Interview: Willie J Healey on his new album, Apple, and playing at Wanderlust

Interview: Willie J Healey on his new album, Apple, and playing at Wanderlust

By Vicky Greer. 

 Willie J Healey is stuck on a bus as he frantically tries to join our Zoom call. He’s battling jet lag from his trip back from New York, and now he’s on his way to debut his new single, ‘The Apple’, with none other than Steve Lamacq. This week, he starts rehearsals for an intense run of shows, headlining venues throughout the UK and Europe and appearing at half a dozen festivals throughout the summer.

Between on-board announcements and those oh-so-familiar moments of technical difficulties, we squeeze in a quick chat about his upcoming set at Wanderlust Festival, where he’ll headline Heartbreakers at the first edition of the Southampton multi-day festival.

Does he still get nervous before such a long run of shows? At this point in his career, all of his nerves are about logistic matters (“Do I have enough clean clothes?” he asks himself). Once he gets on stage, he feels right at home, and life on the road inspires his songwriting in a way that the studio doesn’t  – “That’s what it’s all about, playing music in front of people,” he explains. “I could write 17 slow songs, but it would be really depressing to play them.”

After spending part of last year supporting Arctic Monkeys on their stadium tour, and a night at Finsbury Park with Jamie T, Healey maintains that very little about his performance changes between massive venues and intimate sets at the likes of Heartbreakers. As you might tell from the vast range of genres he touches on in his music, his live performances are inspired by a variety of artists. “So many, so many,” he emphasises, “It’s hard to even name some”. He cites Sly and the Family Stone and his all-time favourite Neil Young as his primary inspirations. “I love Neil Young. He’s my favourite artist – but I don’t really sound anything like him.”

As we approach festival season, Healey reflects on some of his stand-out festival memories. It’s mostly been highs, but there have been a couple of horror stories, too, like the time he played a full set before the festival organisers actually let any of the crowd in.

“We were like, we didn’t expect many people to be here, but we thought our friends might have shown up.” But did he keep on playing to the non-existent crowd? “What else can you do?” he responds.

It perfectly sums up the joy he has for live music, that he would keep the show going even when there’s nobody watching. Luckily, that’s not going to be a problem at Heartbreakers, where he’ll bring the venue’s festivities to a close for the night.

We speak just a few hours before the release of his new song ‘The Apple’, the first new release since his critically acclaimed album Bunny last summer, a delicate, folksy and funk-infused moment with all of Healey’s typical charm. He explains that the song is “very direct”, based on the all-to-relatable experience of overwhelming shyness at meeting new people, and the chronic overthinking that follows. “We recorded it on tape, which is my favourite thing to do”, he says of the recording process in New York, where he spent some time in the studio. 

Before we finish up, he hints that there’s more new music on the horizon, he’s just “waiting for a date to share it”. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to hear some of it at Heartbreakers. 

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