Willie J Healey tells us about his brand new album Bunny before he goes on tour this Autumn

Willie J Healey is the epitome of cool. Listening in your corduroys with a cup of coffee, his debut album People and Their Dogs sounds like Autumn. From the mellow opening track Subterranean to the angsty cries in Love Her, other song titles are Lazy Shade of Pink, Greys and Sleep All Day. If this album is a reflection of darker days, Bunny released on 25 August, is pure summer. 

“I think, on this album,” Healey explains on how he imagined the stories for the songs, “I was trying to be child-like about it, write child-like lyrics and songs”. Bunny encompasses a sense of play that he had in his youth by being technically and rhythmically experimental while radiating a joy for creating music. 

Before talking too much about the album release, I asked Healey to take us back to the beginning and tell us how he got into making music.

He lists, “I got a guitar as a young teenager and learnt how to play it, I learnt how to write songs, and then I learnt how to put them out. I learnt how to play live, and then here I am now.” It was an organic journey and process where Healey was just practising what he enjoyed. He learnt the guitar via YouTube videos and took enjoyment out of playing songs to his friends and family. 

It was only when he spoke to a careers adviser in school that he was encouraged to actually consider music a career. “I had to decide what to do when I finished school,” he says, “[the careers adviser] made me really dig deep and asked if there was anything else I liked. I said music and she said ‘oh maybe you should do that’.” It is evidence of planting a seed of hope and ambition in a young person’s mind, and encouraging the flower to grow into something beautiful. 

Image by Hollie Fernando

Healey’s style is a funky fusion of soul, rock and R&B which seemed to be a natural development from listening to multiple genres.

“When you’re making something that has a time stamp on it, it really stinks of that time,” Healey states, implying that his style and sound is a reflection of who he is working with, what he knows or enjoys in that current moment. The type of recording he has been able to do and the type of venue he plays also affects how the music sounds. “As a solo artist, that is one of the pros, having the freedom to [experiment]”. Making every album sound the same, or having a recognisable sound is not a priority for Healey; “I just love ideas and taking a small idea and making it into something big.”

More specifically, focussing back on his new album Bunny, Healey describes this tracklist as “funkier than stuff I have released before”; “this one is emotionally fuelled but a little bit more carefree. It is a bit more easy going.” It sounds as though Bunny is a reflection of who Healey is and how he feels now: “I have got to a point where I just enjoy making music.” Healey continues, his new album is “more experimental” because “there are interludes on it [and] there is a song that I don’t sing on at all.” 

When it came to writing the album, Bunny was influenced by David Bowie’s ‘Plastic Soul’ era (funky, soulful singles released in the 1970s) and a lot of late 70s bands Healey was listening to.

“I had this little room in Bristol and I turned it into a little studio,” Healey says. “I really was inspired by that space and had minimal equipment.

“One of the things I did have was a 1970s drum machine and old 70s equipment which allowed me to dive into some different sounds.” This room in Bristol became a sanctuary where Healey found he had lots of time, some instruments, and could immerse himself into creating and writing. 

Image by Hollie Fernando

Extensive space and time, however, can be a big void to fill. I asked Healey from where he drew inspiration for this blank canvas. He responded by telling me he grew up in a small town where “I was forced to imagine things and allow my mind to create stuff rather than having real-life stimulation.” As he grew older, he wrote songs about his life and feelings. However, the carefree songs in Bunny are a reflection of returning to his child-like imagination and play. In turn a collection of positive songs, mostly about love, were developed. 

I ask if Healey feels that this joy in his music is an accurate projection of how he feels in his life, and he said he realised “you can kind of sing your way out of things.” He continues to explain, “you can think your way out of feelings, like, instead of singing about how shit I feel, I would sing about something really nice.” Healey compares this to a form of manifestation: “I would put stuff in songs and it would become true. I thought, “What if I start singing about things I would like, like having a nice house with a cherry tree in the back, or having loads of money,” he laughs. The positivity in Bunny is a transmittable escapism. 

On this topic of making incredible things happen, Healey earlier this year supported Florence and The Machine on their UK and Ireland tour, and Arctic Monkeys on their European tour.

He describes both as amazing; “I haven’t done that level of touring before.” Healey said it was the crowds that were mainly very different, not realising how much fan bases can have a particular style. Plus, the location and travel made both contrasting experiences, giving Healey a good taste of varied venues and acoustics ahead of his own tour in November. “I feel like I came away from the Florence tour with a lot of ideas,” Healey remembers, “by the time we got on the Arctic Monkeys tour, I was actually able to use those ideas.” He implies constantly learning along the way which in turn, grew a sense of self-belief. Healey continues, “I think I learnt a lot about myself more than anything.” While on tour he was thinking to himself, ‘Who am I in all this?’.

Image by Hollie Fernando

Supporting artists on tour is a “great challenge because you’re trying to get people to engage with you,” and these are people that may not necessarily know your music. “I think that requires a lot of energy, so I think I really became aware of the amount of people [in the audience] and thinking about how to affect the crowd.” In comparison, his own headline tour has “a whole different level of energy to give, and I feel less guarded. I think a lot of people would agree that I am more myself when I play now.”

“I am more reassured by myself and what I have to give.” 

Healey has already been playing a few of his singles from Bunny live. “[Crowds] have already started singing those songs and it feels so good,” he says, sitting him on solid ground for the full album release to have a strong reaction. It’s a reassurance that he describes as a trade – creating something for other people to enjoy, and seeing them enjoy it is the reward musicians receive back. “It’s a wonderful thing to feel like people already seem to really like this,” he beams, “and there is so much more that people will really love too if you already love those singles.” 

One of the singles released from Bunny, Thank You, features artist Jamie T who is a good friend of Healey’s and lent him the drum kit which is such a huge part of the album. Healey doesn’t often collaborate with other musicians because he prefers partnerships to be organic, “like the one I did with Jamie.” But he does reveal that he may be working on a project with Joe Talbot (of rock band Idles) and Jamie T, writing some songs and maybe releasing an EP. He also names Myles Newmann (@mylesnewmannn), Fenne Lily (@fennelily) and Flyte (@__flyte___) as amazing new artists he would love to work with. 

Healey kicks off his November tour at CHALK, Brighton on Thurs 9 November. He tells me how he has played in different venues in Brighton over the years and “the crowd is always really really good in Brighton, really up for it and lively.” He is expecting his November gig to have the same energy. 

Buy Bunny the album, and tickets to see Willie J Healey live at CHALK at www.williejhealey.com/.  You can also stream Bunny and more of Healey’s music on YouTube and Spotify. 

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.