Interview by Andy Inglis
William Doyle is a musician and artist currently residing in Brighton, England. He has performed extensively and internationally for his entire adult life, releasing two albums under the name East India Youth, the first of which (TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER) was nominated for the 2014 Mercury Music Prize, and the second released on XL Recordings (CULTURE OF VOLUME). Since retiring the East India Youth project, William has been writing his next album, to be released under his own name in 2018, devoting time to collaborative art projects, original compositions for TV and film adverts, and writing for The Quietus and i-D Magazine.
AD: You’ve been spending time in recent months writing your third album, and also writing music for adverts. Which is necessary, which is liberating and which is fun?
WD: Both are all three. The album I’ve been making is one of my most significant works in terms of its breadth of concept and musical ideas. It’s also really important to me personally and emotionally. It’s been a long and at times arduous road, but has also been incredibly rewarding and enjoyable to see how far I could push myself. Artistically, it’s about as liberated as I’ve ever felt. At the same time, limitations and structure are things I find equally as inspiring. I love working to briefs and having deadlines. Working to fit someone else’s idea provides an excellent contrast between the wild and feral nature in the freedom your own work. I’ve found it’s also made me a better editor. Establishing frameworks and limitations within my own practice to achieve my artistic goals. Mind you, there’s a solid four minutes of drone at the end of one of my new songs so maybe I’m overstating that a bit.
AD: How do you define success for you?
WD: Being able to spend as much time as I have making music mostly uninterrupted. That I’ve been able to spend the last three years making an album without many distractions means that I’ve been able to contrive an almost ideal situation for myself. I kind of just want to keep doing that, and maybe pay myself a bit more money than I currently do at some point.
AD: You’ll be at Sørveiv to talk (among other things) about ‘Content Farming’, which is a phrase I first heard when you used it in an article with i-D magazine around the mental and physical health of musicians. Can you explain what you mean, and give some advice to new artists who may not know what to expect as their profile rises?
WD: During the record release cycle there’s a lot of expectation that you need to give more of yourself than is necessary. Your art, and all this further media you’re encouraged to generate – videos, photos, tweets, posts – has to permeate people’s newsfeeds in strategic bursts and fill the space created by the thousands of publications that exist, all who want exclusive content from you. I think what I meant at the time was that this demand is kind of unreasonable, and while each artist will have a choice of how much they want to engage with this side of things, there’s generally an encouragement that it’s all good for your streaming numbers, profile, or your ticket sales. To be honest, while the phrase is a catchy one, it’s really only a subheading in a long list of bullshit.
AD: You’re also speaking at this year’s Iceland Airwaves ‘Nonference’ about artists’ mental and physical health. Can you speak a little about your frustrations in this regard?
WD: I think it’s less frustration than it is absolute bewilderment. I just don’t see how we can continue to perpetuate the structures that are making so many artists ill. How many more need to reschedule – or worse, cancel – their tour dates before we have anyone taking responsibility for the insane obligations at hand? Unfortunately there are some losing battles being fought in this regard. If you look at touring, one of the reasons why it’s done so extensively is not just to do with industry pressure, but financial pressure. It’s basically the only near-surefire way to make regular and decent income. I managed to take as much time off the road as I did because of the inordinate amount of time I spent on it. And we had much lower overheads than even your average band do: I’m a solo artist with a small crew and not much gear.
Do you really need to go and do a second or third month-long US tour because it fits strategically with your campaign? We seem to be obsessed with very macho ideas of ‘progression’, and ‘working markets’ and all that, and it’s those kinds of things I’d like to see change, because it’s that addictive drive to progress – and the lengths you’ll go to to do it – that made me ill, and I know that it has for other people too.
AD: We both recently embarked on a three month European and North American tour with SOHN, and for different reasons (given we had very different roles there), it’s fair to say we had our struggles with it. Can you speak to a couple of yours, and also a couple of the highlights?
WD: It’s good to try to focus on the positives, and to be honest, looking back at it, a lot of the negatives have faded in my mind. For better or worse, the familial ties that strengthen between yourself and the band and crew on tour can be very strong and fulfilling indeed. I remember the night we had a cocktail party on the bus, and you were the host. You even got a bow-tie!¹ Making your signature Old Fashioneds for everyone. Moments like that are really special and make everything a lot nicer, easier to get you through the slog of day in/day out driving, loading in and out, playing etc. I also pushed myself to see a lot of art and really try to make use of my criminally brief time in some of the world’s best and culturally rich cities.
However, on the US tour my mind turned to the ecological impact that our bus was having², and how I multiplied that by all the other bands out there touring at the same time, and all the planes I’ve ever taken in one year for my ridiculous job. It depressed me. We are meant to be artists, socially and environmentally conscious people, but there is relatively very little that we are doing to reduce our impact in this regard. It started to ruin the tour for me quite early on. I realised that the bus was left running all day while no one was even on it, time and time again for over a month.
AD: It’s your second time at Sørveiv Conference. Can you be critical and tell us what you’d like to see this year that we didn’t achieve last year?
WD: It really was the best conference I’ve been to in terms of subjects covered and diversity of participants. The open-floor policy³ ended up working really well, but I feel that it took a bit of time for everyone to get accustomed to it, so going straight in with the big guns of ‘gender equality’ as the first subject covered might not have been the best icebreaker. Once people settled into the format, it was a very fruitful and enlightening discussion. Unfortunately I feel that we’ll probably have another crack at gender equality as a subject this year as it is still a massive issue in our industry.
AD: Anything you’d like to do in Kristiansand this year that you didn’t get the chance to?
WD: Explore beyond the conference centre and the venues.
Eat more waffles.
¹ This is true. I dressed up like a fancy barkeep in a dickie-bow to churn out low-rent cocktails between Munich and somewhere else in Germany, on a moving bus. Here is the photographic evidence
² It was insane. I’ll be addressing this at a talk during the Conference
³ The audience is able to take part in the debate at all times; not wait until the end to fight to ask a question