I’m listening again to ‘Culture Of Volume’, William Doyle’s second album as East India Youth, and even now, three months after I first heard it, its warming glow hasn’t diminished any.
It’s a feeling that’s shared throughout Clash HQ, and represents a collective adoration of the London-based singer-songwriter that stretches back to his debut, ‘Total Strife Forever’, which we called “the first truly great album of 2014”, and slapped a whopping 9/10 badge on it. Upon the release of ‘Culture Of Volume’ back in April of this year, we duly repeated that heady feat. Yes, it’s fair to say we are fans.
It’s a testament to the deep buttresses of Doyle’s rich, electronic layers that I’m immediately and effortlessly swaddled in its opening notes, even in the deafening mash of music that is the Clash office. At times, bright, shimmering synths dominate, then sweeping orchestral waves wash through, while pulsing techno rhythms ensure your heart rate is never quite completely relaxed. It’s all fortified by Doyle’s golden vocals – sweet, poignant, graceful – and an open invitation to escape your immediate surroundings and indulge in all this beautiful melodrama.
It’s incredible to comprehend, then, that such a vast, fertile landscape was born in the intimate confines of Doyle’s bedroom.
“That’s always been my way,” Doyle says. “When I started making music I was in the suburbs near Southampton, and part of it was trying to make transportative music that would transcend you from your environment there. I always liked the idea of making much bigger sounds than I should be allowed to. I don’t know why - that grandiosity sort of appealed to me.”
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Big, yes, but it’s clever, too. More than just an ethereal gateway, ‘Culture Of Volume’ proves that electronic music can stir emotions too. The hymnal ‘Carousel’, for instance, evokes regret, submission, and a sense of despair. It’s progress built upon a confidence that has grown since his Mercury-nominated debut, where vocal tracks now outnumber the instrumentals, and the former lead singer of indie group Doyle And The Fourfathers has rediscovered his frontman tendencies.
“I’m a singer-songwriter,” he clarifies. “The instrumental stuff was more of a reaction to where I was in my life at the time of making the last album, but this feels like I’m returning back to my comfort zone really. I like singing. It makes me feel good doing it, and you should do things that make you feel good,” he laughs.
Clash met Doyle back in March, during the South By South West festival in Austin, as we both nursed hangovers in a sterile hotel lobby café. I was certainly doing something that made me feel good – having a large cookie and a can of Coke for breakfast. Looking dapper in a formal navy suit, Doyle was somewhat overdressed for the Texas climate, but standing out from the crowd, it seems, is his intention, especially when it comes to performance.
Earlier in the week, his set at Latitude 30 – a venue rechristened as the British Music Embassy for the duration of the festival – demonstrated wonderfully his intriguing energetic live aesthetic, which forsakes the anonymous, detached presence so redolent with electronic artists. “I wanted it to be quite a visceral thing, and not a guy behind a laptop, or look like a DJ, which I’m not,” Doyle says of his stagecraft. “I wanted it to be quite a physical thing, so I’ve got the bass guitar on stage, and I’m doing the drum pads and stuff like that now… I can control everything with this control pad thing that I’ve got, and I don’t need to look at the laptop.”
“It’s just removing that barrier so that you can perform to the audience more. You’re looking at people, you’re engaging with them, and that’s really important. As time has gone on, I don’t consider myself an electronic artist - I use electronic music as a basis for my songs, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a producer or anything. I’m a songwriter. I record using a computer and I do produce electronic music, but I’m not like the traditional style of it, and I think the live shows reflect that as well. I don’t feel like I’m an electronic artist, I’m just using these means to make noises. I’m not there with loads of hardware synthesizers - it’s all software, so I’m not really thinking about that; it’s all about the interaction between me and the equipment and the audience.”
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...I’ve made my London record now; it’s time to get out of it, I guess.
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If ‘Total Strife Forever’ introduced a predilection for variety within its tones and textures (compare the fervid acid house heights of ‘Hinterland’ to the mercurial majesty of ‘Song For A Granular Piano’, for example), then the impressive scope of ‘Culture Of Volume’ confirms Doyle’s inclinations. Between the album’s glistening instrumental bookends, ‘The Juddering’ and ‘Montage Resolution’, lies a dizzying kaleidoscope of sounds and influences. ‘Beaming White’ could be a lost Pet Shop Boys classic, and ‘Turn Away’ is similarly classy synth pop, but then ‘Entirety’ is pure Underworld clout, and the aforementioned ‘Carousel’ is as luscious as any Scott Walker opus. Its brilliance is in combining these disparate influences and yet remaining resolutely pop.
“I don’t feel part of a scene - never have, and I’ve never wanted to either,” he begins to explain. “I like carving my own space and going, ‘That’s where I’m at.’ I’m not saying what I do is the most original thing in the world or whatever, because it borrows from a lot of places, but I don’t see many people doing the same combination of what I’m doing. I liked the idea of doing Pet Shop Boys-style bangers next to industrial techno. Those two things rarely meet in the same room, and I thought that was really important as a way of having some identity - amidst all the madness of the different styles and stuff moving out.”
There is, Doyle admits, “loose” progress made on album number three. Though he won’t reveal any details on what direction he may be heading in, he does know where the record will be “in terms of the environment”. Some background: ‘Total Strife Forever’ was imbued with the isolation of suburbia, tracing Doyle’s steps from his Southampton home to the seclusion of Ruislip, on the outskirts of London, while the “colourful and vibrant” nature of ‘Culture Of Volume’ stems from his move to the capital’s centre. Now, with a life being spent largely on the road, Doyle’s transience may lead him away from the city again (“It seems stupid paying silly London rent prices to not be there”), but this time around, his address may not be quite as impactful.
“I know the setting for it,” he teases, “and I kind of want to be in that environment. I think some sort of nomadic lifestyle might not be very productive there. But I think while I’m just touring and I’m not really sitting down and working on new tunes a lot, I think it might be nice to just drift for a bit… I would like to be outside of the city. I’ve spent all my life in cities… I’m not talking about going off and getting a cottage somewhere, but just be somewhere quieter. I went to visit my mum a few weeks ago back in Hampshire, a suburb near Southampton, and it was so quiet there. I was like, ‘Man, I haven’t heard silence in ages!’ Always in London, you think it’s quiet, but you’d always get that whirr - it’s probably the North Circular going off in the distance, this kinda dull roar…”
I mention having recently read about the psychological benefits of birdsong on humans – research has proven that hearing birdsong in its natural environment can have a powerful healing effect, which can improve mental health. Doyle clearly agrees.
“It’s great. I really love hearing birdsong,” he smiles, as we neatly adjourn outside to take photos. “When I went to visit my mum a few weeks ago, I took a walk round, and I was like, ‘This is beautiful. I haven’t heard this in ages.’ I was like, ‘This shouldn’t be a novelty.’ Birdsong shouldn’t be a novelty, but it is, and that’s when I realised, ‘Yeah, I need a bit of a change here.’ I’ve made my London record now; it’s time to get out of it, I guess.”
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Words: Simon Harper
Photo Credit: Katherine Squier