Willie J. Healey
The full story of enchanting debut album 'People And Their Dogs'...

Circling the indie trajectory with strands of woozy rock and wispy blues thrown in for good measure, Willie J Healey has been on our radar for a little while.

Now film inspired EPs are the predecessors to another major milestone in the Oxfordshire native’s career: his debut album, ‘People And Their Dogs’.

As the singer gears up to release the LP he takes Clash’s call outside of a Mexican eatery in Soho to talk about how it was created in Oxford but mixed in Chicago – as well as more pressing matters like people and their dogs.

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You played Truck Festival a couple of weeks back and that was a hometown show, how was that?

I’ve worked my way up the stages throughout the years at Truck, my first gig there was in the car park in a gazebo thing and then I’ve gradually moved up every year so it was a nice moment to be on the main stage.

Did you leave before the heavens opened or did you stick around?

Because I live so close I went home each night and came back in the day time. I did come back after it had turned bad and I felt so bad for everyone. We should probably talk about the album you have coming out, that’s big.

How was it recording in your home studio?

I had a think about it before doing the album and I decided I was going to do it at home, I recorded it all in my garage but I mixed it all in Chicago with this guy called Tom Schick who mixes all of the Wilco stuff. It was weird because it was all of the songs I had done at home but mixed in Wilco’s amazing studio.

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It’s very honest in terms of lyrics...

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What would you say the main themes are on this record?

It’s very guitar heavy, I really went to town on the guitar work. I feel like, without sounding too cheesy, it’s very honest in terms of lyrics, I haven’t really sung about any films or stuff like that, it’s all been personal. There hasn’t been a lyrical theme or anything, the theme really was just that I was doing it at home again so it affected the way it was recorded.

Do you have a favourite track from the record?

I really like a song called ‘All Those Things’, I don’t know why, I think it’s because it’s one of the newer ones. But if I had to pick two, I’d pick that one and a song called ‘Love Her’ which is really, really heavy and it’s me screaming down the microphone. It’s a bit more like how I would sing live I guess so I’m looking forward to people hearing that one.

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I’d find it hard myself to put it into a category...

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What’s your favourite way someone else has described your music?

I guess indie is a good one. I get compared quite a lot to Mac DeMarco and I really love Mac DeMarco but I don’t think I sound that much like him, not anymore at least, maybe at one stage I did. People call it slacker but I don’t really know what I would call it. I guess indie is a compliment to me because when I hear indie rock I think about bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Modest Mouse, but it’s a tough one because lots of music gets put into weird categories.

Are you still going for the ‘Rock n Stroll’ vibe?

No not really [laughs]. I don’t dislike it but I don’t really use that one myself anymore. It’s hard, I never really judge people on what they try and categorise it as because I’d find it hard myself to put it into a category. I would think it’s new, it’s a combination of things I like which results in this new-ish sound that tips its hat to more classic stuff but is contemporary.

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How has festival season been treating you? All plain sailing?

We’ve had a few festivals and they’ve all been really organised, we haven’t really had any massively funny moments. We did play a show a while ago and the bass player went to Wetherspoons on his own and he nearly choked on his steak, he had to have the Heimlich thing, he had the works, but he made it and he’s still with us. We also played cricket with Slaves at Truck and they nearly lost the ball because they hit it really far away...but that’s not that interesting [laughs].

Have you made lots of festival friends that you bump into all the time now?

Yeah we see a band called Ardyn a lot, we’re kind of pals now. We’ve seen Slaves a few times, but I don’t know why, it’s more like we’re in the same places but we don’t really play the same venues because obviously they’re a lot further ahead than I am at the moment.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I’m not actually that fussy. This is quite boring I won’t be offended if you don’t use this, but about fifteen minutes before I go on I like to sit on my own and relax with my eyes closed because otherwise I feel like I get too excited when I get on stage and then I can’t talk properly, so I have to slow myself down, and that’s something I try and do every show if I can.

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About fifteen minutes before I go on I like to sit on my own...

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Do you have a drink before you go on?

Water only really, I’ve been really pushing my voice in the past year so I don’t think I could get away with a beer. Sometimes I’ll go hot water and Manuka honey but that’s about it, nothing too wild.

What was the first song you learnt to play on guitar?

I think my dad, my granddad and my uncle all taught me ‘Come As You Are’ at Christmas once, but not all the way through. I learnt a song by Bob Dylan called ‘Positively 4th Street’ all the way through. It was quite rare for me to learn songs all the way through, I always found it quite hard.

Anyone who follows you on social media will know about your dogs, so I have to ask, how are they?

They’re well, they’re big now, they’re really growing. They don’t look like puppies anymore sadly. Jeff is the dog that features in my artwork and he’s doing good, he gets a bone every now and then, two walks a day, so he seems happy.

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It was quite rare for me to learn songs all the way through...

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Is the fame going to his head?

No he’s quite grounded, I mean he can’t really talk so I don’t totally know, I’m just guessing. He does get a bit big time sometimes though, I think he thinks he’s a human...but in my eyes he is.

So what do you prefer; people or dogs?

I mean people and dogs together is such a good combination. I would probably say I prefer people because they can talk, but it’s tough, I could easily wake up tomorrow and say I prefer dogs. I think I’ll go with people though because also dogs can’t download music, so if I only hung out with dogs I wouldn’t really have anything to talk about.

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'People And Their Dogs' is out now on National Anthem.

Words: Shannon Cotton

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