I sat down with Will Varley before his show at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. After being on the road for several weeks, his tour was coming to an end. We talked about the eventful year he’d had so far and his plans for 2019, and then about his routine when touring, writing ridiculous songs for his baby girl and valuable advice for anyone wanting to start a career in music.
You’ve had a busy year so far, releasing the albums Spirit of Minnie and Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire as well as touring in the UK and Europe. Reflecting on 2018, how did you find it?
It’s been a crazy year actually, with obviously all the stuff you’ve just said. Then I also got married and had a baby so [it]feels like everything has happened this year really. But I’ve spent many years of my life watching day time tv every day for months on end so it’s quite nice to be busy and make some nice change.
How do you find balancing family life and the music?
It’s quite intense. I was on tour just before my baby was born so I was away for the last couple of months of the pregnancy and that was kind of weird. And then been away for the last few weeks while my baby is 5 months old so every day [is]different you know. Kind of missing a lot so I’ve decided to take a bit of time out from touring for a little while… to hear the baby’s first word… hopefully.
When on the road for so long, do you get into a routine before every show?
It’s getting the drive out of the way and sometimes it can take the whole day, certainly in Europe where we were doing like 6-hour drives and that’s kind of like waking up and that’s the day gone (laughs). So yeah, we drive and if we have a bit of time we hang out at the hotel or go for beer. I’m not usually one for doing too much on tour. Some friends are always bouncy and wanting to go visit the museums and theme parks and I’m exhausted from the show so sometimes that’s enough for me and I just sit around and watch TV during the day time, you know.
I went to one of your gigs earlier this year in Southampton and found that your performance was a roller-coaster of emotions. You have these very upbeat, powerful protest songs then switch into much slower and darker songs. When writing a song, do you think about its effect on the listener?
Yeah… in a way no, actually. I mean, obviously you know you’re writing a piece of work that’s designed to be listened to, so I must do on some level, but I generally write songs for myself, for my own thought process. Sometimes I’ll have something stuck in my head and I’ll kind of do it for therapeutic reasons, really, so in terms of having an effect on people… If it does then that’s great, that’s the icing on the cake for me. But most of the time it’s done more to sort my own head out.
Looking at some of your more political songs like ‘We Don’t Believe You’, released a few years ago, It sadly seems to stay relevant with current affairs. Was it something you thought about when writing them or were they designed for a set event at the time?
Funny you should say that. Someone requested a song called ‘These Are The Days’ last night and I tried to do it but I realised that all the references were really out of date. It talks about like Leona Lewis on Top of the Pops and stuff like that and it just feels [like]“wow, I’m old!” So, I thought maybe I’ll do an updated version of that song at some point. I guess it’s kind of pot luck; some songs will take off a life of their own with meanings in different contexts. A lot of my songs are about David Cameron so they’re kind of old and outdated now.
I remember you mentioning Theresa May instead of David Cameron in a few of your songs when you played them in Southampton earlier this year.
Yeah you can always swap them out. Billy Bragg told me to just swap the names around and it works.
You’ve recorded your latest album Spirit of Minnie with a full band for the first time. Does it feel like a new chapter in your musical journey?
I wouldn’t call it a new chapter, it felt like more of a challenge. It feels [like]pretty much the same vein as the other stuff but I’ve done albums on my own a lot so [I] wanted to do something that challenges me and makes me feel scared and creative. And the band thing was definitely that. It was a really weird experience going to a studio with the band… It was great and I’m really glad we did it. It was really terrifying to start with the band when for the past 15 years it was just me and my guitar. Suddenly, there are other people on stage with you. It was more about me not getting stuck and chasing my own tail I think.
What’s planned for you in 2019?
A little bit of time out, maybe write some stuff and do some more painting. I’ve been doing quite a lot of that recently and find it really therapeutic. So yeah, just painting and hanging out with my family… I wouldn’t call it time off but time away from touring non-stop.
Have you been singing your music to your daughter yet?
Yeah, absolutely! I mean she doesn’t like my actual songs that I’ve written but I write ridiculous songs for her (laughs).
Any advice for young people trying to pursue a career in music?
I would say just do it yourself, you know. I released my first 2 albums completely independently with some friends of mine. We’ve set up this independent label ourselves. We didn’t wait for anyone to come along and tell us “you’re gonna be a star” or whatever, with a cigar and a big hat (laughs). We just printed up a few hundred copies. I used to make copies of the album and print them up with my computer and draw a piece of artwork with a sharpie pen, go out and sell them and that’s it. That’s how I started. And that’s how I still see it in a way. So, yeah… Just do it yourself. Don’t wait for anybody, just do it. ‘Cause if you wait too long then you might suddenly find that it’s too late.
Check out Will Varley’s music video for ‘We Don’t Believe You’ below.