Just back from supporting Frank Turner in Germany, Will Varley is set to embark on his own UK tour. Musically Will is hard to pin down – he blends folk melodies with social commentary whilst also singing about innocuous things like self-service machines. Having started out at open mic nights over 10 years ago, Will has since supported The Proclaimers, walked the South coast of the country touring his music like an age-old troubadour and co-set up record label, Smugglers Records. Not bad for the 28-year-old who describes his own music as ‘dishevelled’ and ‘awkward’. Set to play The Bodega on the 20th February, Anna Butler caught up with Will to chat about the new album ‘Postcards from Ursa Minor’ and this new leg of his journey…
Q: Your music has been described as “antifolk” but that term is quite ambiguous, how would you best describe your music?
It’s always a hard one – antifolk is a strange concept. I used to play an antifolk night when I was 16 and some people used to get really cross because I was calling myself antifolk. Other people then said I was too punky to be folk. I think the thing is with definitions is that everyone has their own idea of what something is, and nothing really is anything and everything is just kind of music. I would describe my own music as dishevelled, awkward noise.
Q: You’ve supported the likes of Frank Turner who described you as “one of the best singer-songwriters in the UK”. How does that make you feel being described by someone you hugely admire like that?
Well I think he was probably drunk. Frank’s been an incredible mentor to me and what I do. He’s been incredibly supportive in lots of different ways. Having done it for a long time without any help or support, it really is amazing how generous Frank has been with his time and with his words. But it’s the nature of the kind of guy he is, I spent a lot of time with him in the course of this last tour in Germany, and he is just an amazing guy. He’s very wise and he obviously has had a pretty incredible life over the last 10 years. So yeah, it’s amazing, feels great.
Q: Your songs often have a political slant or poignant social commentary to them, how do you hope your music is perceived? Do you want your songs to make people stand up for social issues, think about their actions…?
Well the thing is with me, I never really set out to write a political song or to have a song with a certain viewpoint or call to arms. I guess what I tend to do is respond to whatever is going on in my life personally, so if I’m worried about something or something is having an affect on me, I tend to write about it to purely clear my own head. Often I guess what you’re kind of hoping for as an artist, is that other people are going to be worried about that same thing and will connect with whatever you have said about it. As a side note, if it helps people or raises someone else’s viewpoint on a particular issue that’s great, I’m not against that but it’s not what I set out to do.
Q: Is writing quite cathartic for you? When did you start song writing or feeling the need to put these points across?
Writing is definitely cathartic and I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. I used to write stupid little poems as a kid and I guess I’m still writing stupid little poems now. I’ve always done it and I don’t know quite how I do it. A lot of interviews you get asked, ‘What’s your song writing process?’, and I wish I knew because I’m trying to write another album at the moment and it’s not going very well [laughs]. Songs are like wild animals, I’m not the first person to have said that, you can’t really tell how they’re going to behave, you can’t really predict when they’re going to come or how they’re going to come at you.
Q: Some of your songs are incredible funny and quirky, where does your inspiration come from to sing about cats or self-service machine? Are you a big people watcher?
Yeah absolutely, a huge part of making any art is watching things, whether that’s people or listening to people or overhearing stories or conversations. I think it’s hugely important and more influential for a person than listening to other pieces of art in a way. I hate to describe my own songs as funny, but those kind of songs, they came from me playing open mics and having very intense subject matters about the end of the war and suicide bombers. You then realise that within that you need some light otherwise people get very bored.
Q: I hear you’re a big fan of walking – you toured your debut album ‘Advert Soundtracks’ on foot, walking 130 miles around the South coast and your second album, ‘As the crow flies’, you walked 500 miles. Your first walking tour was 5 years ago… are you giving walking a rest? What made you decide to embark on such a journey like that? Would you do anything like it again?
I’m definitely giving it a rest for now. I think you have to forget how difficult something like that is before you want to do it again. You really have to want to do it and at this moment, the last one still feels quite recent so I’m not quite ready to want it again.
Q: Having released your third album, ‘Postcards from Ursa Minor’ on Xtra mile recordings, you’re set to play Bodega on 20th February, what can we expect from the gig? It’s quite an intimate venue.
It’s going to have a lot of stuff off the new album. A lot of gigs I’ve been doing recently are support shows so you get 25 minutes to half an hour to play. This means I haven’t really been able to play a lot of the newer songs. I’m hoping with these new shows that I’ll be able to play the whole album pretty much and some of the old stuff as well.
Q: How is ‘Postcards from Ursa Minor’ different from your previous stuff?
The thing is I never really set out to write an album. I’m always writing songs and when I’ve got enough songs I make an album so there’s no real theme to them. It’s just kind of a mixed bag. For me, I hope it’s a slight movement, you should always move forward otherwise there’s no point.
Q: You’re a cofounder of Smugglers record label which Coco Lovers are signed to and the aim is to support independent artists without profit… are their any future names we should be looking out for?
Absolutely, Mimi O’Halloran who is a great singer songwriter. Tom Farrer who is a huge part of the Smugglers gang and is now in a band called Desert Planes and they’re doing really well.
Q: Your touring North America this spring with pals Skinny Lister and Beans on Toast, how excited are you for that?
Well I just got back from Germany with Frank [Turner] which was a great experience and my first international tour but having said that, America, it’s a whole different kettle of fish… so I can’t wait. Me, Jay [Beans on Toast] and Skinny Lister are going to be driving around in the same van and I think it’s going to be complete carnage. I’m prepping my liver currently.
Q: What’s the best thing about being on the road?
The gigs are always pretty awesome, especially when you’re doing support shows. When I toured with The Proclaimers or with Frank or Jay, they’re always a step up from what I can do on my own so it’s always great. Also meeting people and seeing different places and drinking in bars which you’ll probably never drink in again.
Q: Is there anything you’ll be doing in the UK this summer?
Yes, loads of festivals. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to confirm anything but watch this space!
Will, it’s been a pleasure, good luck with Bodega on the 20th and we’ll be listening out for where you’ll be playing in the summer.
You can follow Will on Twitter here.
You can also follow Anna here.