Edward Burnett chats to Ontario band Willy Nilly about the theme of existentialism in music, the band's songwriting process and their upcoming single 'Mystery Meats'.
RnRR: Hi Willy Nilly Band, would you be so kind as introduce yourselves to our readers?
WN: Sure so we’re an indie-rock/folk band from Kingston, ON that have been active for just over a year now. I always have a hard time comparing us to other musicians as we have a pretty wide range of sounds throughout everything we’ve written, exhibited even in the few we’ve released thus far. In the band is Owen Fullerton on guitar/lead vox, Max Tinline on lead guitar/backup, Reilly Donnelly on bass/backup and Devin Pierce on drums.
RnRR: Great to meet you all, so I guess we have to start with the origins of Willy Nilly. How did you all meet and why did you start this musical venture together?
WN: Well for me [Owen] I was working as a news reporter up north and had felt an increasing pull towards music. At that point I figured if I didn’t give it a shot then I never would so I looked into a couple music programs and landed on St. Lawrence College. All four of us met in that program. At that point I had only ever approached music as a hobby, so was a lot less experienced in putting together a song than the other guys. When I showed them stuff I was working on, they all liked it and when we started collaborating I realized pretty quickly some of the ideas they were bringing to the songs were a lot better than anything I could come up with, so we started to click pretty fast.
RnRR: Back to present day, how has the band been dealing with the COVID situation? Has the pandemic halted your creative progress as a group?
WN: In a lot of ways yeah. It felt like we were starting to gain some momentum locally in the months leading up to the pandemic and now not really having audiences to play to definitely puts a damper on that. On the other hand I was inspired to do a TON of writing early in the pandemic and once we started getting back together again we’ve been able to put together almost an album worth of songs that we really like. 5 of these songs will be on an EP released some time in November. I think recently it’s become more difficult than it had been early on. There’s still not a ton of opportunity to play shows, and as a band looking to establish itself it can be a little difficult not to be worried about the future of this industry. We’re just trying to stay inspired with new ideas and playing whenever we get the opportunity.
RnRR: On the topic of being inspired, which musical artists had an important impact on each of you growing up? Any acts in particular that convinced you to get into the musical world professionally?
WN: I think bands like Arkells, Hollerado and Kings of Leon are some of the biggest influences on our overall sound. Bands like Dr. Dog and Half Moon Run also in the sense our discography is very eclectic and one song can sound markedly different from the next. It’s interesting though because we come from some fairly different backgrounds. Devin is primarily a classics kind of guy especially bands like Guns N Roses and the Doors and Reilly is a country boy and is really into singers like Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers. We have all found a lot of interlap in our musical interest so we’ve made it work. For me personally my lyricism and writing is heavily influenced by Dan Mangan, Father John Misty, Gang of Youths and Frightened Rabbit. It’s the last one who really convinced me to get into music. After Scott Hutchison died I got heavily into Frightened Rabbit and some songs felt like he was articulating my thoughts and feelings better than I could do myself. Since then that has felt like something I really want to do.
RnRR: So moving onto music of the present, what would you say your aim is, as a band, when producing music? Is there any features you always have to ensure are present or any methods you guys employ which are unique when songwriting and jamming?
WN: I don’t know if there’s really a specific goal in mind and no reinventing of the wheel or anything. Normally the songs are written acoustically whether that be over the span of a few hours or sometimes as long as months. Then when we get together and jam them out they start to take shape pretty quickly. Our music sounds really different song to song, I think that’ll be exhibited on the upcoming ep and already has been on what we’ve released, so it’s really just about putting whatever we feel sounds right in the song for us.
RnRR: If you had to pick a current song that you’ve released that sums you up as a band well for a new listener, what do you recommend for our readers?
WN: Definitely our upcoming single dropping on October 2. Our last couple singles have been kind of stretching our range but I think the upcoming tune ‘Mystery Meats’ is really our sweet spot. There’s some songs on our first ep I would also say but we really rushed that one forward last summer just to have examples to send to venues and we’ll be re-releasing those 4 songs on our debut album.
RnRR: So that perfectly moves us on to your new music and upcoming release as you mentioned, ‘Mystery Meats’. Can you shed any light on the new single and what it’s about or are you keeping everything to do with it under wraps until it’s eventual release?
WN: For sure. It’s kind of just a broke man’s anthem haha. In a way like a cry of desperation reflecting on things being shitty but having a belief they will get better. Also kind of how trying to dive into music can be rewarding but also very demoralizing at times, more generally how trying to dive into something with everything you’ve got can really feel draining and overwhelming at times.
RnRR: Those are some very existentialist ideas. Would you say that existentialism is becoming a far more regular topic of discussion in the arts? This more profound wide scale with more and more music and films choosing to focus on that topic and themes similar with it. Why do you think such a suggested growth in this has occurred as creatives yourselves?
WN: Yeah I’d say you’re probably right about that. Hard to say why we’re seeing more of it, maybe we’re just seeing more of it come to light than we have in years past. I feel like the arts can kind of be a safe haven for weirdos a lot of time and now with everything being on the internet you don’t need to be radio friendly to make a mark. I mean frankly the old stories in movies and music have been told a billion times, I think for many they get boring both as a listener and an artist.
RnRR: Beyond existentialism, what other themes would the band be wanting to cover in future songs? Do you find the songs as a platform to talk about anything so that people can hear you loud and clear? Or would you rather say it’s to find a topic that your listeners can always relate to?
WN: I’m really just a write what I feel kind of guy. I’m not the most open person generally so I find the music can often act as a buffer to really be able to say what’s on my mind. I’m somebody who spends a lot of time in my own head and music feels like a good way to try to make sense of what’s going on. But I feel like the goal is to really find a sweet spot in between those two things you mentioned, I think we’ve touched on some pretty serious and important themes like drug dependency and depression on this EP but we try to make the songs sound as lighthearted as possible. While they are deeply personal at times, I try to walk that line where people can actually relate. It’s cheaper than a therapist I suppose!
RnRR: Moving away from the music now, what have you guys been during the pandemic and lockdown? Have you developed any new interests or honed different skills?
WN: I think we’ve all mostly just dove into the music a little more. All the guys have other music projects they’re a part of and Reilly is heavy into photography so enough to keep busy for everyone generally there. Other than that I imagine our lockdowns looked as uneventful as most!
RnRR: What are your plans for the future beyond the new single? Where would you ideally and realistically like to see the band in a couple of years?
WN: I mean we have a ton written already and we same to be currently running at a rate of two songs written per every song released. Our debut album was actually written and partially recorded before the pandemic but we decided to freeze it and work on some stuff that I had written early in the lockdown. I think realistically we can get a couple albums plus an EP or two out in the next couple years, and I’d really just like to be on the festival circuit around that time, assuming that still exists! So that’s really it I guess, it’s tough to say where I want us to be because I don’t even know where the music industry will be or what will change. If in two years we’re at a point where we can basically solely focus on creating music, I will be ecstatic.
RnRR: Finally the most important question that I ask everyone I interview on Spotlight. If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your days and could only play one album ever again, what would you as a band choose?
WN: (laughs) I don’t think we’d agree on one but we all are pretty big fans of KOL and Come Around Sundown is my fav album of theirs so let’s go with that.
RnRR: A great and democratic choice it appears then! Thanks for being on Spotlight and we will be sure to update the page with any news from the band.
If you would like to find out more about Willy Nilly and stay tuned for the release of 'Mystery Meats' then be sure to check out their socials below: