[Images courtesy of willvarley.com]
TSOTA chats to folk singer Will Varley, a stalwart of the Acoustic/Folk scene since his early teens ahead of his spring tour which included a recent gig at Oporto Leeds on May 5th…
TSOTA: Hi Will, sorry to disrupt your tea time. I’ve been listening to your music a lot recently. I went away at Easter so you were the chilled soundtrack to my holiday!
WV: Oh nice! Glad I was a part of it!
TSOTA: So first off I was wondering when your artistry actually began – have you played your whole life or is it a project that began over recent years?
WV: All my life really – I started writing songs when I was a kid, I was about 7. Then I started playing acoustic folk nights and open mics at about 13. I used to take a fake ID. In fact in one of the bars I used to play at, when I actually turned 18 I went in with my valid ID, the owner’s face was priceless.
TSOTA: I would be surprised if a 13 year old could grow a beard like yours! I was wondering if you could give any advice to someone who writes their own songs and performs in a similar manner to you. I know you grew from the folk scene but what was it that really set the ball rolling for you?
WV: Well I started when I was 13, and I’m 28 now, so it’s been 15 years of sticking with it. I guess when you’re a kid you think that every time you gig someone will sign you and that’ll be it but it doesn’t work like that really.
I guess when it really got going for me was setting up Smugglers Records. It was the point when it turned from just playing for the sake of it to thinking ‘I’m gonna actually create some music and sell some records’.
TSOTA: Great stuff. Can I ask, how do you go about writing your songs – what’s your process? Your songs seem very lyrical – do you start with the lyrics first?
WV: I wish I knew the answer to that question. I’ve just finished writing the new album and there’s been no definite process. I’ve always written songs. I guess I find it difficult not to write songs when I feel passionately about something. I suppose you’re right, words are what I like working with the most.
TSOTA: I love the storytelling element to your songs. If you had to define yourself as one thing, a vocalist a writer or a guitarist which would it be?
WV: (Laughing) I’d call myself a waster and a drunk – if I was a bit more organised I’d write another book.
TSOTA: You’ve written a book!?
WV: Yeah, ‘Sketch Of A Last Day,’ I wouldn’t particularly advise it but then again I wouldn’t advise my albums either.
TSOTA: Don’t be modest! People clearly love your albums. I’ve got a big interest in words too.
WV: Words are really great, I think the trick is to convey everything you want to say in a small number of words.
TSOTA: Some of your songs like ‘Monkey on a rock’ or ‘The self checkout shuffle’ and ‘I got this email’ are really funny, and some like ‘King for a King’ or ‘When You’re Gone’ are more heartfelt. Is this an intentional shift of tone?
WV: When I was a 15 year old with my fake ID all my songs were extremely serious – I wrote about suicide bombers and the apocalypse. Now, I’ve realised you only enjoy the darker bits if there’s some light too, whether it’s put there with humour or not.
Basically the job of being a writer is to give the audience the shared experience. Who wants to see a complete misery perform on a Saturday night?
TSOTA: That’s true, people like to know they’re going to have a laugh. Where were you when you thought of the Self Checkout Shuffle? I have this image of you in the supermarket frowning at the self checkouts”
WV: I actually came up with the majority of the song while shopping in Sainsbury’s. I just find the idea of self checkouts really interesting – they’re replacing human beings, I mean, it’s just odd – and is it what we want? Funnily enough I was in Sainsbury’s again the other day and the attendant came up to me while I was on the self checkout and said ‘we’re watching you Will Varley’.
TSTOTA: That’s great. Did the rambling tour across the south of England influence any songs?
WV: I reckon it had a huge effect on my songwriting, perhaps not instantly but over time. There was the idea that if you keep walking eventually you’re gonna get there, which is kinda the same with songwriting.
TSOTA: Did any of your songs take you forever to write?
WV: Weddings and wars took me over a year. Also a song on the new album called ‘The man who fell to earth’ is a story about an immigrant who fell out of a plane a couple of years ago, the song’s based on a true story and it’s taken me a year and a half to finish properly. There were a lot of drafts!
TSOTA: Sounds really interesting, look forward to hearing it. I see you’re gigging here there and everywhere at the moment and have a UK Spring tour coming up, fancy telling me about that?
WV: Well it’s in May across the whole of Scotland to Brighton & everywhere in between!
TSOTA: Best of luck with that! I think people latch on to the fact that you seem to be telling the truth, listening to some of your songs is almost like having a chat with a mate.
WV: Ah that’s really nice of you, thank you
TSOTA: Anything you feel particularly passionate about at the moment that has sparked a song?
WV: The new live EP ‘Live At The Lighthouse’ has a mixture of old and new songs, but there is a new one on there about the election. I know it sounds strange but I’m fascinated by quantum physics, I just can’t really get my head around it so I think I’ll write a song about that next.
TSOTA: Hey, I don’t see anyone else writing about that! I’ll be sure to get a copy! When is it to be released?
WV: It will be released digitally on May 4th by Xtra Mile Recordings.
TSOTA: Fab. Would you say you have loyal fan-base and see the same faces at your gigs a lot?
WV: Oh yeah, I’ve been playing a long time so there are faces that I’ve been seeing for 30 years.
TSOTA: ‘Weddings and wars’ has really clever lyrics and what great idea for a tune, I noticed you have the same backing vocalist on this track as King for a King?
WV: You’re right, Nicola Vella, beautiful voice – she’s the singer in Cocos Lovers, a great band working with Smugglers Records. Check them out!
TSOTA: Will do! Do you have any old songs that you abandoned? Or songs that you occasionally blow the cobwebs off and perform for fun?
WV: I’ve written hundreds of songs, each album I release I generally start by pulling a couple from ‘the dungeon’ and going from there.
TSOTA: How long have you been working on the new album? Are there any songs we should particularly look out for?
WV: The next album to be released took me about two years. Not none stop though, there were gaps!
TSOTA: Lastly, are there any venues near or in Leeds that stood out as particularly intimate or fun to play?
WV: I recently played the Brudenell Social Club which was amazing, what a venue. There’s lots of nice café’s in Leeds to play at if you’re an acoustic act.