Willie J Healey has an addiction.
It’s all he can think about, all he can do, and when I catch him still half asleep on a midday lunchtime, it’s mainly all he can talk about.
His addiction is writing songs.
“I’m generally a pretty happy person but I’ve found that when I do get a bit angry about something, it’s something that I tend to do – write songs about it for a while.” Willie starts, and his tone is upbeat but not at all overpowering. He answers my questions in a wholesome manner, often stopping to think before speaking, and asking questions back. We end up talking about 500 Days of Summer for a while as a result, but decide that everybody has time for anything that involves The Smiths and Zooey Deschanel. I quickly discover that songwriting is as much of his DNA as his mop of red curls. “Maybe it’s like therapy. I have to admit, I’m a bit sort of addicted to it now. I think I’ve done it for a few years and I really enjoy it, so when I don’t do it I don’t really know what to do anymore.”
His debut album, People and Their Dogs, was released a few months back and captured the hearts of many. It’s a collection of songs that give insight into the world of a twenty-something year old’s mind; from fancying his best friend’s sister to faking reading Thrasher mag, just to justify his skater shoes. Delightfully lo-fi with surf rock riffs and a soothing vocal, the songs are strangely nostalgic for a time that we’re all experiencing. Willie switches from pining and pleading to embracing a raucous and feral side, it’s a pick n mix of many sides of his personality. “I’m a lot quieter than I am in my music. It’s fun because you can kind of do what you want.” he explains. Latest single, ‘We Should Hang’ takes every string of every hormone induced emotion in its tender opening, mounting to a shouting drum outburst.
Talking about the whirlwind of the record, Willie says; “I like that – it’s something that I enjoy about playing it. One minute it’s really slow and then the next minute I’m like screaming at you.
“There’s a lot of me in there I think. I hope there is anyway. It feels like there is. I think some of the loud ones can be from when you know when you’re a bit frustrated and sitting around a lot? Maybe some people go and see their friends and they go out and have a beer, but I just kind of wrote songs about it instead.”
The country-esque, slow burning ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’ tells the story of Willie waking up, shaving, and cutting his face. Bleeding and colouring the water pink, he feels the room begin to spin and finds himself in a dreamlike state walking down the stairs and into the kitchen… It’s a story that lasts over three minutes and though nothing really happens, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. “I live in a slow town. It’s just me trying to get creative when I get bored.” Willie laughs and tells me how his ideal world would be like Whoville with extra songs. But in all seriousness, it suddenly makes sense that the song ending is Willie urgently begging for a phonecall. “I’m still there, it’s me now. All of the songs were written in a clump apart from two or three that were on an earlier EP. It’s a time and a place, and that time was writing a lot. I was a bit confused trying to work out how to record and putting all of my energy into the album but not really knowing what I was going for. It was a bit confused.”
A Willie J Healey song is probably best distinguished by its lyrics. They’re cool and pure, plucked straight from the mind and written down. Referencing Pamela Anderson’s swim suits, and best friends touching tongues, they’re observant of the everyday. “I think that it maybe happens when you’re trying to write songs all the time. You start to look at things more.” The result, is anti-romantic, in the best possible way. They’re as soft as a first kiss, and often match in awkwardness. His love songs are bittersweet but charming.
Talking about lyrics, he says; “I think it’s healthy to get things out there and not be too precious about things. It can be really easy to fall into that trap of holding things back.”
But this is a side effect of his addiction, as Willie explains that he’s most observant when watching films. “I don’t enjoy films as much as I could because I write notes on it all the time. It’s annoying, and it must be annoying for everybody with me! I point out like good lines so it’s like a positive thing.”
Willie is growing quite the rep in the world of slacker pop. Perhaps it’s down to the opening line of the stomping ‘Greys’; “Wake up in the morning feeling tired as hell” or the fact that he has a song called ‘Sleep All Day.’
“I don’t get the slacker thing – it’s a cool title. For me it means that the music is laid back and the recordings are a bit lo-fi and it sounds like it’s been done quickly and easily but I’ll happily take that title.” he says, before lusting over Mac Demarco for a while. “But I wouldn’t say I’m a slacker, no. I would much rather that people think that the music is something that comes easy rather than something that I’ve spent a lot of time on and that I’m really precious about. I’d much rather people enjoy it for what it is.
“It’s not like I woke up one day and did a full album and then went back to bed.”
It’s been a crazy year of learning “loads about music and putting things out and how it works, the boring side of it” and that you can’t squeeze six people into a four man Travelodge room, “they’re quite tough on it.” Hint, Willie: just have a few confidently get into the lift like they’ve already checked in, and have one or two of you go to the front desk. But above all, Willie J Healey has learnt that he feels good about himself.
“Lots of people tend to say when you finish your first album it’s like when you move on it’s the dreaded second album and there’s a negative stigma thing around it. It freaks people out, but I haven’t been freaked out at all, I’ve just been writing songs and just really enjoying doing it.”
Willie J Healey is an ideal person to spend your lunch break with. He’s as friendly as his track imply, whilst maintaining a cheeky lil edge. The good thing is, he’s as good as promised that we aren’t going to have to wait very long for any more material.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan