Deadheading got to talk to William Doyle of East India Youth before his first show in Belfast about playing his last “Culture of Volume” shows, Brian Eno, and gardening.
DH: What’s your favourite song to play live?
WD: “Hinterland”, probably. It’s a bit obvious, maybe, but it’s like the dance peak of the set, and I’ve worked out a way to play it that it’s kind of different every time. It’s a very malleable thing- some of the songs are a bit more rigid, and that’s fine, but with “Hinterland” I’ve gotten to that point of the set where I can just let go and sort of enjoy it, I think it makes a big difference, so that’s always going to be my favourite to play. It really gets the blood pumping, so yeah.
DH: Are you sick of playing “Culture of Volume” yet, and do you find that having to continually engage with each song has changed how you perceive them?
WD: I am, yeah. It’s been so long now; the first album came out the year before last, and it was about a year before “Culture of Volume” came out, so it’s just been non-stop touring. I’m not bored or sick of it, I’m just having to invent new ways to make it interesting again, I think, and it’s getting harder and harder as the tour sort of winds down. I’ve been doing this version of the set for a year, like what with the gear and stuff I’ve got on stage, so it’s time for a change, but it’s a bit late in the day to bring in a massive C change now.
I was sound checking some of my old songs that I haven’t played for a while today, but it didn’t feel right. There’s always a mixture of the two records, but I was going to play the “Total Strife Forever”, the sweeps, the instrumental strings, but it’s not quite where I thought it was. I haven’t played it in a year and a half, maybe, so I’m a little bit rusty with it, but I’m quite keen to bring back that part of what I do, just offset the pop moments with something that bit more abrasive.
I just think that the pop thing hasn’t worked out as well as they thought it would. I love pop music, and I always think there will be a melodic focus to what I’m doing, and I just thought after working on things that would become “Culture of Volume”, it was like, oh, it seems like it’s becoming more of a vocal-led album and it’s more pop-focused, but the longevity hasn’t really been there with the material in quite the same way.
In terms of how I feel about the material, I feel there’s some moments of “Culture of Volume” that I love, and there’s other moments that really aren’t doing it for me any more. Like “Beaming White”, it just seems like this empty shell of a song to me. I think that one was the main pop experiment, and I wanted to do a Pet Shop Boys sort of thing, and I think it worked, but what it’s loosely about doesn’t really hold much of my interest now.
With “Culture of Volume”, I don’t really feel like the person that made that album any more, even though the period during making “Total Strife Forever” was much weirder and more emotionally ridiculous, I feel like it’s closer to my intentions generally. The thing is, the idea that every statement you make artistically is this definitive thing that you have to stand by forever is kind of crazy, you know, your feelings develop, so I might feel differently about that.
I went through a bit of a rut with “Total Strife Forever” for a while, and I guess your opinions change and playing things live over and over again, they develop in different ways. I’m all about having a relationship with the songs; they’re not just this passive blob of a thing.
Maybe not with “Culture of Volume”, because I think it’s still too new to have that distance from it. “Total Strife Forever” has renewed itself in ways I didn’t think it was going to. There were songs like “Turn Away” that I feel, like, some of the lyrics were things came true after I’d written it, rather than things that happened while I was writing it, which is a bizarre thing to happen, but it happened a couple of times with that album, and maybe that’s why I have this weird emotional relationship with it, because “Total Strife Forever” was all about that moment and what happened prior to it, whereas “Culture of Volume” still feels like it predicted things going forward.
You can’t not draw from personal experience- I don’t write fiction or narrative based stuff, but obviously I don’t really like to ascribe one song as being this particular moment or memory or person or whatever, like they’re influenced by those things, but they’re a bit more abstract in that, I think that’s what I wanted to do. You paint an atmosphere rather than try to capture a specific moment, maybe.
DH: Do you find that you approach writing with more of an ambient sensibility than anything else?
WD: Yeah, for me, it’s all about creating an environment. Eno’s always a good example of someone who’s able to create an environment with what they do. Everything’s interpreted by people, and that’s what it’s there for rather than you forcing a meaning onto someone else, you give them enough tools and they’re able to build this environment themselves, so that’s more exciting to me.
DH: What made you decide to add vocals to “Culture of Volume”?
WD: Playing live, and getting more comfortable with my voice and enjoying that aspect of it, and in the next one too, you know you’re going to end up touring the next thing for a year or however long, and I wanted to convey that a bit more live. It was a challenge as well; I pushed my voice a lot more than I did previously. It’s just grown into this thing that I didn’t really think it would, like I love singing, it’s one of my favourite things to do, so I just wanted to create more opportunities for me to do it, I guess.
DH: What comes first when you write songs, the lyrics or the melody?
WD: Melody, always. I hated putting lyrics to songs before, but I’ve worked out a new way to do it; because I haven’t been able to write too much music on the road, I’ve been writing a lot more poems and stuff like that, and I’ve been training my brain to write things down within that form, and you start to worry less about rhythm and rhyme and stuff like that. The words are more important, so I’ve been writing them first and then fitting them before I’ve even written the rest of the song sometimes. It’s just attacking it from a different side, it’s been so much more enjoyable lately, and the words are so much better at the moment, so that’s good. I’m glad I’ve been able to figure that one out because I really hated writing the lyrics sometimes.
I got most stuck on “Beaming White”, and maybe that’s it, it’s always the easiest songs that flow out of you, like “Heaven How Long” and “Carousel” are my two favourite songs of mine, in terms of everything they give, and they’re the ones that happened the easiest, I suppose.
Things change so much anyway- sometimes the song has been written and then the arrangement changes or maybe it becomes a different style of track, so I don’t know, it’s a fluid thing.
DH: How much do you use oblique strategising as a means of writing?
WD: Not very much. I actually told Eno that I don’t find it that helpful! They’re interesting, and I think as time’s gone on I’ve employed them more than I would have otherwise, but I think they’re things that I memorise, but when you use them in the traditional way and pull them out randomly, I actually don’t find them that helpful then, I find them frustrating, because it’s sometimes like, “Go outside and shut the door.”, and I know it’s meant to promote lateral thinking, but I can’t really interpret that one.
Some of them have made a lot more sense to me over time; at the moment what we do in my house, I stick them on the front porch, and when you open the front door there’s two doors that go into the living room, so we’ve got one on each door at the moment, so we shift them around a bit, and when you come in you think about them , and they’ve helped more in terms of that, but I didn’t use them a lot during “Culture of Volume”.
DH: You met Brian Eno. How did you find that experience?
WD: It doesn’t really get much better than that for me. In terms of people, I think I’ve learnt more from him than from any other artist, you know, from reading their interviews and getting into their music and stuff like that, so that was kind of it for me, but then again, it’s always the people that you don’t expect to have an impact on you that do.
DH: I hadn’t realised that you play everything yourself during live shows. Do you find it liberating or frustrating to be the only one on stage?
WD: The more into it you get, the more you forget that you’re the only person up there. It depends how well the show is going really, if the crowd are into it then I find myself in my own space, and it doesn’t make much difference that there aren’t any other people up there. There’s a lot to do, but you get used to it. It took some time initially, especially with the set up that we’ve got now- I think we debuted this set up this time last year, so we’ve just been doing that, but at that point it was like, “There’s so much to do, there’s drum bits here, and bass guitar!”- but now it’s more like second nature, and I enjoy it a bit more, but I think it’s always important to keep changing it up. The next record will be a different thing; there might be other musicians as well, but I think that’s going to take a long time to come together, as I haven’t formed a super group in my head yet, so we’ll see how it goes.
DH: What are you planning to do with your time off?
WD: Carry on working actually, but just not touring. I’m setting up some collaborations at the moment, writing with other people, trying to do bits and pieces like that, but I’m doing all the visuals myself for the next project, so it’s going to take a while, because I’m out of my depth with that stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing with it, so I’m taking a year to do it, so yeah, maybe I’ll actually go on a holiday or something like that, but that seems like a weird idea- it’d be nice to go somewhere on holiday rather than go there to play a gig.
DH: You were previously a member of “Doyle and the Fourfathers”. Do you miss being in a band?
WD: No. I mean, I miss the guys, but I don’t miss being in that band. I miss playing with other musicians regularly, like that is an exciting thing to do, and it’s a shame that I haven’t been able to work that into what I do now, but it’s a necessity really. Like I say, hopefully I will be doing more of that. But no, I think the problem with that band is, and any band you’re in your teens, it was like, “We’re going to get signed!”, and all that, and there’s an aspiration to do those things, which is great, because that keeps you going, but also you miss the point as to what’s enjoyable.
If I was to do something like that now, it would have to be more of a non-committal thing, and I’d have to enjoy doing it, because I just stopped enjoying being in a band, but I do miss playing with people. With that band, I was 18 or 19, and it was all ego- like you don’t realise it at the time, but when you grow up you realise how stupid you might have been at some points, but I’m over that now.
DH: What was the first song that you ever learnt to play?
WD: I started off on violin actually, because it was available to learn at school. I guess it gave me that basic knowledge of frets to transfer onto guitar. I couldn’t play it now, but I think it was Scarborough Fair (on the violin), but the first song that I learnt on guitar was probably Green Day or something.
DH: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music professionally?
WD: A gardener. Some friends asked me this recently, because it was part of a conversation that we were having, so I don’t know, there’s something similar between cultivating something and trying to put beautiful things out into the world, which is what I think you’re always trying to do with making art, but there’s less judgement with gardening- like, no one’s going to have a go at you on Twitter, or at least if they did, you’d have to respect them for it.
DH: Do you find that using software helps or inhibits the creative process?
WD: Helps, but only because I’m used to it. I’ve been playing with it for like ten years now, since I was fourteen or fifteen, I just had some software and didn’t really know what I was doing, so I started off with and still love Cubase. It’s through necessity that you learn it, so I now find it easy to translate ideas into reality using software. I’m not really a hardware or gear person, like I don’t own any synthesisers really and I’m not interested in doing it. Ryan (Vail) was talking to me about the gear that he’s got set up on stage, and I’m like, “It looks cool to do me, and this can do some cool stuff!”, but I’m just not really interested in it. I don’t even consider myself as an electronic musician really, I think of myself as a songwriter, I suppose, and I’ve used electronic music as the vehicle for that.
DH: When did you first get into electronic music?
WD: Just through playing with software and stuff, really, I just happened upon electronic sounds. I didn’t really listen to electronic music at the time- maybe it was Beck or someone like that, or the idea of all that overlay and sampling and stuff like that, it came more through that. I mean “(Midnite) Vultures” is quite an electronic record in itself as well, and “The Information” was too, but there wasn’t a particular moment. I mean, I’ve had plenty of epiphanies with it, but I don’t think of it as being electronic music always, because I don’t really think of Eno as being wholly electronic- he’s an artist who uses synthesis and stuff, but I don’t think of it as being electronic. I think we’re able to use software in a way to build error into things now, and that gives it this human quality. I think building that into it is important to do always, because it creates interesting, unpredictable moments, and that’s what leads you to conclusions, and that’s what makes things sound human when you’re dealing with electronic music and synthesis and software.
DH: What’s been the most frustrating aspect of being a musician professionally?
WD: Touring. I enjoy it, and you make it work for you, definitely, but I’ve found it frustrating in the last year or so that I haven’t been able to write or create on the road, and like, you fly into somewhere the day before the show, you play the show, and you fly back out afterwards, and it takes you three days to do one gig, and I can’t do any other work, and you barely see any of the places that you go to.
I don’t like to be moaning, because I do get to go to such incredible places and meet brilliant people and play to wonderful audiences, and that’s the best part of it, but sometimes the more tedious parts do start to outweigh all that. But it’s just another creative challenge to be able to solve, “How can you make this interesting for yourself?”, so we just try to go and see as much as we can whenever we can, eat interesting food and try interesting beers and whatever. We’ve had an amazing time the last three years, touring together, but it’s just that the touring doesn’t always agree with what I want to do creatively.
DH: What are you listening to at the minute?
WD: I had a good listen to “Blackstar” today. It’s really good, it’s brilliant. It’s a shame that he didn’t release more weird stuff like that until the end, because it had so much to offer, it’s a really strange album. Like “The Next Day” had some weird parts, but it was straightforward, and this has atonal sax solos, and the phrasing of the vocal is completely off from what’s happening in the rhythm section, but it’s just a really dense and beautiful thing, and it feels like a shame that he wasn’t doing more of that. No one’s made a record that sounds like that.
So that mainly, at the moment going back to an album called “Quarantine” by Laurel Halo, she’s amazing, she’s one of the best, and that album especially has been one of the most important records for me the last few years, so I gave it a bit of a break, but it’s an amazing record, and it’s got one of the best album covers that I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a weird record, but it’s incredible.
DH:Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
WD: Eh, no. Don’t think so!
You can buy Culture of Volume at http://eastindiayouth.co.uk/ and catch East India Youth’s last Irish performance until 2017 at the Button Factory in Dublin.