Westerman makes calming music for anxious times

Interview Westerman makes calming music for anxious times

Taking inspiration from the traditional folk canon to make something fresh and brilliant in its simplicity, Will Westerman’s music arrives as a quiet hand on the shoulder.

There’s no denying that we live in anxious times, second-guessing everything around us, rife with overthinking. The music of Will Westerman arrives as something of a soothing hand on the shoulder: a deep breath, a re-evaluation.

In his three singles of 2018 so far, the West Londoner champions simplicity, both musically and lyrically. In the brilliant ‘Confirmation’, a wash of delicately plucked guitars and sprightly synths, he sings ‘Don’t you wonder why confirmation is easier when you don’t think so much about it?’. Rather than a direct question to the audience, it arrives as a meditation on brains muddled with too much fluff, changing himself and the listener at once. On his new single, the wonderfully sure-footed, subtle ‘Easy Money’, he doesn’t so much hammer the point home, more just quietly state again. ‘Why’d you worry?’ he poses in the track’s first verse, before returning to the point later, turning it on himself: ‘Why should I worry? Worry makes you ill.”

Following 2016 debut single ‘Jericho’ and last year’s ‘Call and Response’ EP, the new tracks mark a move away from a more traditionally folk beginning - taking inspiration from Nick Drake, Neil Young et al - and into dreamier, synth-splashed waters. “I don’t know if I ever really saw myself as a folk artist,” he tells us, taking a needed deep breath at an Italian retreat, gathering thoughts for a debut album due next year, and following the completion of a new EP set for release at the end of 2018. “Because of the instrumentation - just me playing the acoustic guitar - that’s an immediate thing that people tagged onto me. I never really saw the music in that way. Not that I have a problem with it, but in my head, the music was always going to be a bit different to that.

“I think it’s braver and more honest to strip away the rubbish that your insecurities throw out.”

Working with electronic producer Bullion allowed the greater textures and colours in Westerman’s head to manifest themselves in songs that could be built from the ground up, while still given the space to stay stunning in their simplicity.

“I definitely don't like too many competing elements going on at once,” he affirms. “I don't like it to be cluttered. I suppose it's an aesthetic thing, I find a lot of music to be in conflict with itself, with too many competing elements, and maximalism can be great if there's a function for it, but often I just feel like it's for lack of a better idea.”

“It was probably an insecurity thing yeah,” he says of his earlier work, which padded out songs based around an acoustic guitar with “busy melodies and lots of words”. “When you're developing, you want to show everyone 'Oh look how clever this is - I can do this now, and you didn't see it coming!'. I think it's braver and more honest to strip away the rubbish that your insecurities throw out, and strip it down to what it is that you were trying to say in the first place before you chickened out. The way I write isn't strictly literal anyway, and so to have a lot of that is just too dense, and you just think: what is it?”

As featured in the August 2018 issue of DIY, out now.

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