Bill Ryder-Jones is a difficult person to pin down. The songwriter who longs to produce other artists, he’s a solitary figure who works best in group spaces, someone who is able to conjure beautiful jangle-pop melodies while yearning to shove his music into the ditch.
New album ‘Yawn’ is his first in three years, and it follows the self-described “Northern lad guitar pop” that pushed 2015’s ‘West Kirby County Primary’ to a much wider audience than Bill had perhaps anticipated. It’s slower, perhaps more considered, and certainly more subtle; songs such as ‘Mither’ for example recall everyone from Elgar to Low, the slender guitar lines wrapping themselves around Bill Ryder-Jones’ half-hushed, half-mumbled and entirely sincere vocals.
“I was consciously trying to write melodies that were not obvious and instant, and I spent a lot of time working out how I was going to do that,” he tells Clash backstage at his Rough Trade East in-store. “As a result, lyrically, I did the same. I think that lends itself to something more subversive, and less direct.”
“There’s more to it,” he shrugs. “None of the songs feel as though they are completed at any point. I don’t want them to be. None of them… They all just end, wherever they end.”
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As a result ‘Yawn’ feels a little more ragged but also more natural than its predecessor. Bill speaks about how he often writes music that is separate to what he would actually listen to privately, developing music while playing classical composers such as Vaughn Williams in the background.
“If there is any link between that kind of music and this record it’s that I’ve tried to toy with my melodies a bit, and be a bit more playful with them,” he says. “Which a lot of my favourite composers – particularly Elgar – are masters of. I wanted to make something that was primarily a piece of music rather than ‘songs’ - as in, catchy three minute songs, or whatever.”
“I was listening to quite a lot of Chopin, particularly, and Vaughn Williams during the making of the record,” he recalls, with a slight grimace on his face. “But it’s embarrassing, isn’t it? Because it’s this post-rock, slowcore record.”
Working from his home studio, Bill worked up these lengthier, more elaborate melodies, deliberately keeping each song open until the last possible moment – often, they were unfinished until the microphone started rolling.
“I will start recording a song more often than not while it’s still unfinished and write it while standing there recording,” he chuckles. “Most of my friends who are writers will have the song, show you the song, and then you record the song. I very much will have one verse, and they’ll be like: where is this going, where’s the melody? I’ll be sitting there, like: oh I’ll work it out.”
While almost every aspect of ‘Yawn’ is carefully considered, the lyrics are often left to the last possible moment. It’s a task he almost regards as a chore, with music definitely coming first. “Lyrics are the bane of my fucking life, just a pain in my arse!” he exclaims. “What I do, usually, is once I’ve got that little melody, I’ll go into the bath with a notepad and then I’ll start coming up with words that would match the notes of the melody. If it’s a triple I’ll use a word like Birkenheard, you know what I mean? And I’ll start filling a line and seeing what works.”
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I’ll be sitting there, like: oh I’ll work it out...
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Taking an artistic backseat during the past three years has allowed Bill Ryder-Jones to focus on his production work, including notable stints behind the desk for The Wytches and Our Girl.
“Producing other people is similar to producing my own records... once I know what the record is,” he notes. “It’s like giving someone advice, producing. If they’re good, it’s so apparent what you need to say, so you just go: alright, that makes absolute sense. It’s way easier than some people think. Particularly someone like Our Girl. They really just sounded like that – it was like a Steve Albini job, just put the mics out.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he adds with a knowing smile, “I have done records where people know what kind of bands they like but they don’t know how to achieve it without just ripping those groups off. I have to do a lot of work on that. It’s literally turning a voice note into a four minute song.”
“With Our Girl, they were just fully formed,” Bill shrugs. “Did a bit of guitar when they were asleep, and they loved it. Same with The Wytches, though, I didn’t do anything there. You can’t take credit for things you haven’t done.”
Moving from the collaborative side of production to the solitary task of writing can be an arduous one, it seems. With no one to lean on, Bill can become consumed by self-doubt, something that surfaces lyrically – ‘There’s Something On Your Mind’ for example – on the new record.
“I don’t really seek advice, for that matter,” he asserts. “When I’m at the wall, when I can’t move forwards – and it happens, with writing – my manager will listen to me moan about it everyday, and say: it’ll come! It’ll come!”
“I feel like I’m either a genius or a complete fraud,” he sighs. “That’s what people are like, though, aren’t they? It’s one or the other. And it depends on what day you catch us on, I guess. I’m quite a modest person, but I’ll happily talk about the things I know I’m good at without embarrassment.”
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That’s what people are like, though, aren’t they? It’s one or the other.
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One of the things Bill Ryder-Jones is particularly good at, though, is creating subtle, under-stated music – and ‘Yawn’ excels in this regard, a super return that will be augmented by a handful of live shows. More is planned for 2019, he insists, but this songwriter is a home bird – he’d much rather by fixing mics or adjusting his kit than checking into a Travel Lodge.
“I just prefer being at home, and my studio is five minutes away from my house,” he smiles. “It’s like anything, I’m very fortunate in that I’ve got several different aspects of my job, and it’s very difficult to get bored of any of it.”
“If I was doing four months straight in the studio, then I tend to do 10 hour days… then I might want to sit in a van, and have someone drive you around. That’s always great! But I wouldn’t want to tour for four months, either. It’s worked out alright.”
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'Yawn' is out now.
For tickets to the latest Bill Ryder-Jones shows click HERE.
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