Billy Edwards has a chat to a fella from smalltown Oxfordshire whose vintage-sounding musical combo of pop, funk and soul is taking him places – most immediately Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival, where he kicks off his UK tour.
Oxfordshire musician Willie J Healey will be kicking off his autumn tour at Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival on the back of his third and most adventurous album, Bunny [reviewed by Buzz here]. A departure along the vintage wavelength from uptempo melodic pop to Sly Stone-inspired sensual funk, it’s immensely personal. Healey is certainly relishing delving into the genre, but does he view his music as inherently soulful?
“I think so – swings and roundabouts – and I have my moments, but I think my music is pretty connected to my feelings. They have a big part to play. My music is a way for me to work through those feelings, which I guess gives it some sort of soul.”
Healey’s had a busy summer as the special guest of superstars, touring with both Arctic Monkeys and Florence And The Machine across Europe – a “wicked” experience. “They were mostly firsts, having two giant tours to find yourself on!” It appears the tours bolstered within Healey a strong foundation of self-belief to take on huge fearsome crowds.
“Overall, it was a really dreamy experience, one we learned a lot from as a band. There’s so much to appreciate about groups on that level. Being thrust into that situation really brought to the surface who I am and what I do.”
You may have also seen Healey support Jamie T – a close friend who generously gifted a special drum machine. The instrument shaped Bunny’s direction towards funk, something he’d always enjoyed but never tried to create himself. He seems amazed he never thought of it before.
“It’s funny that something so simple can have such an effect. That really opened a lot of doors for me creatively. The thing I loved most about the machine was that it solved the problem that slows me down the most—the drums! It allowed me to have a cool beat that I didn’t have to think about, and I could just press ‘go’ on.”
Healey has been pressing the same button on his resourceful attitude towards his work. Our conversation is permeated by his sheer determination and self-confidence: “Just going with what I like and trusting myself”. He feels well aware of the dangers of falling into creative placidity. “It’s easy to forget, and this might sound slightly frivolous, but when you’re a musician, sometimes people mother you. I’m not 18 now – I’m nearly 30. It’s a great luxury to get to that point and to know what you want to do. That’s happened on this album.”
He’s evidently proud of his achievements across Bunny and hopes that the same feeling of mature self-assurance transfers to audience reactions when performed live. “It goes without saying that I want to have a good fanbase that comes to shows. I want more people to hear my music – I would love for it to be in films.”
Willie’s songs have cinematic qualities, from the sunny sentiment of Dreams to the unabashed energy of Woke Up Smiling. I pressed further, wondering what they could soundtrack. “I think, when I’ve dreamed about it, I’ve pictured it within a heartbreak moment. Or a moment of great enlightenment!”
With so much belief in the album as an intentional statement of identity, it was no surprise that Healey was excited by the LP edition of Bunny: sumptuous pink-coloured and translucent versions are available to avid collectors. “It’s the holy grail. We were always thinking about tracklisting. One of the first things I did when I got a test pressing was just sit and listen to it with my parents. That’s the fun bit for me. It’s finally here!”
Willie J Healey plays Sŵn Festival, Cardiff, Sat 21 Oct.
Tickets: £80 weekend; £20 Fri 20; £40 Sat 21; £30 Sun 22; £55 Fri 20 + Sat 21; £65 Sat 21 + Sun 22. Info: here
words BILLY EDWARDS