Will Varley describes being hungover as “quite a surreal state of mind”.
He’s suffering from a hangover right now but it’s a state he often finds himself writing songs in. Playing shows from the age of 13 he tells me about using a fake ID to attend open mics, explaining “I just wanted to find a way to make music my life and make a living from it. I feel really lucky that I’ve achieved that”. Fast-forward and he’s playing to hundreds of people and opening for label-mate Frank Turner in front of 1400 people. It’s a far cry from small acoustic nights in his early teens and is a testament to how far he’s come as a songwriter. “There were definitely moments where, for a split second, I reminded myself how crazy it is… I try as much as I can to appreciate things like that”.
On how far he’s come he jokes, “I think my teenage would be happy for about 10 seconds, then he’d go back to playing Grand Theft Auto”. It’s this modest nature that reflected in his songs makes his music so relatable. “As animals,” he explains, “we naturally look back on things, but I hope that my music looks forward too. A lot of my lyrics are about our relationship with time, the fluidity of it. I think time is all we really have, the moment of now and then the various ways we interact with that moment from the past or from the future.”
His fifth record features a full band for the first time, a big change from his previous work but the new, louder sound still manages to hold on to the intimate and honest nature that has drawn fans from across the world. Whilst writing the record, ‘Spirit of Minnie’, he tells me “I could hear little drum beats and electric guitar parts in my head so it was really the songs that lead the way… after four solo records it felt like good time to shake things up a bit”.
As many fans will know Will delayed his tour in order to work alongside producer Cameron McVey (Massive Attack, Portishead) and from the sound of the record I’m sure he’ll be forgiven. “It was a real pleasure just to hang out with Cameron, let alone make a record with him. He’s been doing this for a long time, and he has a lot of stories to tell. Having done the solo records in the past, it was great to have someone producing who could really help us find the right sound as a band and sort of guide us through that process. It was a really hard decision to delay the tour, but looking back I’m glad it happened this way.”
“The Spirit of Minnie’ seems to be a natural progression in Will’s music, thematically diverse yet skillfully intertwined with personal feelings and stories. “Some of the songs are about where I grew up,” he tells me, “and some are about the town I live in now. Then there’s ‘The Postman’, which is a song about about Ferdinand Cheval. In the early 1900’s he built a palace in his back garden out of stones he found on the floor”. On placing the album somewhere he suggests the moon, “some very old men and women are there, wearing rags. Some are huddling around a fire, and some are reading magazines. I think it would be maybe hundreds of years ago or thousands of years maybe, and they’re just walking around on the moon. Maybe at sunset.”
On what’s next he remarks, “maybe I’ll do some more solo records in the future, but right now I’m really enjoying the new energy and working through all the challenges that come with touring as a band.”
Outside of music his interests continue to lie in art as he discusses his therapeutic love of painting. “At some point in the next decade or two I might be up for doing some kind of art show. I’m sort of loosely talking with a theatre about writing some kind of play too, which would be an amazing experience. I think ultimately though I’d like to end up making and directing films.”
For now Will is on his biggest UK tour to date so wherever he ends up the future definitely looks bright for the songwriter.
Will’s new album ‘Spirit of Minnie’ is out now.
Words by HQ