"I Move On From Things Quite Quickly!" Clash Meets Willie J Healey
Describing his sound as like “a working man’s 70’s music if it was being made in this day and age... but in the indie universe”, Willie J Healey’s analysis would not be far from the mark.
The copper-topped Oxfordshire artist briefly stumbles over finding the correct words to define his music; an unsurprising feat as he effortlessly weaves in-between genres, refusing to IKEA flatpack himself into the ceaseless monotony of sticking to one thing.
“I try to keep it as wide open as I possibly can”, he smiles, “I always carry a notebook with me in case something pops in my head. My process is always quite different, and something that is a fairly steady thing that I do is that I’ll often have a poem, or write imaginary songs for an album, say called ‘Midnight’ or ‘Conversations at 3am’, and write an imaginary tracklisting and songs for those titles.”
“It’s something I fall back on, but for the most part I try not to overthink it; it keeps things exciting and less mathematical.”
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Carterton born and bred, Willie’s introduction to music came late and unexpected after growing up in a small town where the only feasible inspiration came from the charming yet dreary routines of the humdrum life or the television screen.
“It’s on the outskirts of Oxford, so a proper ‘burbs kind of feel. There’s one great venue called Fat Lils which was where I would play when I was starting out and probably sounding really awful at the time. They were very friendly and encouraging despite the lack of a scene, but I never really minded doing my own thing and always found the lack of activity in living in a place like that has only ever made me feel creative”.
There are hints of his upbringing intertwined within his lyrics, a yearning for more and a curiosity as to what life outside of suburbia holds. “There was never a sound here; not like say East London or Manchester, so I really had to carve my own path as to what I wanted to do and I didn’t have anyone around to influence me. I think it really shaped my early releases because I would watch TV and films and it felt like the sky was really the limit as to what I could be because effectively, I’m from nowhere really”.
However, music wasn’t the only love capturing the heart of a young Willie. His youth was divided between reciting chords and the boxing ring. Fancying himself as the South’s answer to Billy Elliot, Willie recalls:
“I started boxing when I was ten and I started playing guitar when I was 12 or 13 and they really didn’t mix, but music was a secret little hobby of mine and an escape from the intensities of boxing. It really snuck up on me and wasn’t something I intended on doing, but I’m glad I decided to invest my time in music as opposed to boxing. It’s two very different things, but somehow my relationship with both of them has been very passionate”.
Teetering on the brink of his second album’s release, ‘Twin Heavy’, Willie’s ever-flourishing artistic endeavours have not halted despite the current climate. After receiving rave reviews of his past two offerings, first album ‘People and their Dogs’ and subsequent EP ‘666 Kill’, the determination to produce something even more experimental was niggling.
“I think I’m quite varied in my influences and I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled making things cohesive, but I can be a bit all over the place and I like the freedom of making whatever feels good at that time. I don’t really ever set out to do anything too different, but I move on from things quite quickly, and for better or worse I think sometimes I can fall victim to being too worried about doing something more than once. It’s all been a journey and a learning curve and as I have grown as a songwriter, I think my horizons have broadened”.
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Rich in Neil Young, Elvis Costello and early Van Morrison influences, ‘Twin Heavy’ bears a side to Willie that is polished and unafraid. Lead single ‘Fashun’ has the artistry of a Velvet Underground song catapulted into the 21st century, a virtue he holds to the wonders of esteemed producer Loren Humphrey.
“The album wouldn’t be half as strong if it weren’t for Loren and his vision and attention to detail which, in particular, is so much more heightened than mine. I found that me and Loren and liking so much of the same music meant that I could communicate with him in a language that was very vague to a lot of people, but to me and him it was like ‘I know exactly what you mean when you say that I want it to sound like Phil Spector or a French soundtrack’, and he’s really the one that made sure it was a full commitment into that sound instead of just hints to it. We went all out with him”.
Released through Felix White’s label YALA! Records, which he describes as giving him a confidence in himself he didn’t know was possible, Willie is at the peak of his game. Having moved to Bristol shortly before lockdown, his creativity has taken quite the rollercoaster ride whilst finishing up ‘Twin Heavy’.
“I went through some cycles these last few months. One week I was feeling like I was writing the most amazing songs I’ve ever written, and next week I could barely get out of bed because I had no kind of inspiration to do anything. For the most part, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself, like a lot of my creative friends did too.”
“We were all worried we were gonna waste our time. We’ve been gifted this huge amount of time to make stuff which almost stopped me from making anything. As soon as I relaxed and went with the flow I hit my stride, but I’ve definitely been both ends of the cliches. I’ve been the pants all day kind of person and also weirdly ran a half marathon. Hopefully now I’m somewhere in the middle!”
With ‘Twin Heavy’ out today (August 7th), the inability to be able to tour the new album due to these uncertain times is surely a bum note, however his headline tour has been rescheduled to 2021.
“I’m looking forward to playing the songs live and I think the singles we’ve released so far feel like the best received tracks I’ve put out and I can’t wait to be in a room with the people that have been supporting my music and sending me lovely messages, but it’s one thing recording it and having fun but there’s nothing quite like playing it to people and sharing that experience with everyone. If people enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed making it then in my eyes that’s enough for me”.
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'Twin Heavy' is out now.
Words: Becca Fergus
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