The Oxfordshire singer recently released his latest EP '666 Kill'
Death, devils, consistent misery – speed-writing can be something of a musical Rorschach test. At his leisure, writing his 2017 debut album while gazing out of his window, Willie J Healey watched dog-walkers playing with their pets on the fields outside and named the record ‘People And Their Dogs’ in honour of the gentle bond between man and dumbass twig chaser. “It’s a good relationship which can often be straight down the line, which I like,” he says. “They generally don’t seem to be thinking of much else apart from playing with their dog, which I think is really sweet.”
Setting himself the task to finish a follow-up EP inside a week, writing the lyrics of a song in the morning and completing the track that day, unlocked the cobwebbed, haunted attic of Willie’s subconscious though. Suddenly, here was the Grim Reaper inhabiting ‘Learn Toulouse’ (“He just shows up in the corner of my room, this uncontrollable in-coming doom that we all face – he’s just looking over us all I guess”) and Satan breaking into his house to show him his own death in the title track ‘666 Kill’. Are you secretly terrified that Belzebub wants your Xbox, Willie?
“When I was writing the lyrics I found it quite a scary subject and the pictures it painted in my mind were quite horrific,” he admits. “But I wouldn’t say I’m devil-fearing. If I really feared the devil I wouldn’t put it in a song. Generally I’ve kept things pretty light in songs, I write about films and stuff like that, and I found it quite interesting to write about things that, to me at least, would be a bit shocking. To have such soft songs with heavy lyrics, it seemed like a good combo to me.”
From the sound of the EP – gorgeous, laid back Americana indie with the odd jazz sax dotted about – you wouldn’t peg this childhood Neil Young and Dylan fan as a lyrical Marilyn Manson. But perhaps his latest gothic leanings hark back to his earliest days playing pub gigs around Oxford, when he’d turn up with a funeral limo as his tour van. “I thought it would be a good tour mobile,” he explains. “It wasn’t, so I sold it. The ceiling I too low to get a bass amp in. On paper very good, lots of space, but in reality not that much space. When I pulled up at gigs they probably thought I was the undertaker or something. I don’t think I turned any heads.”
He turned enough to bag support slots with the likes of Hinds and Summer Camp though, and caught the ear of Columbia records, who released several EPs on subsidiary labels ahead of the home-made ‘People And Their Dogs’. Critics immediately picked up on his kinship with Elliott Smith and Mac Demarco (“the godfather of home-made music”), but this critic’s ears were drawn to the oddball lyricism of tracks such as ‘Grays’, about the fear of being abducted by aliens.
“It’s less about being abducted and more about wondering if people would really notice if you were abducted, if people would even really care,” Willie explains. “I’m not afraid of it anymore. Maybe I was at the time. I’d welcome it, if I’m honest. It’d be a good time. I could regret that though, I’ll let you know how it goes. If I can still talk.”
If he ever was whisked off to LV-426, more and more people would miss him. Jamie T is a fan and recent collaborator and Willie is currently on tour with Slaves (“the craziest it’s got so far is the forty-minute game of chess me and Laurie shared”), ahead of his own debut headline tour in 2019. That’s if he lives that long, judging by the daredevil recent video for ‘Lovelawn’. Although, from his casual demeanour, the death the devil showed him clearly wasn’t being crushed beneath the wheels of a demolition derby car doing donuts.
“I thought it’d be really funny to slow it down and have a car doing donuts around me for three minutes,” Willie chuckles. “I’d like to say there was a lot of thought that went into it but there really wasn’t. It was just fun and quite scary. The thing that doesn’t show up that well in the video is the giant evil grin of the guy doing the donuts as he edges closer to my double denim set-up.”
Perhaps the devil doesn’t ride a dark horse after all. Perhaps he drives a badly painted wreckmobile…