Will Stanley's down-home folk sound with thoughtful, soulful lyrics, banjo and sometimes violin and sometimes piano and sometimes more, may make you think he's from the American South, but Mr. Stanley is as English as they come, and if you listen closely to him, you'll feel it.
Will plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, tin whistle, the fiddle, and "a little keyboard" he tells me. I caught up with Mr. Stanley here in the ether and he kindly agreed to chat with me a bit about music and the muse.
1. When did you start making music?
Oooh... technically I was as young as 15. I did like music in high school, but didn't have much musical encouragement and never took to it until later. At first I was into creative writing and poetry in my teens, but I realised people would be more likely to listen if I put my words to music. I picked up a guitar at around 15 when I was in sixth form after listening to lots of Radiohead and Joy Division and thinking some of the riffs sounded easy. What's interesting about my journey is I never really knew I could write well, or sing, I just wanted to, and I kept doing it. Trust me, when I started I wasn't very good. There's a big part of it that is psychological and about self-belief I think.
2. What inspires you to make music?
Everything and anything, but the main things I guess are my Christian faith, my people - their story - my ancestors, and their struggles past and present. But also in a big way, land and nature. Everywhere you look there is a connection to the past, where people in England have looked on the same woods, heard the same birdsong and wrote songs inspired by the very same things. I'm trying to both keep older tunes alive and inject an attitude and energy into it that appeals to young people. I'll often speed up a song or slightly change the melody to achieve that which I think is OK to do. I am excited about a cover of “Oak and Ash and Thorn” but not sure when it will be ready...stay tuned...I love all the old poets and how they throw light on the topics I love: Think William Blake's 'Jerusalem' for example. I'm really keen to preserve our history in folk tales and song, both past and present, and I look forward to writing something about Josh's March for Freedom worthy of folklore of old. I think the most powerful thing I learned is our people's direct connection to the ancient history and people of the Bible. I thought about keeping it under my hat, but I can see how while there is still so much disdain for this belief, it is important some of us stand proud behind our beliefs and endure the ridicule for the sake of others who may be too frightened to be open about what they believe. I think if you have a thicker skin you have to be the ice breaker and plow forward. I understand that people feel like modern Christianity is broken, and it is, but I don't see why that means we should abandon the Bible - it covers everything;
e v e r y t h i n g ! I was searching for who I am, and where I belong in this world. I wanted to know why so many people hated us and what story I was involved in. Finding that has bought me a lot of peace. Pride is a big theme in my lyrics, and it is still the first stumbling block of European people - me included. I think we're both too often proud to accept our great heritage and accomplishment, with a sort of false humility, or we have the tendency to feel like we can work it all out ourselves, that we are all 'Gods' in our own way. This is I think a seductive idea, and a battle our people have fought since creation. Eve was sold the same idea by the serpent, at the chance of 'esoteric' knowledge; the oldest of battles is the battle of your 'do as thou wilt' self, or ego, trying to wrestle for supremacy over your duty to your creator / God, your kin, and your community. The point is this is one of my biggest inspirations. I will be writing a lot about these themes and exploring them.
3. Can you tell me a little bit about your process?
Ah, that's interesting because it's different for each song. Some things start as poems or just words on a page, from a feeling. Other words are often from listening to songs I really feel inspired by. Often I'll be listening to music and just love the flow of it and start writing some lyrics to that meter. It's not my intention to 'steal' but I know I can go away and think of a new melody or add words to change the meter later but that's pretty common... listening to music that stirs me then putting some words down. As I got better with my instruments I found it easier to make things up and write music first, then words later. I'd say it's roughly 50/50 at the moment. I like harmonies as you can probably tell and other artists implementing them reminded me to use them more too. My biggest trial is being a perfectionist and having some challenges in my life that mean I can't produce to the quality I'd like, but I'm trying to learn to release things anyway as things don't have to be perfect.
I also love collaborating with people and hopefully you'll see more of that soon. I will be releasing a traditional folk album, and an album of my own originals in my own style eventually. That's my goal by the end of the year, to have both of those finished. Realistically, it looks like an album and an EP may be more achievable, as I have some other projects to finish too.
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