Three albums in, and WILLIE J HEALEY is embracing his “funky and weird” side with ‘Bunny’. Read our latest Dork Playlist cover feature now.
Words: Steven Loftin.
Photos: Jennifer McCord.
Indie upstart Willie J Healey is finally, properly, listening to himself. Over the six years since his 2017 debut, ‘People And Their Dogs’, he has been toiling away.
Though releasing its follow-up, ‘Twin Heavy’, in 2020, plotting his course hasn’t always been easy going. Between the world shutting down and then trying to pick up steam again, he’s been diligently scribbling away, and for that, 2023 is the year Willie J Healey comes out firing on all cylinders.
After stints supporting the likes of Florence + The Machine and Arctic Monkeys, with his upcoming third album ‘Bunny’ in tow, the ambition sparkles brighter than ever. ‘Bunny’’s beginnings came courtesy of one Jamie T. Loaning Willie a drum machine played a big part in the album’s sound shift from his earlier acoustic-led indie. Now, he’s toting a funky, silky-smooth groove. It’s as lusciously decadent as a bar of Galaxy in the hot sun.
Hi Willie. How is album three and growing into this moment treating you?
From where I’m sitting, it feels like a very gradual thing. I haven’t taken the world by storm overnight; I’ve been at it a bit for a while now. I’m getting a feeling, which means nothing, but that things are accelerating in terms of more people seeing me, and bigger tours; more people seem to be engaged with what I’m doing. It’s like, I know, you can’t write this down, but if it were a graph, it would be like this and, and then that [Willie motions up and down]. And I think it depends on what day of the week it is, because I think you could ask me tomorrow, and I’d think everything feels exactly the same. Then you could ask me the next day, and I’d be like, everything feels like it’s really moving nicely.
What was your approach going into ‘Bunny’?
I feel like I have a lot to prove still, and that I want to prove not just to people, but to myself. In this album, I just took everything that I had dipped my toe into before and really went for it and was really myself on it. From my experience, you never know what’s gonna happen, so the more albums I do, the more grateful I am to be doing them. This time around, I was writing this album – and it’s kind of funky and weird – the demos are strange and self-indulgent because when I wrote them, I just stuck to my guns more than ever musically. It’s scary and feels like deep water to me because it’s quite different to what I’ve done before. I sent some demos to the label, and they’re such an amazing, supportive label, but I could sense that people are a bit like, ‘What is this that he’s sent us?’ But I just embraced that this time around and was taking this risk. I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out. I let go more than on any of the other albums I’ve done.
This one has a bit of a sonic shift; what was the starting point for that?
One album goes out, and then you’ve got a year or two of writing that goes into the next one, and during that time, people change; wear different jeans, watch different films and listen to different music. For me, it didn’t feel like so much of a jump. I was starting to listen to this music, and I started to collaborate with musicians on the last album in a way that was leading me to make these types of recordings with the same producer. Twin Heavy, my last album, it sounds kind of different [to that], and songs are a bit different, but actually, I can see a lot of where we started with that one ended up where we are with this one.
“Jamie T and I found a lot of comfort in being able to chat about anything”Willie J Healey
That all lends itself to the through line always being you, no matter the sound.
Yes, you can’t really escape yourself. I can lean into stuff, but I have certain strengths and weaknesses that make me me, and they don’t go away. All of a sudden, I might go, ‘I want to play funky music’, and I think that’s quite nice. Some of my favourite artists that make these albums and maybe are a bit different or a bit left-field compared to the ones they have done before. But still, Paul McCartney is still Paul McCartney.
Being a solo artist must make that easier, knowing you can follow your whims.
You are left to your imagination, and the way you work, especially with recording things, is quite malleable. I haven’t been in a band for a very long time. But I would imagine it’s if I want to do a funky album, well, then everybody’s got to learn how to play a certain way. Whereas, my experience is that I want to do a funky album, well, my producer just goes, ‘I know this guy that’s really funky. He can come and help us’. You’re a lot more free in that in that way.
Jamie T features on the album, who you’ve also supported. He also played a big part in ‘Bunny’; how is it having him as a confidant who is in a similar, solo situation?
It’s been lovely, just on a level as a genuine fan, yet somehow being a part of his life and his friendship with him. We are in a similar boat, and I think it can feel slightly lonely at times to be solo because when you’re not touring, if you’re writing music for the most part, you’re writing it on your own and doing a lot of stuff on your own; it’s quite solitary. I think Jamie and I found a lot of comfort in being able to chat about anything. I don’t know many other people I can call on a Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock who are also stressed about a song they can’t finish. Everyone else is at work, or everyone else is doing something fun. Or if I haven’t done much of it and Jamie sends me a demo inspires me.
It sounds like you’re always cooking then, so have you started on album four?
Yeah, I haven’t recorded it with a producer yet. But I’m writing all the time. I probably have an album’s worth of songs – make hay while the sun is shining! Is it quite different again? Yeah, I finished ‘Bunny’ over a year ago now, but you have all that time in between. I’ve definitely written five or six songs that sound more like the ones on ‘Bunny’. But going back to what we said earlier, it probably will be a bit different because I can’t escape myself too greatly. ■
Taken from the September 2023 edition of Dork. Willie J Healey’s album ‘Bunny’ is out 25th August.
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