It’s been a whirlwind year for Kent based folk-smith, Will Varley. A deal signed with Xtra Mile, minutes before taking the stage in support of Frank Turner in London, was quickly followed by a live EP and now a first full album for his new label. We manged to squeeze some time from Varley’s busy schedule ahead of another tour in support of Frank Turner to talk albums, time, DIY and comedy.
AH: Set the scene for us. Where are you, what’re you up to, what has the rest of the week/day/month got in store?
Will: I’m in my house in Kent, down by the sea near Deal and I’m getting ready for gigs. I’ve had a couple of weeks off, getting ready for the album launch and now I start with shows again. It kicks off tomorrow and then goes through to the end of November. I’m starting with my own gigs and in-stores and then through into supporting on the Frank Turner tour. It’s gonna be a big month and a half!
AH: Am I right in thinking you’re playing the Lighthouse where you recorded your live EP earlier this year?
Will: Exactly right yeah.
AH: Is that a venue that’s become a bit of a central point to what you do?
Will: It’s run by some good friends of mine. It’s a family run venue and I’ve known those guys for a very long time. They were the first people I met when I started doing open mic’s in South London all those years ago.
AH: It must be nice to go back there and kick things off afresh again.
Will: Very much so yeah. It feels like my front room. They do great gigs all week so if I’m not playing elsewhere I’m usually in there anywhere having a drink.
AH: It’s a bit like a home territory for you then?
Will: Yeah definitely.
AH: Your first album for Xtra Mile, ‘Postcards From Ursa Minor’ has just been released and reading some of the song titles and listening to the lyrics there’s a good chunk of them with a similar theme. Is there a concept there – have you been contemplating the great unknown a lot whilst writing the album?
Will: Yeah I think there’s definitely a lot of that going on. For me the album is about time mainly. Each track looks at the way in which time changes and how it’s so malleable and I think with that you get the whole kind of space thing and, as you say, the great unknown. It was very much in my thoughts when I was writing the album. I went to see the film ‘Interstellar’ when I was on the last Beans On Toast tour; it’s an amazing film and the concepts they explore in the film are similar to the concepts I’ve explored in writing the album but from a totally different angle.
AH: And were you thinking of that on a more personal level in terms of how time has affected you over the last few months and years or where you thinking in more broad strokes about the world at large?
Will: I think both. Very much both. In a way the question sums up what I mean in that time changes and time has so many meanings. Time can be about a few personal moments but can also be about billions and billions of years and I think it depends in what context you’re looking at it. It speeds up and slows down and does all these weird things and I think as you get older it means different things and you change your view on time. Years mean different things to you when you’re 30 than when you’re 10.
AH: You seem to have packed a lot into your 28 years which seems young in terms of a musical career. Is it something you do by choice and do you choose to be busy and creative? How do you manage to juggle everything and cram it all in?
Will: The thing is, a lot of the stuff I do has been born from a lack of a more stable set-up. For example Smugglers Records [the collective that Will I part of] was born out of the fact that we couldn’t get a record deal so we kinda didn’t have a choice. Me and a couple of other bands got together and we started it as a collective so we could release records. Same with the tours; I wanted to play shows so I had to start booking tours. When I look back it doesn’t feel like I’ve been hugely busy – I’ve watched my fair share of bargain hunt [laughs]. At the same time there’s definitely been things that I’ve wanted to do and I’ve had to work out a way to do those things where you don’t have that kind of support. It’s nice now to have that support in a more conventional way.
As a start though doing it yourself is definitely the way to go. I think DIY will get more and more a part of how things work. The majors will take less risk and that’s what it’s all about. No one in the majors can afford to take risks because of the amount of money they’re losing – they can’t afford to take risks on stuff that might not sell conventionally. If that kind of music is still gonna thrive – which it will – we’re not suddenly all gonna start writing 3 minute pop songs about candyfloss. There’s still gonna be other music, the way it’s gonna be released is just gonna be more DIY over time though.
AH: How’s that gonna relate for you in terms of touring cos now you’re going through a booking agent etc. Do you feel a little shackled by theta given that you’re used to booking everything yourself.
Will: [Laughs], No basically! I know what you mean but having a booking agent has really helped me out organisationally. It was getting to a point where I was getting phone calls saying “are you ready for the gig tonight” and I had no idea I had a gig that night. Having an agent for the last year and a half has been great. Everything’s a lot more organised now. It just gets to a point where things grow and you need some more help. Same with Xtra Mile really – Smugglers will still always exist and be releasing records but it gets to a point where you do need help and having Xtra Mile and an agent has been a great help.
AH: One thing I’ve noticed from your lyrics is your ability to go from subjects that are heartfelt that to songs that’re funny and sarcastic. Is there a reason that you move between those styles or is it about getting the message across in whatever way fits best?
Will: When I started out doing this literally 15 years, I was 13/14 doing open mic’s with a fake ID and all the songs was very serious and very intense. They were all about the end of the world and atomic explosions and really dark stuff and people would listen for a bit but then it was so depressing that they’d switch off and not listen so I think the comedy thing came out of the experience of the live scene over the years. I had to think about how can I make this a good show but still slip this darker stuff in. The comedy means the dark stuff is a lot darker but stops people switching off half way through. Open Mic is a great thing and I still every now and again hop on a train and turn up and do a few songs in a pub. It’s a great part of the industry and it’s important. I don’t know if the comedy is something I’ll do in a fuller sense though. The next album might not have any on but on the flipside it might be a whole album of belly laughter.
Will Varley will be touring the UK in February and March 2016.
10 Cluny 2, Newcastle
11 Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
12 King Tuts, Glasgow
13 Night and Day, Manchester
18 Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
19 Buyers Club, Liverpool
20 Bodgea, Nottingham
23 J2 @ Junction, Cambridge
24 Waterfront Studios, Norwich
25 Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
26 Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
27 Louisiana, Bristol
28 The Phoenix, Exeter
02 The Junction, Plymouth
03 Mono, Falmouth
04 Joiners, Southampton
10 Scala, London
‘Postcards From Ursa Minor’ by Will Varley is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.
Words by Rob Fearnley.