Lo-fi, laid-back DIY surf jams for the millennial era. Where do you look to? Canada? California? Carterton, Oxfordshire? Cool Brother peels back the labels, clears out the pigeonholes and surfs the waves with Willie J Healey; whose debut album has been championed by the likes of Steve Lamacq, Slaves and The Maccabees, amongst others.
On a day of gruelling recording sessions, Cool Brother finds, beneath the hype, a totally placid Oxfordshire youth, more ‘After The Gold Rush’ than ‘Good Vibrations.’ Healey humbly accepts that he cannot attempt to break America because it’s “too expensive;” he cares more about jamming with his friends and watching sci-fi movies with his dog. Even in the age of too much information, what can kick-start a music career better than just picking up a guitar and writing ditties about the things which exist around you? A memorable melody with sharp lyrics will always make it to the surface. Willie J Healey sits very calmly below the current of the hype, utterly determined to do things his own way.
Willie J Healey – Lovelawn, from his latest EP 666 Kill
Richard Gilbert-Cross: Hi Willie! You created a short film to accompany the release of your latest EP 666 Kill last month. How did it go down?
Willie J Healey: Hot Air was just a fun idea me and my friend had to have three music videos in one, with three tracks all together – so for me to watch it is strange. It’s not linked in any way, actually. It was just an organic happening. It wouldn’t be too good if it was all planned. My friend Joseph Burgess created separate videos for each one and we whacked it all together at the end. So, yes, no storyline and not really a short film – just lots of nice shots of things looking nice!
Richard: What was the writing process for the EP?
Willie: I actually wrote the EP in December last year, at home. I just had ideas knocking around. I guess the way things go with these things is, you write the songs, practise with the band and then book the studio time. This time I wrote the songs as I recorded them – I just wanted to do it as quickly as possible. Then I left the songs for a couple of weeks. And then when I listened back to them, I was surprised! Really, it was just an exercise in trying to write as many songs as I possibly could in a week.
Richard: You released your debut album last year and now you’re going back out on the road. What’s your perception of being inside the music industry machine in comparison to outside?
Willie: For the most part, my experience so far has been pretty good. If you can find the right people, it’s good. I released a couple of things through Columbia/Sony – but, with that, so many people get involved and then it takes an extra year to be put out. I don’t want to try and understand the music industry to be honest, it’s just too complicated… But then I want people to hear my music, so it’s like dancing with the devil.
Richard: Is the industry at all similar to how you imagined it to be when you were younger?
Willie: I did think that being signed instantly turned you into a mega star and that everything would be easy, but for me that wasn’t the case. So, I found myself trying not to think about it. It can become a full-time job, and that’s just replying to emails!
Richard: Does that explain the spontaneous writing process for the new EP?
Willie: When you have all of those things, it’s easy to lose sight of the things you enjoy about writing music – and then there’s applying all that pressure on yourself on top of it too, which I do anyway. So, definitely, I just wanted to get back to that organic process.
Richard: You’re going on tour with Gaz Coombes, a local hero. Is your dad happy about that? What does he think of your music?
Willie: He likes it! My parents have actually been very supportive. You know, I bought a Juno synthesizer, which is on this EP, and for a little while he had this problem with it: “I don’t like it when you play this organ music, you should stick to guitar.” [Laughs] I think he’s more excited about me going on tour with Gaz than me. Or maybe he just wants me out of the house...
Richard: So you can stop playing the organ music?
Willie: Yeah, that “Bloody organ music!”
Richard: I read a local article about you which painted you as the Carterton garage rocker and former plasterer who used to turn up to gigs in an undertaker’s limo. I feel like we should talk about that…
Willie: [Laughs] I was never really a plasterer. My dad is the plasterer – I was more of a labourer, just helping him out sometimes, and I was never any good at it. But, I did have a funeral limo!
Richard: How did you end up with that?
Willie: I just have a friend who sells a lot of second-hand cars. I originally wanted a van, but he didn’t have one big enough, so I got a limo. But in the end, there wasn’t enough space and we had problems with the gears, so I got rid of it. Really, I just wanted to copy Neil Young.
Richard: And his ‘Mortimer Hearseburg’?
Richard: Did you ever get ‘high in the hearse?’
Willie: No… Maybe accidentally.
Richard: Your song Subterraneans was my first introduction to you. Are you a Beat fan?
Willie: I am into all that stuff, although I do prefer to listen to it! I’ve read a couple, but not many, and I got nothing from them. Really, I stand on the Tom Waits side of spoken poetry. I get more from that. And then there’s Neil Young too, of course. You know, I’m not a massive reader – it's something I’m working on; I have a short attention span.
Richard: I’ve been listening to your 666 Chill Spotify playlist on repeat. Thanks for the introduction to Matt Maltese. What would your Desert Island Disc album be?
Willie: Probably, by default, ‘After The Gold Rush.’ Everybody talks about how amazing Harvest is, but I genuinely just think they’re confused and they actually mean ATGR.
Richard: And your luxury item - what would you take besides your guitar?
Willie: Actually, one thing I can’t do without is hand wash. I have this real thing where I need clean hands when I’m playing guitar.
Richard: Finally, what are your plans for the next six months?
Willie: I’m currently halfway through my second album, so my main goal is to get that done, in and around touring. That’s my only goal – get album two done.
Tickets are available for Willie J Healey's headlining tour here
*Support from Jelly Boy
13th – Brighton, Prince Albert*
14th – Oxford, The Bullingdon*
16th – Southampton, Heartbreakers*
20th – Manchester, YES (YALA! club night)
21st – Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s
22nd – Glasgow, McChuils (YALA! club night)
23rd – Newcastle, Think Thank?
28th – Birmingham, The Sunflower Lounge*
1st – Leicester, The Cookie*
2nd – Guildford, The Boileroom*
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