Backstage with Indie Reggae Masterminds Will and the People // MUSIC MONDAY

Ding.

I thrash about in bed to find my phone. It’s a DM from Rose. She’s touring with Will And The People as a photographer, and she’s finally responded to my message about interviewing them.

Message reads: “Will says ‘of course’”.

Oh Fuck.

My inner monologue somehow shits itself.

This isn’t no joke, boy. You’ve been walking around like you’re Mr. Writer Man, Monsieur Music Journalist Boy, well it’s time to put your money where you mouth is and get some insight into this band – do some research you bloody pleb!

So I do some research. I curl up around my laptop like a sultry house cat and remain like that for about three days, during which time I reach the following conclusions:

  • Will and the People sound like the musical lovechild of Brighton and Amsterdam.
  • Their new single, Gigantic, is a beautiful and wholesome mission statement.
  • They’re definitely gonna think I’m a square.

Satisfied that I have way too many questions for the band, I meander out of bed, eat a pear, shower off my 72-hour stink, then leg it to the tube.

I stroll out of Camden station, right past the roasted peanuts, and park myself in front of The Electric Ballroom. It’s only 4 in the afternoon, but eccentrically dressed fans are already milling about outside. I’m about to ask a nearby goth if they’re here for Will and the People, but she gives me a look as if to say: buzz off, new kid – I’m eating my cheesy chips. 

Outnumbered, I retreat to the peanut stand and loiter until Rose finds me and we slink around back of the venue. Our entrance is a mysterious metal gate across the road from a garish building whose sign proudly reads: “Blue Rose, Licenced Sex Shop”. I’ve made it. Next to the gate stands a smiling furry who is introduced to me as ‘Will And The People’s biggest fan’. She seems lovely, although somewhat disappointed that I, only a medium sized fan, am allowed in when she is not.

Pictured: The fan in question.

Through the metal gate is a smoking area with a bunch of vans in it. On my left the stage door. I’m taken around, introduced to each band member, and immediately lose any pretence of professionalism. I’m a huge fan of this band, and it shows. My laughs are awkward and frequent, and my legs are weak and bendy. First impressions are as follows:

  • Bassist Jim is a chilled young gun, he looks like he gives great hugs.
  • Guitarist Jamie walks the tightrope between intensely serious and relaxed uncle. He’s Will’s brother.
  • Drummer Charlie gives me the unique aesthetics of young Noel Feilding and the friendly personality of Julian Barrat
  • Frontman Will is everything I expected and more.

He paces across the greenroom and speaks with vulnerable enthusiasm. There’s some serious eye-contact happening. With hardly any prompting, he launches into what the band has clearly been bursting to say. He tells me that things are changing, and that the band is experiencing a kind of rebirth. He tells me that they clicked together in a revolutionary way, and that they’re currently running low on beer, but he still hands me one as I hit record on my phone:

 

“So, a renaissance?”

“A renaissance! Exactly. Y’know, for the last fucking eight years, the meaning that we perceive in our music, what we imagined it to be was never the same as what it actually was, dyouknowhatImean? And now it is, for the first time. It’s actually what we imagined it would be which is fucking huge thing for us, it’s like a coming of age thing. It’s taken us a while but it’s like we’re… I don’t want to say mature because we’re not very mature but we’ve certainly found our feet, mate. We’re bowling without bumpers, we’re not gonna fuck it up again.”

I’m asking if this renaissance is sonic, or more to do with how they gel as a band. Will tells me that this all started on the night of a special, emotional show for the boys.

“The live show’s always been a huge thing for us, just getting into that mindset. We’d spent a while making new music and ignoring our old music, not viewing it as a part of where we wanted to go, but what happened with that show was that we played for 2 hours so inevitably we put a set together of old stuff and new stuff, and we realised… that’s what we are! We’re like a fucking clusterfuck of music and we’re very proud to have all these different sounds.”

 

Photo by Rose Brown @rose_embrown

“You don’t think you’re too varied?”

“I think nowadays, twenty whatever-fucking-year-it-is, people are ready to hear things that are instantly different, ready for one thing then another, it doesn’t confuse them, y’know?”

“I do know. So when you had that moment, was it shared? did you all feel it?”

Charlie’s eyes open, he sits up from the couch.

“definitely, 100%. It was kind of a spiritual rebirth, I don’t think any of us had gone through that before, so for us all to go through it together as four people, we all connected with each other in a beautiful way. There was a lot of, a lot of strength.”

“Literally I remember thinking I could die, now, and I’d be content.”

Murmurs of agreement from the rest of the band.

“That was the moment where, fucking hell man, we’d done something properly, properly big, bigger than us! But now, we’re taking that fucking spirit into everything we do, y’know? Which is fucking amazing we’ve managed to contain it and use it! I thought ‘oh my god how the fuck are we going to do it again?”

We’re briefly interrupted by a shout from out the window. Rose can’t get back into the venue, she left her pass up here.

 “They’re pretty hardcore around here man, all the security, all the bloody management!”

“It does seem strict. and expensive”

“I call it five pound boiled eggs”

“Ha!”

“so yeah, we’re fucking happy, we go hard now, there’s a big feeling of privilege to be in the position we’re in. when we get up on stage, we respect what we’re doing enough to fucking put 120% in every time, dyouknowhatImean? Everything disappears, any beef if there’s beef”

“Is there beef?”

“Nah, not really.”

“…and the record?”

“And the record! That should be good, we’re releasing four songs, one every month now, then we’re going on a UK Europe headline tour, in April/may, and then fuck knows what after that! Beautifully, we’re not thinking too far ahead, we know we’re still gonna be doing this-

He gestures around at the greenroom, at the beer fridge, at the band.

-but exactly what we’ll be doing, who knows.”

Pictured: An X shaved into Will Rendle’s chest. – @rose_embrown

Another brief interlude, the band convenes to order food.

“I’m struggling eating before shows now. It’s the nerves.”

“Is it all fast food?”

“Well. It’s a lot easier to eat healthy on the road now. With the fucking £5 boiled eggs everywhere”

From 3 floors down, a bass guitar makes my feet tickle.

“I’m a father, yknow what I mean, so I’m just thinking like a dad now.”

“I saw some pictures from your recent gigs, you’re always shirtless. Is that new?”

“I saw the guy from Idols doing it, and I was like ‘Fuck, that’s coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ Y’know? Because when you’re doing Glastonbury or the Brit awards or the Mercury prize, you think about wearing a suit, and that’s something that’s always fucked with me like ‘what am I gonna wear?’ I need to be looking crisp, y’know? On form. There was this weight on my pathetic shoulders, y’know? And taking that whole thing away is a massive liberation. It gets my head in the zone for on stage, it’s a small thing but it’s working for the moment. Don’t know what it’ll be like when we go to, fucking Russia and play, where it’s really fucking cold. I like to think I’ll still do it.”

“Sounds like you’re seriously committed on stage”

“Of course! You see bands get up and play their music, great bands, and then you never fucking listen to them again because you’re like ‘pfft, I have lost all respect for you people because you’re not fucking giving it anything.’ Like it’s a job, this is not a job. If I wanted a job, I’d get a fucking job and make some money. This isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle, I don’t want to say  a ‘calling’ but it kind of is. It’s like religion, when I get on stage it’s like this is where I’m meant to be.”

Sushi arrives from Uber Eats. There’s shitloads.

“We need to get another load of beers from the venue, man.”

Photo by Rose Brown @rose_embrown

Will sits and eats one piece of food, then stands right back up and continues:

“How can you justify calling yourself a musician if when you get up on stage, you’re not fucking feeling it? That was a problem for me for a while, it was like ‘when is this gonna end?’ it was more effort to get up there, which was terrifying. I feel like I’m searching for something, trying to get to the point where it feels right. Because they say that don’t they? When you know you know, when it works it works, all those comments, they’re fucking rubbish. But then (he admits) it does happen that way. Any band you see that’s appeared or had a lucky break, chances are they’ve been doing it for 10 years before. Or someone’s been doing it, they’ve had a vision and they’ve tried to make it work and failed and tried again, and then eventually the synergy’s there, the chemicals are balanced, it works. –

He points at me.

– And then people want to talk to you.”

“The new single, Gigantic. is that the start of a new sound?” 

“Oh yeah, that’s the only thing that I’m 100% happy with that we’ve ever made. Dyouknowhatimean it’s the only thing, I wont fault it, we said what we wanted to say, we knew what we wanted it to portray.”

“did you know how you wanted the video too?”

“That was more of a collaboration, but a great one. It’s rare that things ever go so smoothly.”

 

The second order of sushi arrives.

“you want any fish?”

“No, I’m okay”

“Have a miso soup.”

“…okay.”

“Looking at where I am now, I’ve never been more buzzed about making music. I know for a fact that next year’s gonna be different, and the year after that and..”

this goes on for a while

“I think it’s important to mention to our fans and to people who want to get into music, even if it does happen overnight, nowadays, you’re gone again next year unless you know what you’re doing. I’ve seen acts come and go come and go constantly, The Ting Tings! Where the fuck are they now? One day everyone loves them, then they’re fucking gone. And, I’m proud, in a sense, to not have done that. We’ve been the tortoise, which wins, I’ll add. Backing a tortoise takes guts, dyouknowhatimean? And perception, and foresight, whereas backing a hare is like, a quick fix.

I know a lot of songwriters who are inspired to write songs, and they sit down to write one and then they never finish it, it takes a lot of discipline.”

“Do you have a problem with perfectionism?”

“…not really no. I don’t think anything’s perfect. Except Cameron Diaz.”

Murmurs of agreement from the rest of the band.

“Nothing’s ever finished, put it that way. Gigantic, we were like ‘ahh okay it’s been two years we need to put this out’. But that’s the closest I’ve been to being completely content and happy with something. I’m not gonna let it bum me out if something in the past wasn’t perfect, it’s about moving forward.”

On that note, Will begins down the horrible staircase and I follow him, tentatively, like a baby mountain goat. We stand outside together while he smokes, regarding our surroundings, like two detectives. Stone faced.

“Would you call yourselves political?”

He looks at me and squints. Shifting from foot to foot, arms outstretched, he recites:

“I have some fucking lyrics,

I’m just an animal,

I live my life, I live it full,

So I’m political,

Don’t mind if I do.

That sums it up for me, I’m a human being, I’m not politics, we’re a group of people trying to make shit.”

“Guess your name makes sense then. Not ‘Will and the Corporate Machine’.”

“Yea we tried that; it didn’t work.”

And with that, our interview is poetically ended. I’ve completely forgotten to ask them anything about Amsterdam or their influences, or sibling rivalry. Will saunters upstairs, the band are getting ready, I slip off, enter the Electric Ballroom via the smoking area, and immediately fail to blag a VIP booth. Turns out the “AAA” on my card stands for “Access All Areasexceptthebooths”. After overpaying for a pint, I make my way into the crowd of normals. The vibe is loving and kind, a lot of the audience evokes the term “flower child”. My hair is boring compared to most, and don’t get it twisted – my hair’s really cool. While we wait, I realise that despite probing, I didn’t learn a thing about the new album. How does it sound? Guess I’ll have to find out from the show, if they play much new stuff.

The lights fade out.

The tension mounts.

Will and the People explode on stage – they’ve transformed.

The once shy, sweet, baggy clothed band are now one hot, focused, sharp unit in various stages of dress. Jim, the least nude, is rocking a keyboard and some seriously fresh crepes. I can’t see Charlie’s shoes, but his suit jacket pairs perfectly with his no shirt, as does Jamie’s. Will is wearing nothing except bright, proud, union jack underwear. And some seriously fresh crepes.

Photo by Rose Brown @rose_embrown

 

The quartet waste no time, they slam into the first track in unison. They look like four mad scientists being electrocuted as they stir the crowd into an equally energetic frenzy. Must finish the pint before it’s knocked from my grasp. Having done my homework, I’m immediately overjoyed to realise I don’t recognise this song. They’re playing new material, and it’s a genius move, this shit bangs. If I could relay it to you better, I would, but just imagine epic, swelling guitar, thunderous drums, and a maniac with amazing hair going:

AUH UH, AH AH, UH UH, AAAAUH, AUH UH, AH AH, UH AH, AAH UUH

If that doesn’t sound good, I don’t know what does. Speaking of good sounds, the bops are continuing, and I still recognise nothing. Playing all new stuff is actually a genius move for these guys, since it equalises the whole crowd – nobody knows what to expect (except the furry fan who has followed their tour for a while). We all revel in the sound and listen rather than singing along. We express our enjoyment through movement, and God there’s lots of it. For one track, Will leads the crowd in a rudimentary tribal dance, stepping first to the left, then over to the right, then repeating. He leads with convection and determination, eventually creating a constantly sliding abacus of human flesh, all of us in rows veering side to side as though dodging oncoming cars. It’s not exactly dancing, but it further merges us. It is here, fully homogenised, where Will and the People drop the one song we all know – Gigantic.

I love how everyone has a mic, and I love how they perform this single. If you haven’t heard it, go here and then come straight back. The song preaches unity, harmony, and the restorative powers of family – whoever they may be. I feel a warmth in my chest, and it’s not because I’m very sweaty, although I am after the whole cha cha slide fiasco. Aside from this song, I’ve never seen a band create so much excitement while playing unheard music. Their stage presence is phenomenal, Will gets a lot of laughs and whoops in between tracks with lines like “soak this moment up… while I tune this guitar.”

 

I lose my mind at the fourth track which has some sick nasty keyboard playing, feeling almost prog, accompanied by filthy, crunchy bass, and Charlie standing on his kit, creating a tableaux not dissimilar to the Power Rangers. Will’s vocal delivery is raw and raunchy, I have no idea how he’s keeping up the energy, or making eye contact with so many individual people.

Rest finally comes as the track ends and a guitar is dropped, shattering the inertia. Everyone takes a breather.

“This has fucking been highly emotional okay?”

Hoarse screams of agreement.

“this is our last track”

More screams, dejection.

The lighting guy (or lady, or, human) is on fire as well, the band is plunged into darkness and revealed as godly silhouettes. Will leaps into the crowd, eager young fighters wrap their arms around his neck, he presses his forehead against theirs, bonds are formed. I’m a bit too far back. Should’ve got in the photography pit. Fuck, that just occurred to me now.

The band finish on an intimate high, take their bows and and slink off, moist as anything. I barrel out into the smoking area and slip past the barriers, enraging some barrier-obeying Dutch girls who seem to have been air-dropped into Camden from Coachella. Only Jim in sight, he seems to be in a quiet ecstasy. I tell him that it was an amazing show, and that the article should be out in a few weeks. (it’s been months, and I am deeply, deeply sorry to the band for my lies). He thanks me for coming, and we embrace.

I was right.

He does give great hugs.

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