It wasn’t so long ago – January wasn’t so long ago, was it? – that I sat down with William Doyle, somewhere in east London, and enjoyed a lovely cup of tea while discussing his debut album as East India Youth, the still-amusingly-titled ‘Total Strife Forever’. We chatted about the meeting point of classical and electronic music, his time soaking in the “rubbish” music scene of Southampton, and David Bowie’s ‘Low’.
We also, albeit a little jokingly, discussed what’d happen if ‘Total Strife Forever’ found itself nominated for the Mercury Prize, still the UK’s most prestigious album award, won in 2013 by James Blake.
“I think that we’re all so keen to focus on new and emerging talent now without giving it time enough to be nurtured, and I think that’s quite dangerous. It’s like someone winning the Mercury on their debut record: it gives them so much attention that they can become waylaid from their creative goals because there’s suddenly so much other stuff to worry about.”
“But I think it’s important, with all this craziness going on, all these amazing reviews, to keep writing and to keep focused on your next creative goal. It’s great that this is happening for me, and I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. But you can’t get too side-tracked by it, or take it too seriously.”
Has he had his head turned by the (inevitable, really) Mercury nod for ‘Total Strife Forever’, then? There’s only one way to find out.
- - -
East India Youth, ‘Hinterland’
- - -
Hi Will. Straight to the point: the Mercury. How’s it been as a nominee? Comfortable?
To be honest I hadn’t engaged with it much until the last couple of weeks. There’s that initial burst when the announcement happens – and then, not a lot. You go out, and people you haven’t seen in a while say congratulations, but that’s about as much as there’s been to it. But now the ceremony is nearly on us, so it is getting a bit more exciting.
Got any money on yourself winning? I saw your odds were 8/1.
I think that’d be frowned upon, wouldn’t it? I don’t know if it’s allowed, but I probably won’t be doing it.
Is there anyone else on the shortlist that you’d put a fiver on? If it’s easier, let’s say it’s not even your fiver.
But you’d be over the moon if you won, obviously.
Yeah, of course. I don’t know… I’m just happy with the whole experience as it’s been, really. I don’t want to feel too much pressure from it. I think that’s your own decision, though – how much pressure you feel from something like this is only ever down to you. It’s not about what other pressure is being directed to you, from other people. So, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing, and whatever happens, win or lose, it’ll be interesting.
You get a little trophy just for showing up these days, anyway.
Do ever catch yourself wondering what you’d do with the prize money? Because it’s like buying a lottery ticket, isn’t it? You know the odds are against you – but you still pause for thought as to how many yachts you’d be able to buy with a jackpot win.
I think it would make what I do anyway, easier. I wouldn’t build a studio, or anything like that. I’d just make sure that I get to tour comfortably for the next… Well, how much is it? £20,000 isn’t it. That’d run out pretty quickly.
You mentioned back in January that the album had taken quite a while to come together, that the process had been slow for you, to that point. But, presumably, the last couple of months have gone by pretty fast?
Yeah, kind of. I suppose it’s been… well, life has been going at a faster pace. I was searching on a hard drive yesterday, for a file for somebody, and I came across one of the first demos that I made for ‘Dripping Down’, and the date on it was 21st November, 2010. So, oh god, that is such a long time ago. But my new record is actually being mixed today.
- - -
East India Youth, ‘Dripping Down’
- - -
We’ll get to that, slow down, Will. We talked about The (BBC) Sound Of back in January, and how hype for you too early would have been scary. Now the album’s out, and you’ve had this, I suppose, gentle ascent, are you better prepared to be more recognisable?
Yeah, I’m really happy with the rise. The slow trajectory has been perfect for me, actually. And it means that we – me, and people I work with – have been able to make the most out of the whole campaign, and haven’t felt rushed too much, about anything. Really, the Mercury nomination could not have gone better – this is about as good as it gets, I think. I’m in a good place with it all.
Just to go a bit off-piste, but the Mercury does get some stick from certain quarters of the music press. Presumably you see it as a valuable player in highlighting emerging British music? You’re on there, with Kate Tempest and Young Fathers, acts well outside the mainstream that otherwise might never have this chance to show what they can do to a wide audience…
Yeah. I mean, one of the main criticisms I’ve seen of the Mercury this year, and I suppose it’s something that happens every year, is that there’s a lot of mainstream acts ignored on the shortlist. But I feel that most mainstream acts today aren’t all that focused on making albums – and this is an albums prize. It’s not a prize for the artist, necessarily – it’s focusing on specific bodies of work. I don’t think those things get made as much in the mainstream, in the same way as they do in the underground. I think it makes total sense then, really.
Righto, let’s bring it back to the new record, then. Actually, no, wait a second. Isn’t there a ‘special edition’ of ‘Total Strife…’ to come first?
Um, kind of. There’s a bonus disc version out on October 27th. The bonus disc is the one we gave Rough Trade, when the album was their album of the week, on release. It’s the soundtrack I made to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. We only did 100 copies or something back then, so it wasn’t that widespread. We figured it’d be good to give the album a boost around the Mercury, so we remembered we had this soundtrack.
I don’t think it’s amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m pretty happy with it, in terms of it being something new for me. At the time, I didn’t have it quite figured out. When I was finishing the mix for ‘Total Strife…’, that was the same time that I was finishing the soundtrack, so it feels like it’s in the same time period, that it’s not this totally arbitrary inclusion, as there are themes that each disc share. There are sounds from ‘Total Strife…’ that feature on the soundtrack, so it’s a good companion piece.
- - -
East India Youth, ‘Heaven, How Long’
- - -
And on the new stuff, you told me back in January that you had “to keep focused on your next creative goal”. Which is presumably what you’ve been able to do?
Yeah. When we spoke in January, I already had a sizeable chunk ready, for what is going to come next. What with touring and going away, getting to the second album has taken me a bit longer than I’d have liked, but it’s been good to get that step back, that perspective on the new stuff I’d been working on. When I played Field Day, that was the end of a long period of touring for me – and after that festival, I just hammered away at the new material for a couple of weeks. And then this Mercury stuff happened.
I only released my first album in January, and now I’ve almost finished my second, which might seem like a quick turnaround, but actually, this second album is a couple of years in the making. It’s just weird how the release timings have happened.
Should we expect this second album in, I suppose, early 2015?
Yeah. But I’ll reserve specifics. I don’t want to say too much, or I’ll get told off.
Fair enough. And during this great year for you, have there been events, meetings, whatever, that will stay with you, forever? Like, did you meet anyone who turned your legs to jelly?
I have to remind myself just how far things have come for me, in such a short space of time. I met Owen Pallett recently, and that was really weird because I am such a massive fan of his. And I almost take these things for granted, now.
Well, perhaps that’s a pointer as to what might be – or who might be – on the next album, isn’t it?
Ha! No, it doesn’t! It’s a totally separate thing… Or, we’ll see. But, it’s been… I guess watching my trajectory over the summer was really interesting, as everything seems to have grown over those three months. At the start of the festival season, I wasn’t playing to so many people – but at the end, headlining one of the tents at Green Man, the audience was incredible. Everyone was really involved, and I loved it. I cast my mind back, and it wasn’t at that point at all – so, at some point of the summer it’s really sprung up. So that’s an amazing thing – it reassures me that I must be doing something right, and it’s not just pure luck.
- - -
Interview: Mike Diver
Photo (this page): Marine Andrieux
The special edition of ‘Total Strife Forever’ is released on October 27th. The Barclaycard Mercury Prize winner is announced on October 29th, with live TV coverage of the ceremony, held at London’s Roundhouse, broadcast on More4 – more information here.