Jamie T and Willie J Healey talk the latter's new album 'Bunny'

Interview Friends United: Willie J Healey and Jamie T

Ahead of the release of Willie’s new album ‘Bunny’, we sat the pair down to reflect on where their friendship’s taken them so far.

Bonded by a love of the musical craft, Willie J Healey and Jamie T have developed a firm friendship. Both are what you’d call ‘daily songwriters’: they live and breathe the art form with a dedication that consumes them and spurs the other on, as is evident from their constant slinging of demos back and forth to each other.

The pair collaborated on Willie’s slinky earworm ‘Thank You’ from forthcoming album ‘Bunny’ (the line, “Thank you for the drum machine J!” is a direct shout out to T) and, like the single, his third LP oozes with a sunny disposition that simmers in funk, referencing the likes of Prince and Sly and the Family Stone. On the release, timeless melodies are weaved through these new sonic blueprints which combine to form his best and most vibrant work yet.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, Jamie recruited Willie to support him at the biggest gig of his career, playing to 45,000 people in Finsbury Park back in June. Jamie is one of Willie’s many admirers; everybody from Florence Welch to Nick Lowe and Alex Turner are fans. Hot off the heels of supporting Arctic Monkeys on a run of European dates, today we’ve sat Willie down with his musical pal at an East London cafe. Less master and student and more songwriting peers, their conversation is peppered with jokes, laughter and a genuine affection for each other’s work as they chat about songwriting, sartorial choices, and the soul band they’re allegedly forming with Joe Talbot from IDLES

Jamie T and Willie J Healey talk the latter's new album 'Bunny' Jamie T and Willie J Healey talk the latter's new album 'Bunny'

“You have quite a different life to somebody in a band - it’s a bit more solitary and you can kind of lose your way more often.”

— Jamie T

Jamie T: When’s your record out?
Willie J Healey:
25th August, you’re on it mate!
JT:
Ah yeah!

When did you first come across each other’s work?

WJH:
Well, I’ve known Jamie a lot longer than he’s known me! I would have been a teenager when you really landed in Carterton, the town I’m from - everybody I knew that was worth talking to was a Jamie fan. I remember watching your videos over and over again.
JT:
I found you probably quite a while after your first album came out. I was just immediately taken by it and very inspired. I think I got immediately in contact with you to say, ‘This is amazing’ and we’ve just stayed in contact ever since.
WJH:
We slid into each other’s DMs quite heavily. I remember it made me really happy because the praise from that album kind of died down, and then you messaged!
JT:
Yeah, I found it a bit late didn’t I? I still listen to that album a lot. How long ago was that?
WJH:
I must have been 23. So we’re sort of old friends now!

Tell us how your collaboration on ‘Thank You’ came about.
WJH:
I remember Jamie’s verse coming through really early in the day - the early bird caught the worm.
JT:
We send a lot of demos back and forth with each other. It’s inspiring when all of your mates are sending you things; it makes you think, ‘Fuck, I better do something as well’. I sent him a drum machine. My friend Jason Cox who is in the Gorillaz lot gave it to me as a Christmas present. I’d been up in Damon Albarn’s studio and had seen Damon coming up with some crazy shit on it - I was like, ‘I need one of them’. It’s really simple but great and I thought it’d help Willie write some songs.
WJH:
Quite legendary, that drum machine really. I felt very lucky. I don’t think you realised, but up until the handover of that drum machine I was pretty much flat out of ideas, I didn’t really know what to do. I always struggle with drums and I think you sensed that.
JT:
Yeah, I do as well. It’s fun that machine because it kind of has a mind of its own; it goes up in volume, goes down in volume and puts drum fills wherever it decides to. Sometimes you have to just smack it on the side.

What did you learn about each other’s writing styles?
JT:
One thing that’s always struck me about Willie’s stuff is the arrangements - the movements from verse to chorus to bridge are really strange, and something I find really inspiring. It never goes where I would go or expect it to go; I took quite a lot off that for sure. And the lyrical content has always got a tongue-in-cheek-ness to it that’s really fun.
WJH:
That’s what I always think about yours; I love your lyrics so much. Sometimes the demos are so funky and weird sounding, I call it the ‘good stuff’, you know before it’s all been messed with - like it’s an unpolished pearl or something. The lyrics are always on point.
JT:
I think that’s where we’re similar in a sense. We like to have a lot of fun with lyrics and ideas.
WJH:
I can get really caught up in the actual recording and making them sound nice but your stuff is so direct and there’s no faff. It makes me worry less because sounding raw and cool with no frills is where it’s at.
JT:
I do have a dropbox file of all your recordings. I made an effort to save them all, because you’ll send me bits over on voice memos and they sound so great. I remember years ago you sent me a cover of the Townes Van Zandt song ‘Pancho & Lefty’ and I just love it - and I still get that out occasionally.
WJH:
We’ve got a lot in common. I don’t know many other people I can call at 10 o'clock in the morning and know that they’re going to be in a fairly similar position to me. We’re both solo and I think there’s quite a lot of comfort in being able to talk to each other and share music. It makes me feel like I’m not on my own in this.
JT:
Totally, I feel the same way. You have quite a different life to somebody in a band - it’s a bit more solitary and you can kind of lose your way more often. It’s good to stick together really. Plus, nobody else is in on a Saturday night. Everybody else is out.

Any truth to you guys starting a soul band with Joe Talbot from Idles?
WJH:
We had this really fun chat about it and loved the idea of it. Then looking at what we’d do on paper - like, who actually does what? Three people that can kind of sing like they’ve got a sandwich in their mouth want to do a soul thing…
JT:
Yeah, like who’s actually doing the soul bit? I like the idea of it though.

Jamie T and Willie J Healey talk the latter's new album 'Bunny' Jamie T and Willie J Healey talk the latter's new album 'Bunny'

“Something I always come away with after seeing Jamie play is the thrill of being your total self on stage.”

— Willie J Healey

What were your reference points for ‘Bunny’? It’s definitely a new direction for Album Three.
WJH:
Things like Sly and the Family Stone. Loren [Humphries, producer] is so the opposite to me. I don’t care that much about detail but he’d know where the drums were in the room when they made ‘Imagine’ - for Loren, that’s his whole thing. It’s amazing having him covering that side of things because I’d just use the first thing I could get my hands on. I think it ended up working well; we met in the middle.
JT:
Yeah, it’s a good balance. I mean ‘Carry on the Grudge’ definitely had a different feeling compared to [my] second [record]. But then again, my first album was written when I was 18, I was 27 when the third one came out which is quite a long time, and that naturally changes things.
WJH:
Yeah, from the age of 18 to 27, you’re a completely different person.
JT:
Yeah, you might have an idea of who you actually are. The new album still stinks of you though!
WJH:
Yeah, it’s sort of like if you wrote a metal song, it’d still sound exactly like you. I guess there are certain things - whether you like it or not - that you can’t get away from, which I think is a good thing.
JT:
You move quite quickly really don’t you? When did you finish it?
WJH:
A year or two ago. It’s never that quick because of label stuff. If you listen to the albums you’d think they’re really different and there’s a lot of change but actually there’s a lot of time in between. I’ve completely changed my style - I’m wearing different trousers and shoes. I’m wearing tassel jackets now. In a year’s time, who knows, I might have a different haircut.
JT:
The tassel jacket actually started years ago. It took a while to come out of the wardrobe - a lot of time in the mirror saying, ‘Come on, you can do this’. It’s not wearing you!
WJH:
Things just move on don’t they! I have a fairly similar mood whenever I put an album out. I don’t worry too much because you can’t really control it.
JT:
I generally just turn it all off. I’m not good with things like that at the best of times. I’m more concerned with what I’m going to eat next, otherwise I’ll worry too much and get nervous.
WJH:
Then it gets to the point when you get a Number One album and you’ve gotta answer your phone.
JT:
Well, you don’t…

Willie, you recently supported Jamie at Finsbury Park and just came back from supporting Arctic Monkeys’ European leg. Did you pick up any tricks?
WJH:
It’s the biggest thing I’ve been part of. Something I always come away with after seeing Jamie play is the thrill of being your total self on stage, which I think is harder than you think.
JT:
Yeah, be yourself - whatever that means! Or whatever version of yourself you are that day.
WJH:
The tassel jacket version of myself! Those shows took a little second to adjust to - just the size of it and to submit to the fact that if people are gonna like it, they’ll like it. If they don’t, they don’t.

Jamie, how does your approach to shows compare to Willie’s?
JT:
It really depends on moments in time - I get really bad stage fright sometimes. Other times I feel really at home, it’s like turning a switch a bit. Recently it’s felt really comfortable. I go through long periods of not playing, like six years between albums, which can make it quite daunting but I love it now.
WJH:
You look like you love it.
JT:
I’d do it more now if I could; I love the camaraderie of it. That’s the thing about being a solo artist - we play with bands so you get the best of both worlds. I’m really close with my band, when we go on tour now it’s like seeing your family again. Plus, people actually turn up on time now - it’s wicked, there’s so much love in the room. I love it more and more. Before that gig the other day [Finsbury Park], I hadn’t played guitar in months - I literally had to teach myself to play guitar again.
WJH:
No big deal, literally 45,000 people with your shorts on playing guitar.
JT:
The stress! I was literally sweating out in the kitchen with the acoustic trying to remember how to play chords.

Jamie, would you ever brave a tassel jacket?
JT:
What goes on in the house stays in the house. You get to the front door and suddenly go, ‘I can’t do this!’
WJH:
Or worst case scenario, you’ve left the house and you catch yourself in the mirror.
JT:
I’ve strictly got myself into a good place now where nobody expects me to wear anything but a cheap jacket and jeans - and there’s a lot of comfort in that.

Quite a wise decision, people are gonna expect big things from your wardrobe decisions Willie.
WJH:
It’s a dangerous path to tread!
JT:
White jeans are something I struggle with. I’ve got a lot of respect for people who get away with that…

‘Bunny’ is out 25th August via YALA! Records.

Tags: Jamie T, Willie J Healey, Features, Interviews

As featured in the August 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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