Interview: Living on the Edge with Willie J Healey at SXSW

Friday, March 22, 2019
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Willie J Healey
's songwriting has the ability to transport you to another world — for his most recent EP 666 Kill, he wrote the songs without the intention of ever releasing them. We're glad that he did, as the end result was a mesmerising and unforgettable collection of songs. We had the opportunity to ask him about 666 Kill, working without pressure and what he has planned next.

How has your week been so far?

So far, so good. We played one show, which was on Tuesday at the British Music Embassy. Wait, it was on Monday, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was Monday (laughs). 

That says it all, that’s SXSW for you (laughs). We got in on Sunday, and we had a day off yesterday. It’s been good and it hasn’t been too sunny as I’m very pale. I’ve seen lots of great bands.

So you’ve been able to squeeze in some fun as well?

Yeah, a bit. Austin is kinda big, isn’t it? It takes a while to get to places, and every time I look at the program it’s overwhelming and I spend my time looking at who I want to go see and then by the time I find them they’ve already played. But yeah, we’ve been able to squeeze in some fun, which is good.

Is it your first time in the US playing?

I came over to Chicago to record and mix the album, but we’ve never played shows here, so it’s my first time.

Has playing shows here been different than back home?

From the show the other night, the audience consisted of a lot of new people who didn’t really know any of our songs, which is cool. But then we also did a headline tour, and that’s the total opposite, where everyone knows the songs and stuff. But apart from that, it is pretty similar to city festivals back home, quite smash and grab, just plug in and go.

Do you enjoy that intensity?

I do, I really like it. I think our set up is very simple so it lends itself to that quick turnaround. I know some people struggle with it as they have quite complicated equipment set-ups, all we need is guitars and amps. So I enjoy it.

I heard that with your last EP 666 Kill, you made it without the intention of releasing it. Is that true?

Yeah, I did it in a week just after a tour. I was sick of how long it takes to start a project and then finish it and then the period after that where it takes ages to be put out by a label or whatever. So I was really just experimenting what you could do in a week. I didn’t really set out to create something to release, and then when I finished it I was very happy with it. So it then ended up being released, which is sick.

Did you enjoy working without that pressure?

I think it was probably one of my favourite things that I’ve done in hindsight. At the time it felt effortless. I wasn’t second-guessing myself, I wasn't overthinking anything. There was no pressure, and no-one even knew I was doing it. I was just doing it for me, really.

Are you one to keep on creating, even when you’re on a break?

I’m always on-the-go, I never fully stop. I think it’s important for me anyway to do as much as I can because there is a certain amount of fear that comes with not having done something for a while. I feel like if I stop too long, it’s harder to start again.

It’s a bit like reworking a muscle.

Yeah, or even a blank canvas like a painter. The more you do it, the less you worry about it. I try to create all the time, but I do think you need both. I had a long period of just recording and writing and I just couldn’t wait to play because it works a different part of my musical brain. The writing and recording is the question, and playing the shows is the answer and you get to see if people like it.

Do you ever find yourself gravitating towards other artforms outside of music?

I love other artforms. I only really do music, but I recently got into this channel on Youtube called the Louisiana Channel, and it’s a channel that infuses artists and painters and I enjoy it because I can really relate to all the things they say. But music is my soul and my bread and butter.

Would you like to come to Australia?

Yeah, I would absolutely love to. I’m not sure how well we would do in Australia, because we’re still doing small headline shows in the UK. But yeah, I would love to come and play shows in Australia. I’ve heard amazing things about triple j.

Yeah, I’m sure everyone would love you back in Australia! 

You think?

Oh, definitely. 

Well hopefully, we can work something out and get over there at some point.

For sure, you would really like it. And what’s coming up for you as soon as you finish up here?

We finish here tomorrow and then we have a couple of days here, and then straight into the studio to finish album two. We have around ten days of recording. I’m hoping to smash it out and finish the album. We also have a couple of festivals, but we’re not that festival heavy this year. We’re more focused on getting the recording done because I want to get it out as quick as possible and keep things going. So SXSW, studio and then whatever else is after that.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

You can listen to 666 Kill below: