, surrounded by framed photographs of legendary musicians. He looks like he belongs on the wall: he’s a dashing, charismatic 27-year-old with a smile that unfurls like a banner, but there’s a rawness and urgency about him that keeps you on your toes. He gets straight to the point.