Willie J Healey on Yala! Records and Speedy Follow-ups

For Willie J Healey, ‘Twin Heavy’ marks the start of a new chapter and a progression to indie stardom that is long overdue for an artist so bold, relentlessly catchy and lyrically captivating.

Following his first release on Yala! Records, 666 Kill, the process of writing and recording Twin Heavy has stretched out over a year, which Healey describes over the phone from his from his new Bristol base as ‘a real journey’. “I feel like I’ve figured myself out a little bit more, the way I like to write, the things I like. I’ve been writing about people rather than things I’ve seen in films and you know, not particularly people I know but experiences I’ve had.’

Naturally, this shift in subject matter, from relationships between people and their dogs to the more complicated dynamics of interpersonal relationships, has resulted in an album that has a more contemplative undertone than his previous releases. ‘I’m quite internal sometimes with my feelings and the older I get the more I realise how much [writing] helps me to deal with things – big and small’ explains Healey. ’To be able to put it in a song or an idea that doesn’t even reference that thing that’s bugging me or that thing I’m really happy about, it’s an outlet.’

The exploration of deeper, more personal themes within Healey’s songwriting allows Twin Heavy to transcend previous releases in terms of its reciprocity with listeners and hints at why this is his most successful release to date. ‘I’m getting so many messages from people writing to tell me how much it means to them.’ He continues, ‘and that makes me feel inspired, like people are out there listening to it and connecting to it.’

Healey’s surplus of creative energy combined with his cool confidence seems to enable him to quickly adapt and overcome times of uncertainty. At the start of lockdown, in a time when all of us are finding new ways to reinvent how we live day to day, Healey put pressure on himself to ‘write another album in two weeks’ but has since mellowed off after realising that making things for enjoyment is more important than measuring productivity.

“If I could write everyday then I think I would,” Healey confesses. ‘When I’m not writing I feel a bit like I’m not sure what to do with myself’. Aside from music, Healey keeps his ‘creative tap dripping’ by writing little poems or notes and more recently he’s taken to painting fish – ‘which I’d never done before but that gave me just as much satisfaction for a while as songwriting did. For me its just about making stuff.’

During undoubtedly the most uncertain period of Healey career – his transition from Columbia records into a label-less state, before joining Yala! – his creative resilience and positive outlook ensured that this major fork in the road concluded with a wholly positive outcome. “I was in a position of freedom but equally the wheels could have completely fallen off at that point. When asked about Healey’s first met Yala! Records co-founder and ex-Maccabee, Felix White, Healey explains, “It just kind of happened, I just got quite lucky, Felix had come to a show, I’m not sure how he had heard of me but he had. I had an EP Called 666 Kill and Felix said he’d love to do something with me for Yala! and I said ‘that’s really funny cause I have something that I wanna put out’. It was a nice introduction, you know, not to go for an album, not to go for anything too big. We kinda tested the waters on each other and just hit it off.”

With the likes of Magic Gang, Talk Show and Egyptian Blue also releasing through Yala!, the buzz they are creating within the UK indie scene is granting them a notoriety that Healey is proud to be a part of. “I think some of the love that I’ve experienced is not just for me. People wanna support Felix and they wanna support Morad [Morad Khokar, C-Founder]. They like Yala! as a label and people seem to be jumping at the opportunity to support.’

He concedes that there are obvious pros and cons to both major and indie situations but Yala! feels like the right fit for the music that he’s creating. ‘Creatively, it’s really rewarding to have freedom, to take an idea to someone and for them to be generally excited about it and not necessarily thinking of sales when you first show them something. Yala! just love music; there have been times when I’ve shown them ten minute songs that I’ve done, and they’ve been like ‘sick, I love this’, that’s not something you get with other labels.’

Through Yala!, Healey was introduced to Producer Loren Humphrey, who’s worked with the likes of Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys, before collaborating on Twin Heavy. “Loren was in then middle of a world tour with Florence and the Machine so he didn’t really have much time.” Willie recounts, ‘We didn’t get to meet until we started the sessions, we’d spoken on the phone and as soon as I’d spoken to him I immediately knew that he was the guy and hopefully be a life long friend.’

“I have lots of new songs, I probably have an album worth of new tracks that I’m happy with”

Healey’s love for different and multifaceted production extends beyond the production process and into his live performances. When asked about his favourite festival to play, he cites Wales’ Green Man Festival. “It felt to me when I played, it was a really cool line up of interesting music. Massive bands and bands that are really buzzy and brand new. The setting is just insane, it’s way more beautiful than I even imagined it was gonna be… you can see all of the mountains around you. I would highly recommend and I would play it anytime, if they wanted me to play the bloody tea counter before the festival even opened I would do it.’

Looking ahead, Healey continues to develop his sound and the ball is already rolling on his next release. “I think because of lockdown, songs have come out of me that maybe wouldn’t usually… I have lots of new songs, I probably have an album worth of new tracks that I’m happy with. I hope too be releasing new music throughout the year. It would be a great time to, there’s a lot of attention on my music at the minute, more than usual, and I’m just keen to show people what else I’ve got. I’d hate to jinx myself but I think the songs I’ve got are the ones I’m most excited about. I think they’re my best yet’. These are exciting times for Willie J Healey and with an ever growing fanbase and recognition from the likes of Radio 1 and Radio 6 music who knows how far he can go.

Author avatar
Daisy Woodley

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