A Masterful Return: Bill Ryder-Jones

"This wasn't an easy record to make..."

Bill Ryder-Jones is swerving blowing his brains out in favour of contented old age with games of chess, and hopefully much more music making. His second album ‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart’ has garnered widespread acclaim and Ryder-Jones is playing live dates again. He speaks to Nick Rice about his relationship with Domino and how the new album evolved.

Bill Ryder-Jones has traversed an intriguing personal arc, journeying through success in his teenage years and twenties as lead guitarist with Merseyside roustabouts The Coral, through to a retreat from a touring lifestyle and a shift to composing and arranging instrumental works inspired by the likes of Yann Tiersen, Abel Korzeniowski and Clint Mansell. Signed to Domino Records and under the wing of label boss Laurence Bell, Ryder-Jones created several short film scores before releasing his debut album ‘If…’ in 2011. The album is an imaginary score for the novel, ‘If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller’ by lionised author Italo Calvino, and instantly marked out Ryder-Jones as a remarkably gifted composer. Following up this acclaimed album with ‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart’, Ryder-Jones has returned to traditionally structured songs, largely accompanied by piano and guitar. A work of plangent beauty, as infectious as it is honest, the album is a masterful foray into straightforward singer-songwriter territory.

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How is it working with Domino?
Well Domino was there for me when nobody else was. And Laurence Bell is definitely one of my favourite people in the world and a dear friend. Sony bosses wouldn't love to be artists; they love to be Sony bosses. Whereas Laurence would be an artist, and if he can't do that he knows that what he can do is run a record label. And he’s into record labels and into the way that they work. I've never met anybody like that. He didn’t see me as a commodity that was ever going to make his record label a lot of money. He saw me as someone who was maybe a bit interesting and a little bit different and had something to say, when I didn't even think that. And I do believe that now. So, Domino looks after me. I live off £100 a week, that's what I pay myself. That's taken from the advance money that I'm given and it's enough for me. As long as I can keep the house and eat. I'm not like a three holidays a year kind of guy. If I didn't have Domino I would still be making music because it's the only thing, apart from getting wrecked, that occupies me. It makes the passing of the time that much easier.

You retired from the more intensive aspects of the music business some years ago, touring and press and so forth, how are you finding being back in the saddle again?
The highs and lows in music are just as great as they are with some nutter bird or with a heavy drug, or with your parents, or with anyone in your life – music becomes a real tool, like a consolation. Music is a consolation – it's there out of human need for some kind of comfort. It's really similar to religion. There is a feeling there that you've always had, that you can't quite understand. And for reasons that are even further from your understanding, certain sounds make things better. It's so multifaceted, music only works against human emotion. You'd have to say that it's a universal truth because it has its own constant and definite rules at the centre of it – harmonics, melody and resolve, those kinds of things. But I don't think music is anything without people.

How content are you being a solo artist and independent of the band dynamic?
Well I was in The Coral from the age of about 13. I still feel really young, but I'm nearly 30 now. I felt very old when I was 18 but I feel young now.

That’s great, is there a sense of feeling less burdened by the weight of the world?
I wouldn't go that far. I wouldn't mind that. But I remember being 18 and not really thinking there was a point to anything.

Didn't being in The Coral give you a reason to be cheery and upbeat and living for the moment?
Not really no, that's just not who I am and I've grown up not being that. My life has always had these big things crop up every few years that seem to come out of nowhere, and they're huge. You know – people going – just normal life, things that happen. Being in The Coral didn't seem that extraordinary to me. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't miserable all the time I enjoyed it and I had some great times. I just remember at the time feeling miserable, old and tired. And then I got to 25 and I thought ‘fucking hell, what was I doing?’ I was fine. I was living off crisps and chips with no body fat and smoking weed and drinking all day. Then I got to 25 and I had love handles and grey hairs and I thought what's going on? And now I'm 29 and I'm much happier than I have ever been, ever.

Your second album takes a different direction from ‘If…’ and comes across as bravely open, real ‘heart-on-the sleeve’ stuff – how did the songs come about?
This wasn't an easy record to make. But that was the point. People have asked me whether it was therapeutic but it wasn't really. It wasn’t a cathartic process at all, it was an exercise. Laurence said to me, “you know you've got this, it's a big part of you and people recognise it from the music you've done before so bring it out and make it a thing and put it out there for people,’ because that's what music is, it’s connection. Music is a sharing thing. Like for me, I get really down about the world, about how ugly it is and it really gets to me on occasions. And it might sound really general but I think most of the shit that we go through could probably be sidetracked if people were brought up better and taught to share and respect a bit more. We're probably at an irreversible stage in humanity now for that.

But for me, music helps me feel better about myself. When I was 16 I had a Discman and I used to get on my bike with a bag full of CDs and a little bit of weed, and I’d cycle down to the cliffs in West Kirby where I grew up and push my bike into a bush and sit there with my headphones on. I’d listen to Gorky’s, Pink Floyd, Wu Tang, Lee Perry, Bob Marley – it was all I wanted to do and it was my saviour. That was where I'd go when I didn't want to be at home or when kids from school were on my case, you know. And Laurence said to me, “you can be on the other side of that, doing that, there could be a 14-year-old lad with an MP3 player who has to go somewhere and for some reason that we'll never understand, something that you do works for him.” And when I thought of it like that I thought, fuck I really want that. And I didn’t want to do the album at first and I cancelled it a couple of times. But I sent Laurence two songs and he flipped over them and said you've got to do this. I've always wanted to be quite private and I've always liked the mystery of an artist that doesn't give too much away, so I wasn't particularly comfortable putting stuff out there, but I’m glad I did now and I’m delighted for Domino that it's doing well.

There is an element of humour on the record.
Yeah, I look back at some of the things I wrote on the record and realised that they just came out at the time. ‘You're Getting Like Your Sister’ is such a northern saying, such a dad thing to say. I never saw myself as someone who can come up with funny little things, you know like Alex Turner does and is so brilliant at, but when I look back on the album I do see there is a lot of humour and I find myself chuckling at some of it. I think that's just preparation, that's putting yourself in the right spaces when you're not writing, you know like reading the right things and then it all stays inside, and when you need it, it comes up.

What are you expecting from the future, what’s next in store?
I expect to be a really mellow 60-year-old who plays chess and has found peace with the world. I really expect that and I’m looking forward to it. You can't think as much as I do without either shooting yourself or having to find that solace. And I’m not gonna shoot myself. So that's good to know isn’t it?

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Bill Ryder-Jones' new album 'A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart' is out now.

Words by Nick Rice

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