Oxford singer songwriter Willie J Healey, 22, is as much a movie character as he is a man, with an unmistakable orange barnet and a whimsical take on life in both conversation and song. Released through Columbia Records his 2017 debut ‘People and Their Dogs’ is a diverse affair that jumps from jaunty highs to sultry lows and fills the gaps with crackling slacker-rock. As the year drew to a close, we met for a natter about the joy of living life in analogue.
WHAT IS THE MUSIC THAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?
I like lots of things. I like Modest Mouse, but then I like Neil Young. I haven’t gone as far as Def Leppard but you never know. I don’t like The Smiths yet – I will someday but it just hasn’t hit me. I had that with ‘Pet Sounds’ by the Beach Boys where I didn’t like it for a while and then all of a sudden… I just started crying. I knew that Brian Wilson was the only guy that could fill the hole. Mostly 70s ‘Dad rock’ is what I really get off on, but there’s lots of new stuff I really like too, like Nick Hakim, The Lemon Twigs, Drugdealer. All those American bands.
YOUR SOUND HAS A VERY ANALOGUE QUALITY TO IT, LIKE A LOT OF THOSE BANDS. IS THAT ASPECT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Yeah, I love songwriting and performing but I love the recording side too. If you listen to a band like Stereophonics where everything sounds huge it’s great, but I tend to gravitate towards things that are more subtle and soft. And people like Mac Demarco have paved the way for lots of new bands who are ‘lo-fi’ and doing it yourself. He was a big inspiration for me when I first started recording.
THERE ARE A TON OF REFERENCES TO BEING IN BED ON YOUR ALBUM – ON THE COVER, IN THE LYRICS, THE SONG TITLES… DO YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN BED?
I spend a lot of time trying to get out of bed. When I was making the album it was a bit of, not a vicious cycle, more of a beautiful cycle but one that lasted for maybe too long where I would stay up recording all night and get into bed at 6am, and then wake up at 12, and be like “Where am I? This is horrible but I’m really into the music that I’m doing”. I was doing the same thing over and over again. Garage. Bedroom. Garage. Bedroom. So, I guess I was like, let’s find something interesting to say about this.
WHAT’S YOUR BEDROOM LIKE?
I’ve got a single bed because unless you’ve got a really big room, I don’t think it can be done with a double. You need floor space. Amp space. I’ve got a little garage too which is for rock… loud… because it’s a bit soundproof. The bedroom space is for acoustic. Things tend to start in the bedroom and migrate across. But sometimes I like to start in the garage. On the album a song like ‘Love Her’, garage. ‘Marie’s Balcony’, bedroom. I still live with my parents so I can’t really make that much noise in the bedroom.
‘PEOPLE AND THEIR DOGS’ IS THE TITLE TRACK OF THE RECORD. WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THAT SONG YOU LIKED ENOUGH TO NAME THE ALBUM AFTER IT?
[Choosing the album title] took me a while. I feel like some people have a list of names to pick from for an album and I didn’t, really. I didn’t want it to be a song title when I first started, I quite like when it’s something else, when people think a little bit more about it. I think I called it ‘People and Their Dogs’ because it’s a really small moment in the song, not like a chorus that repeats. I thought it sounded cool to name an album after just one line.
YOU PUT OUT A ZINE FULL OF PHOTOS WITH SOME PHYSICAL COPIES OF THE ALBUM. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
This lovely lady at Columbia called Netti Hurley put together a list of creative peeps and asked if they had any photos of people or dogs or both, and they all sent photos in. It was a big collaborative thing. It felt fun as an artist to do because you want to get as much out of this idea or concept as you can. And I love it when you buy an album on vinyl and it’s got a big booklet. Long live the zine.
YOUR MUSIC VIDEOS ARE OFTEN VERY FUNNY, THANKS TO A VERY ENIGMATIC CHARACTER WHO APPEARS IN A FEW OF THEM. WHO IS HE?
That savvy guy is called Ray. He’s a friend of the director Joseph Bird who did those videos. And Ray plays Geoffrey Goddall. I don’t know where he got the character from, but the way it happened was just really organic. He was just kind of riffing it, basically. He got on camera and talked a bit of rubbish for a while and had us all in stitches.
HE PROPERLY NAILS IT IN THE VIDEO FOR THE TITLE TRACK
He does. He didn’t know the solo but he looks better than anyone in terms of the way he moves. He’s playing the wrong notes and it still looks right so good on you, Ray.
YOU’VE SAID BEFORE THAT CINEMA INFLUENCES YOU LOTS AS AN ARTIST. WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO BE PLAYED BY IN A FILM?
Julia Roberts. She’s just the best. You know when she cries and she gets a little puddle on her top lip? That would be me. She would be me. “What do you mean my guitar sounds rubbish?” Pool.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT MAKING A MOVIE SOUNDTRACK?
If I had the chance I would love to but I’d have to work at it, because I tend to focus on lyrics and melody with guitar stuff. I would more love to write a song for a moment in a film, I think that would be something I could definitely do.
WHAT KIND OF MOMENT WOULD IT BE?
It would be this guy. His car’s just broken down, he’s got a bad foot, he’s having a bad hair day… and then he sees this other guy that he fancies the shit out of. And then my song comes in. They don’t run to each other because he’s got a bad foot and he doesn’t want to mess his hair up even more. But he’s seen him. That would be the moment, that kind of situation. Or maybe just someone having a really bad day. I think I could write a song for that and mean it.
BESIDES MAYBE A MOVIE SOUNDTRACK, WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU GOT PLANNED FOR 2018?
It’s hard to predict because a lot of stuff is unknown for me too. I’ve got another album written, basically. I just have to work out whether I’d like to record it in a different way. Hopefully this year there’ll be an EP and an album and some shows and some more videos as well! We’ll see some more from Ray. That’s what I’d like to do.
People and Their Dogs is out now.