More about: Willie J Healey
Willie J Healey is on a high. Undeterred after being dropped from his label after his debut album, he signed to Felix White and Morad Khokar’s YALA! Records and hasn’t looked back since. His second album Twin Heavy has seen him flick between various pages of the songwriting playbook, dipping into new genres with little apprehension.
“As a fan of music and as a songwriter I like not restraining or cutting down my options. The way it was recorded and the people I did it with really allowed me to dive into things head on and not shy away,” he beams down the line. Even on the phone you get a sense of who Willie J Healey is, his enthusiasm in discussion is naturally disarming, he’s unafraid to crack a joke and maybe most importantly his passion for his profession is obvious.
You might also like...
His personality is evident throughout his music too, although it may be woven in vicariously rather than consciously. “I never really think about it, I really honour lyrics, I can’t really like a song if it doesn’t have something going on with the lyrics. I’m not sure if that means that my personality comes through and maybe that’s where that comes from.” Lyrics are not always the go-to for Willie when constructing a song though, sometimes making instrumentals on loop pedals and trying to put lyrics on top afterwards. When stuck for creativity, he has written imaginary album track lists, using the song titles to come up with new ideas.
“I write in all different ways really; I try not to get too caught in one way of making a song because I find that I will start putting too much pressure on myself” he says. Somebody who helped Willie J push himself into new territory was the album’s producer Loren Humphreys, who has toured as a drummer with the likes of Florence and The Machine and The Last Shadow Puppets. Although, it was the tightest of deadlines to get the recording done, with Loren free for just nine days, “it was terrifying, I think we all went a bit mad. I’d never met Loren before last year, but we just hit it off straight away. He’s someone that is inspirational to me and he’s just a great guy.”
For Twin Heavy it was a case of the singer looking closer to himself as opposed to the observational writing of his debut. But this progression was ultimately natural, “I certainly didn’t set out with any parameters in place or any concept. I suppose I was inspired by life; it has been massively rewarding to invest in the lyrics the way I have. It’s been a good process and it’s been almost medicinal for me.” One of the most personal moments being the closing track ‘Caroline Needs’, which came from a love note he wrote for his girlfriend, although he admittedly stole it back to write the song.
His hometown of Carterton is as influential in his sound as his favourite artists, although he did once describe it as, “the armpit of Oxfordshire”. But growing up in a small town can often be a place that encourages creativity, “I’ve had to create my own fun and my own universe. Boredom has always fed my creativity and I think Carterton as a place almost forced me to think outside the box and be as standalone as I could.” The small British town in the middle of nowhere can often be a blank canvas for the imagination to thrive on.
On ‘Why You Gotta Do It’, Willie makes fun out of the common saying, “money doesn’t buy you happiness”. “I’ve always found it quite funny as someone who’s never been massively well to do with money,” he begins. “But when you would like a bit of money it's like someone kicking you in the teeth. Imagine going over to a homeless guy and saying, ‘don’t worry mate, money doesn’t make you happy’, I think he’d probably try and beat the shit out of you.”
Whilst on the topic of bad advice, what is the worst that Willie has ever heard? Queue a deep exhale of breath down the line, as he explains a piece of advice that could have been good but was given completely in the wrong context. “We played a show and afterwards said person came over and said, ‘you know this is it now guys, this is the rest of your career! Don’t change now! But always remember, be humble and thank the sound guy’. I remember us being like, what do you think this is? Of course we’re going to thank the sound guy, what do you know? I guess it's not bad advice, it’s nice advice but delivered in a bad way.”
Another instance came from Brian Eno, who Willie admits is a “obviously a legend” but showed his privilege with this piece of advice. “He said something like, ‘don’t ever get a job, if you want to be an artist don’t ever get a job’ and I mean that’s a real luxury to not have to get a job and not everyone can do that. For years I was trying to live by that and just beating myself up over not being able to do certain things and being a sell-out. I just think it’s quite dangerous advice.” For Willie, to be a fan of an artist does not necessarily mean you have to see them as perfect.
The same can even be said for his hero Neil Young, “his career as a book is interesting, it’s got so many twists and turns and ups and downs. Time and time again he’s reinvented himself and come back and done amazing things.” To be a fan is to watch the personal and creative journey of the artist, through their best and worst parts. Although some minorities within stan culture are set on seeing their idols as perfect, watching those who inspire you make a mistake can make the bond stronger, a reminder that they’re human too. “If I could have half the career he had I would die happy,” he pauses... “you know if I could have a quarter, one year of his career I would be happy.”
One word to describe Twin Heavy on the surface would be ‘optimistic’ but there are rare darker moments scattered throughout, such as “you know when you sleep, you die a little bit” from ‘Heavy Traffic’. For Willie, the mixing of light and dark is important, a fairer representation of life and he uses the Beatles as an example of a group where, “you’re not sure whether something’s terrifying or beautiful. I’m still working on trying to do that myself”.
Trying new ideas has been a huge part of Twin Heavy, Willie used a baritone guitar that, “felt like I’d just learnt to pay guitar again for the first time.” He’s experimented with more genres than ever before but has still crafted an album that flows by with his natural sense for melody. Open to messing around with more and more different sounds, it’s going to be very interesting to hear what he comes up with next.
Twin Heavy is out now via YALA! Records.
More about: Willie J Healey