Design Guide: Lost In Suburbia With William Doyle
William Doyle has this soft, gentle laugh, one that’s both inviting and gently reassuring. Perhaps it’s designed to reassure himself. Sat in a cafe in Walthamstow, he’s attempting to discuss his new album – the first under his own name, and one that dives deep into his past to chart a fresh future.
Out now, ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ moves beyond the universe inhabited by East India Youth, while inserting itself back into the suburbs of Doyle’s adolescence. It’s a record that wilfully defines itself in a specific locality, while affording the songwriter renewed freedom to exhibit those emotional landscapes in fresh, and uniquely moving ways.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about everything on there,” he says with a half-smile. “Nearly 11 years now. I’ve got used to saying 10 years because I finished it last year. It seems like ages ago now.”
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Spending his teenage years in the Hampshire town of Chandler’s Ford, he went through many of those adolescent phases of feeling trapped, and projecting his own internal strife onto the bland suburbia that rolled around him. As he grew, though, he would escape both this locality and this mentality, returning to paint something new and refreshing.
“I remember reading about Brett Anderson talking about Haywards Heath, where he grew up, and he’d always look up the train track to London,” he explains. “I never felt that mainline where I was. It felt far away! It wasn’t, obviously, but it felt far away, abstractly as well.”
“I never thought about all this stuff at the time,” he says. “It’s only really looking back that I thought it deserves a different representation that the one it has been given. I think I had a significant experience in that world, in that headspace. I could either ignore it or write it off as juvenilia. It seemed revelatory to me.”
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Departing from his label and his previous moniker, William Doyle had space in his life to explore these themes. Initially intending the project to be heavily visual in tone, it eventually departed from this, becoming far more introspective as a result. “I made the record as my experience of where I grew up, but I didn’t make it about that particular place,” he continues. “I certainly get a strong sense of place wherever I go. And if that feels apparent to me, and it’s the same feeling I get wherever we are, then there must be some analogue to that. Everyone must have that transferable experience in some way.”
“I wanted people to relate to it in that way on the record, and not think: well, this is just autobiographical. Obviously, my reason for being there is unique, but I still think the same sense of wonder can be found anywhere.”
Managing to squirrel away some money after the final East India Youth tours, William Doyle did the obvious thing – he moved about as far away from the source of his suburban inspiration as he could get. “I moved to York, weirdly,” he says, the smile broadening. “Not New York… York!”
He explains: “My best mate moved there, and he found a house, a place for us to live together. He also makes music, so it was a nice little eco-system we had there.”
The move made financial sense – escaping the economic rigours of London – but also helped him gain some sort of perspective, both on his own experiences and of the project itself. “Jarvis Cocker said about Sheffield that he didn’t really start writing about it until he moved to London. And I always resonated with that idea,” he says. “Once I’d left that place, you start thinking about it very differently… which seems natural, doesn’t it? But I didn’t really know that was going to happen.”
“If I’d made it where I grew up… who knows? Maybe I would have made a different record altogether. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so nostalgic or as celebratory. The haven of your memory is very forgiving, I suppose, isn’t it? So if I was there, maybe it wouldn’t have come out in that way.”
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The final result is hugely striking. A technical feast, it features some of William Doyle’s most nuanced, in-depth songwriting yet, a solo tour de force that nonetheless finds room for everyone from Brian Eno to Jonathan Meades.
The latter provides a spoken word segment about housing, and this interest in the design and theory behind social architecture provides the album with one of its most beguiling resonances. It’s something William Doyle took seriously, delving into old textbooks and council notepads to uncover concrete detail.
“It felt like it was interesting to look at something else, and see if you could artistic inspiration from something that is actually quite dry, if you think about it,” he says. “I’d gleaned them from all these different council housing design guides. It’s not entertaining reading that stuff, it’s pretty dry. I think I wanted the record to be more about architecture than it ended up being in the end. There’s only so much you can really write about that. You still want an audience to come along on a journey with you, you don’t want to alienate them”.
“I’m so glad that I shed that from the record,” he sighs. “It was good to form the foundation. A bit like building a house, in a way – we laid the groundwork for making something strong on top of it. But all that stuff doesn’t really matter. Later on, what you see is that you’ve got to make it something to live in, and fill it with interesting ornaments. All that planning level stuff only made me more confident going into it, having constructed those foundational elements.”
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Confidence is something that Doyle admits was, at times, in short supply. One of the reasons the new album has taken so long to finish is that he has moved through period of mental health issues, at times making the creative process a frustrating one. “I’d be on this one line, and it wouldn’t work so you’d try something else out, and perhaps in your third different headspace you’d be like: those two lines of thought that you thought were useless, actually have now met and make sense!”
“It’s hard because the moment when you realise that is so satisfying, but the pain of letting these things go and banging your head on a desk over and over again in that time… is it worth it? It’s hard to say,” he shrugs. “Those periods of alarm lead to that very quick epiphany, but maybe the ecstasy of that moment is enough to justify the hardship on the way. I don’t know if that’s how other people make records. I haven’t really talked to anyone about that. I’d like to find out if they experience the same thing, or if it’s more linear for them. It seems to be the same for every record I’ve made now.”
One particular high point of the record is a collaboration with Brian Eno. 'Design Guide' was a track that presented a number of problems to Doyle, but ultimately came into focus with relative ease. “I initially had my voice on that song, pitched down, but I thought it would be much better if someone else could do it. At that point our relationship was such that I could send him an email, saying: do you want to do it? And sure enough he did it within an hour, then sent it back.”
“It was a really easy thing to do,” Doyle says. “He was very up for doing it. He’s always up for doing unusual things like that. Everyone asks him to produce their record, because that’s what he’s known for, but if you ask him to do a weird spoken word thing then absolutely! He likes being asked to do things. He likes doing things with his voice, as well – singing or not singing. It’s something he responds to.”
“It made a lot of sense, in a strange way. It wasn’t totally gratuitous. He has a very good voice for doing that. It seems to command some sort of authority. The track is exactly the same as it was except that it’s now got his voice on it, and it seemed to glue the whole thing together. Like it was off balance before. He went and got the spirit level out, and got it back on level.”
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After our conversation William Doyle leads the photographer through winding streets, in search of something he’s spotted on Google maps. It’s a cluster of houses, one he swears recalls the streets he grew up in, the area that inspired the record. Walking quickly, purposefully, he seems utterly driven, moving this way, then that, until we finally turn the corner into a cul de sac, this perfect vision of suburbia.
It’s not too much of a stretch to present that as a metaphor for the record as a whole – this winding journey, full of odd turns and wrong directions, pushed ahead by someone with a crystal vision of where they want to end up. “I haven’t really figured out why I felt it was important to do all this,” he tells Clash. “I mean, no one else gives a shit, do they? (laughs) Well, they might do. Obviously, I needed to do this for some reason, and maybe I won’t figure that out until after it’s out, and after I’ve had some time to chew it over.”
“It’s too slow for it to feel cathartic at the moment. With the other records I made there was that, there was a moment like that. But with this one, it hasn’t really happened yet. Maybe I should stop waiting around for it, maybe that’s when it will come!”
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'Your Wilderness Revisited' is out now.
Photo Credit: Eleonora C. Collini
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