6.9 Questions With William Doyle of Doyle and The Fourfathers
It’s a short artist, producer or curator interview conducted via e-mail that can either be 6.9 questions answered through a single e-mail exchange or more conversationally through several exchanges, 1 question at a time. I’m having fun with it so far, I hope it’s entertaining and/or informative for you, the reader. I’m also proud that my first interview is with one of my favorite artists, William Doyle. He agreed to the conversational style, thankfully, and here it is…be gentle this is my first.
William Doyle is lead vocalist, songwriter (in his band, along with Ben Clarke-multi-instrumentalist, Michael Goozee-Bass, and Alex Urch-Drums-Percussion), and guitarist/keyboardist. Doyle and the Fourfathers are from Southampton and were formed some time after William’s debut solo work, Born In The USB (my pick for album of the year in 2009). The band’s debut full album release, “Man Made”, was released on Feb 28, 2011 and can be had by mail through Rough Trade(CD or Vinyl) or digitally through 7Digital, iTunes, and Amazon (and soon eMusic). They are touring starting at the end of March, supporting The Undertones through the month of April, followed by some summer festival gigs. Find more info on the tour dates here by clicking “gigs”.
Indie69 – As you know already, I was a big fan of your first release, “Born In The USB“. Looking back at that time, do you recall your expectations for the direction of your music career and musical style being similar to what they are now? Or did you see something different for yourself back then?
William Doyle– I think my expectations were quite drastically different, actually. At the time of making “USB” I didn’t really have a clear musical direction in mind. I was younger and still absorbing lots of essential parts of a healthy musical lexicon (as I am still doing). My understandings of the music business were also virtually non existent back then and so I didn’t really know how to get that album “out there” to the people. Also, because of the heavy studio production involved in making that album, playing it live was impossible considering I didn’t have a band. Or a million keyboards.
I don’t know what I expected from “USB” really. I put it up online for free and just expected it to catch on like wildfire. But I’ve found, only in retrospect, that there’s this immense pressure for artists to tour their music and have a ‘PR person’ and a ‘Radio Plugger’ and a ‘Booking Agent’ nowadays before it actually reaches the public, the airwaves or anyone important. I think this is an outdated model that doesn’t promote creativity as much as it promotes ‘hype’ and ‘buzz’ and other such ghastly words. I’m hoping that will change one day.
After the disappointment of the album not catching on I suppose I saw myself doing a bit of a Brian Eno and scarcely performing my music, just keeping them as studio concoctions. I am still attracted to that idea as I find home recording very enjoyable and creatively liberating. However, I enjoy playing live with my new band now, perhaps more than anything in the world. I had a huge change of methodology a couple of years ago, in which I sat down and actually wrote songs with chords and melodies on an acoustic guitar. Out of those songs, the arrangements allowed for them to be played live and luckily everything seemed to fall into place as far as getting a band together. We are still going from strength to strength now. It’s a cliché, but If I could’ve told the younger me who made “USB” what I would be doing in a couple of years time, I most certainly wouldn’t have believed it.
Indie69 – I think that new methodology has really paid off in the area of songwriting for you. There are some very catchy, strong songs on the new album. Do you now prefer writing songs with Ben and the rest of the band? And do you think working with a songwriting partner has pushed you to be more creative? Or even more productive?
William Doyle – What usually happens is I write the bare bones of a complete song first and then give it to Ben to work on arrangements. I prefer working that way, it makes me feel at ease before I let my ideas loose on the rest of the band. I am more concerned with the melodies, the chords and the lyrics and making sure each of those things is as strong as it can be before Ben’s arrangements embellish them. In that sense, there isn’t really a songwriting partnership at hand there. We’ve written very few whole songs together – although the ones we have done have been successful.
Ben has a great understanding of crafting sound as well as being a proficient multi-instrumentalist. So he thinks about arrangements in a different way than I would. With him working on the arrangements it makes the final sound and texture much more interesting than if I had composed it all, like I did for our first few songs. Our influences merge together better when we work in that way. At the moment I have stems of songs for the next album. I think we may collaborate on arrangements as a whole band next time but I will probably always come up with at least the starting point from which to work from.
Indie69 – Since becoming aware of the controversy surrounding the proposed closure of 6 Music, thanks in part to me catching a clip of your Save 6 Music festival performance, I’ve listened to a lot of 6 Music over the internet. It’s been nice since we have very little radio like that in the states anymore. It seems like any time something good happens in radio anymore (worldwide), eternal vigilance is required. I know radio has been helpful to your band recently. With services like Pandora and Spotify becoming more and more dominant, do you think radio is as important as it used to be, and if so do you think that importance is evolving in some way?
William Doyle – That is a good question. I would start by saying that the only reason 6 music exists (and has survived) is because it’s owned by the BBC, probably the best broadcaster in the world. Due to the unique way it is funded it doesn’t have to succumb to corporate pressure like commercial broadcasters do. Therefore, the BBC has plenty of space in which to do something interesting… and 6 Music may very well be the best thing the BBC has done in recent times. Without it, our band probably wouldn’t be around still. It gave us much needed airplay at the start and we’ve reached a bigger audience through it.
However, the radio world outside of 6 music, at least in terms of playing new alternative music, is quite bleak. Especially as a listener, I feel spoiled by the high quality output of 6 Music. Going to other alternative stations which have a substantially narrower range of music and songs in their playlist and be repeatedly annoyed to death by advertising is disheartening. As an artist, it’s even harder to claw your way into commercial alternative radio’s playlists… So outside of 6 Music, I’m not really sure what role radio plays for my tastes or for my band. I suppose if people hear you on the radio, and they like you, then they will go to your gigs and they will buy your music. So as long as people are listening to the radio, it must remain important? I’m not sure… Getting played on it is a whole other matter and I don’t think that many stations welcome unsigned or under the radar music. Unless you have the financial muscle in which to pay radio pluggers to work your music, what chance do you have of getting on there in the first place? One thing that Radio can do that on demand services like Spotify arguably can’t, is to give some direction into discovering new music. With Radio you have playlists and DJs which can be sometimes useful limitations that get you going in a certain direction… With Spotify you are given free reign, with an incomprehensible amount of music available to you. Which one is better? I haven’t decided that yet. Ask me again in a few years when the state of the industry has had another massive change.
Indie69 – Do you have any plans to reach out to the US in any way through the hundreds of college and non-profit radio stations and various festivals held here yearly such as South By Southwest?
William Doyle – I think it’s certainly on the agenda. We’re trying hard to make a presence in our home country first before we try and “break” others. But those are certainly the routes we’d go down to get some US presence. Getting into the blogosphere seems to be a good way of getting US attention as well, or so it seems. I may have to question the relevance of SXSW though… It’s certainly an amazing event for audiences. But it’d cost a lot to get ourselves over there for no guaranteed exposure. I think it may be more beneficial for you if you already have some established profile.
Indie69 – I think that actually may be the case. Without a built-in audience, at least at SXSW, it would be very easy to sort of disappear into the background after investing a pretty large sum into the trip. Which leads me into another thing I wanted to get your opinion on. You touched on it a bit earlier, but now that you have tried a bittorrent release and a slightly more traditional release, how do you feel now about people file-sharing your works? Have your attitudes changed at all over the last couple of years? For instance, if a fan decided to rip your CD and share it on TPB, would your reaction be more frustration or a kind of “look there, we’ve arrived.. we’re finally pirated!” feeling? (and no, just as an aside, I will not rip your CD and post it, I promise. At this point in time it would seem like something that would hurt rather than help. I’d like to see you guys sell as many CDs and downloads as possible, and hope you’re doing well in that department.) It almost seems to me like there’s this kind of canyon artists have to cross, a limbo of sorts, on one side no-one knows who you are and it makes sense to give it all away just to be heard if you have someone promoting the hell out of you at the same time. On the other side, you’re making a living off the music and the sharing of your music can do nothing but increase recognition and awareness, with an open attitude toward it all being beneficial to your perceived integrity. But in the middle, in that valley,you’re still struggling to pay the rents and the bills, and every sale counts to the hundreds or thousands of fans that are loyal to you. Or do you think maybe it’s even more complicated than that now?
William Doyle – It is most certainly more complicated than that now. I did jokingly mention to someone the other day that getting “torrented” by someone other than yourself is a mark of success in the download age. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this is actually true. I guess it’s because you feel like your product is finally on a level playing field with all of those mainstream artists who have their entire discography available at the click of a button. When you’re at the stage that our band is at in terms of profile, I don’t think you can really justify having a negative attitude towards something that is likely to give you more exposure in the long run. People will download things out of curiosity if you tag it right and give it an intriguing description… After all, is that not how you stumbled upon my solo album?
I don’t make a living off of my music yet. In fact, I find it hard to imagine a time when I actually will. Though I obviously hope that it happens. I tend to be blissfully ignorant about this sort of thing. I am too focused on creating things rather than worrying about what rewards, financial or otherwise, I may be reaping from it. But this time round, with the band, our management is actually paying for everything. Therefore, we have a mild amount of pressure to sell albums so that they can make their money back. Profit, however is on no one’s minds yet (apart from in their dreams). This arrangement doesn’t feel as sterile and cold as some sort of standard business agreement since we are all great friends and are ultimately pushing towards the same thing: our success. At this point though, a month or so after our album release, I personally think that maybe being torrented and available for free so people will hear about us, go to our gigs and perhaps even buy our future records might be more important. We’re not selling loads at the moment anyway, partly because we’re not getting the airplay and promotion we think we should be. But that comes at a price. I don’t think our position is likely to suddenly change, at least not in a noticeable way. This is why we will probably have another album out before too long, as we will then be able to capitalise on our success so far by keeping our content and presence flowing steadily.
There are still issues with the Bittorrent system that I can see though. One is that I don’t think many artists truly understand the platform. There’s a naivety among them that see it as being a positive thing simply because they think that consumers treat downloading as a “try before buy” type situation. But as someone who used to download music from torrent websites on a very, very regular basis, I can safely say that this is – more often than not – complete rubbish. Why pay for something if you can have it for free? It’s really easy for someone to download something with the intention of buying it if they like it. But people are lazy. You’ve already got the product on your hard drive. Why go out of your way to buy it now? For a while, it may have been justified because the price of CDs was (and still is) absolutely insane. You had to pay a lot for music that was not of great quality. But now there are alternatives, especially (and exclusively) for independent artists. I have been out of the Torrent scene for what feels like a long time now, though there are many, many things that I totally support about it. I wonder, has anyone yet developed a way that might benefit the independent artist that wants to make money from their releases using this technology? Or does the technology exist purely for the freedom of the content? At the moment, I don’t see what torrents can offer artists, other than more or less accidental exposure, when competing with websites like Bandcamp. Bandcamp seems to be the fitting alternative at the moment. They have a range of downloadable formats (MP3, FLAC etc.), offer a way to get a physical copy and also act as a fully functioning website (like MySpace used to back in the day). They also let you do a Radiohead style “pay what you want” system, which I think – if 100% of the money is going direct to the artist (which bandcamp claims it does) – is excellent. The music buying experience will feel much more organic and moral to the consumer if done in that way. I can vouch for that feeling of satisfaction, having purchased music off of there recently. But so far, it seems only unsigned bands are jumping on the bandcamp bandwagon. Not that unsigned means the same thing anymore. It evokes images of amateurism and a lack of professionalism. For some artists it is merely a fact. The music world is being increasingly less label dominated and so now is the time we must really ask ourselves, as artists, how do we best use the technology that is available to us?
Indie69 – And that too is a good question. One that maybe won’t be answered by anyone right away. It feels like music in general is in its own kind of limbo. Everything, all over the place, all at once. I really think music is in need of new curators, like what I’m doing but in new ways we can’t even imagine yet. I am also trying to recall what it was I was doing when I came across your original torrent. I think I may have searched for a term like “self-released” or “unsigned”, I was deliberately looking for home-recorded, self-released albums that were current. I’ve always had an interest in music that some people call “outsider”, but I call simply “basement”. Music that is quite literally sometimes recorded in a basement, but always self-produced and home-studio recorded. I really was not expecting something that floored me like your album did. There was something great about that moment, like it was MY discovery. I felt almost a little proud to have found it. I hope you will take the time at some point to gather all of the other recordings from that period and just put them out there. (or let someone else, hint nudge hint) Or at least a selection of them.
And speaking of outsiders, I recall I brought up Scott Walker in a conversation with you once and I believe we may have been discovering and immersing ourselves in his music at about the same time. I’ve become fascinated in all aspects of his career, from the earliest Walker Brothers period all the way up to the “raw-slabs-of-meat-pounded-on-giant-wooden-boxes-percussion” period, his recent works. But I don’t think we ever directly talked about your influences, your musical heroes. I’m sure Walker is up there for you, but what are some of the others? And to pile yet another question-within-a-question on you (I am a cheat in that way I guess), what’s impressing you currently in music? I mean, genuinely new releases and artists.
William Doyle – “Basement music” may describe exactly what I’ve been trying to seek out lately. I have definitely developed a deep interest in home recorded music. It’s amazing to think that so much creativity bubbles underneath the surface of the music world. People can create masterpieces in their homes now with their laptops and macbooks. People’s untapped creativity has been given the chance to breathe, where as before they might have felt that making an album or being a musician or artist was something that only a few lucky people in the world were entitled to, now they can have the resources readily available for them to create truly wonderful work. So I’d like to hear more from those people, please.
The discovery of Scott Walker was indeed very important for me. What a massive revelation. Not just because he has an incredible voice but because he seems to have stretched the boundaries of pop music in ways unheard of. It’s a fascinating catalogue that he has. Even the rubbish 70s period where he gave up writing and sang standards and movie themes to me is a great insight into how much of himself was put into his work. It was all a reaction to the fact that Scott 4 was a massive commercial failure. For a while he seemed unstoppable and then inexplicably his best album to date failed to chart! The sound of those 60s records and then the sheer intensity of his more recent work is something that continues to inspire and influence what I do.
I seem to have a bit of a split creative personality at the moment. Half of me is geared towards songwriting with hooks and melody as the focus, and then the other half involves making more electronic based stuff, though I use the electronic label lightly. I’m just kind of picking up where I left off after “USB” it seems. I did have a solo album in the works immediately after “USB” but it wasn’t working out. At the time I was listening to a lot of Berlin period Bowie and I’ve kind of picked up the creative thread I left hanging there. Returning to the work of Eno, particularly “Another Green World”, which is a big source of inspiration. Also influencing that side of my work is, to name a few, Talking Heads (and David Byrne’s solo work), Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, of Montreal, The European and some of The Fall’s albums like Extricate, Bend Sinister and The Unutterable. This stuff is sort of what I work on in the downtime of the band though. I spend most of my time writing and refining songs, since we’re probably not far away from recording a new single before the end of Summer, with views to recording another album by the end of the year! I’d maybe like to make a solo album if there’s enough time, I have a lot of stuff stewing in my brain and on my hard drive that I don’t feel comfortable about making band songs from. I hate to separate the two but both things require very different mindsets and disciplines. It’s creatively healthy to be able switch between methodology. It’s important for me to be working constantly all the time, so I don’t run dry and become bored and lazy. Artists and bands that influence my songwriting work consist of: Ray Davies, Robyn Hitchcock, Blur’s early to mid 90s period, Neil Hannon/The Divine Comedy, Bacharach/David and The Decemberists (Colin Meloy, my favourite songwriter of the last 10 years).
Just to shed some more light on one of my aforementioned influences: The European. Not many people have heard his album that came out last year, called “In A Very Real Sense Now”. It’s excellent. It’s out on Stolen Recordings, who are a fantastic label. I highly recommend that album though. Give it a spin.
Indie69 – I certainly will check it out, as well as more of The Fall, a band I know far too little about. And now I’ll ask my 6.9th question. Do not be alarmed, simply extrapolate and/or interpolate the end of my question and you’ll be fine. First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this, it’s turned out to be much more fun and informative than I ever expected this kind of thing to be. In closing, is there anything specific you’d like to “plug” or tell your listeners about that might be upcoming, such as a tour or specif….*
William Doyle – Yes – enter the Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall. You will never be the same again!
As for plugging… my band, Doyle & The Fourfathers, have an album called “Man Made” out now. You can buy it at all good digital outlets, though due to some error we may be listed as Doyle, The Fourfathers (this is being corrected). Physical copies only currently available through the excellent Rough Trade Stores – we are setting up ways to buy direct from the band very soon. Our website is www.dt4f.com – so go there to see what’s happening. Stay tuned, we’re constantly producing content. Videos, Photos, new Songs are popping up all the time. For your UK readership, we are heading out on tour with punk legends The Undertones from April 1st. Dates can be found at www.theundertones.com. (We are playing all shows apart from Glasgow, Edinburgh and the final show of the tour in London).
Thanks for asking such great questions! I don’t get given the opportunity to air my opinions very often so it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for the continuing support.
and that’s it…
*The .9th question is simply missing the end of the final word or punctuation, or both. Gimmicky , eh? Oh well.
Thanks to William for the interesting answers and taking the time (this happened over days) to do it. This all turned out much better than I ever expected and I hope to continue doing this fairly regularly in the future.
Image Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/moomin-goat/506155022/
Image and this document are Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)