Interview with Melbourne singer-songwriter Ainslie Wills
You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine is the debut album by Melbourne singer/songwriter Ainslie Wills (released on 4 March). Delivering on the promise of the 2010 EP, Somebody For Everyone, and recent appetisers such as Lemon Japan and Fighting Kind, You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine is just as charming as we hoped it to be: a 12-track album full of textured, atmospheric storytelling.
Lost At E Minor is currently hooked on Weighing the Promises, the single to promote the release. So we decided to speak with Ainslie via email. She is currently preparing for a lengthy tour of Australia, but we managed to get hold of her just before she departed.
LAEM: Ainslie, first of all, congratulations on a great first album! You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine is a pretty impressive piece: ‘arresting, melodic, and full of charm’, just as it says in your press pack. I must say, I really admire it for the fact that you’ve already managed to establish some sort of signature style, without limiting yourself too much in your creative expression, performance and songwriting.
AW: Hello there! Thanks for the congrats on the album. It’s been a long time coming so it feels good to get the music out there and to be talking about it to Lost At E Minor!
How would you describe an Ainslie Wills song to someone who has just woken up from a coma or a lengthy jail term and never heard your stuff before? Is there any element or sound that would NEVER, EVER appear in an Ainslie Wills song?
AW: Ok, so, if someone had indeed just woken up from a coma, not having heard my music before, and a genre title is what they needed, I would say Neo Folk Rock. But most people don’t really have any idea of genres and there is so much crossover anyway. I would then proceed with: ‘have you heard of Fiona Apple? Or Feist? Do you like melodies? Atmospheric music? I would also probably accentuate the fact that lyrics are somewhat secondary to my music and that I prefer to tell the moods through sonic textures. I would absolutely never have flute in a song. Flutey-toot = NO!
Your love of music: were you born with it or raised into it? Can you tell us a bit more about your musical background?
AW: I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with music – my parents’ records, tapes and CDs that my brothers and sisters would play. Also, having an acoustic piano in the house meant that I would spend hours figuring out the chords to songs that I liked, mostly trying to sound like Tori Amos. One of my earliest memories of playing piano was when my aunty was visiting one time and she taught me how to play Memory from Cats. I didn’t read music at that stage, but would watch and learn by ear. My grandfather on my mother’s side, Cecil B. Luckman, was musical. He used to write songs and play piano music during the silent movies of the 1920s. I think my appreciation or ‘ear’ for music is in the genes, but it is something that has been nurtured via my upbringing thanks to my amazing parents.
Do you have a patented Ainslie Wills songwriting process, and if so, how does it go? Do you have any methods for breaking out of the mold?
AW: Hmm, my songwriting process changes all the time but I generally start the process with a bass line or a chord progression that evokes the kind of mood I’m trying to express. Sometimes I’m just searching for sounds that I like. I usually try to finish the basic form of the piece in one go, as starting and stopping can mean lots of unfinished ideas. Once I am happy with the sonic landscape and have recorded the skeleton of the idea, I then ‘jam’ lyrics over the top. At the start, unless I have something very specific to say, I just wing it.
So sometimes the phrases come out like ‘eeeyeo notsofa at alloc’ – complete and utter nonsense but this way I can figure out what sounds fit over the chords and then sometimes stumble across lines that do make sense. I then work an rework the idea, always recording every step of the process.
What role do collaborations play in your songwriting?
AW: Writing for my album was the first time I was able to collude with another creative being, Lawrence Folvig, in the songwriting process. Lawrence guided the sonic landscape and textures and I would dictate the melody. It was good for both of us to learn to work together but most of the time we stuck to our own creative processes and then put our ideas together.
Speaking of fruitful and inspiring collaborations, I noticed your music videos were all directed by Jem Selig Freeman. How come?
Jem is a close friend of both Lawrence and myself, so I would have to say the main reason that we have worked together on more than one occasion is because it is utterly enjoyable for both parties. At least, I hope it is. I think that to delve into unchartered creative territories with other people requires trust and that is exactly what we have. That, and a mutual respect for each other’s artistry. When we have broached ideas for video projects, it has always felt very organic. We may have loose ideas at the beginning that, when workshopped over time, end up exceeding our expectations.
How important are visuals to what you do?
AW: Visuals are very important in what I do, but more so in the way in which I use visuals to centre myself in a live performance setting. Each song has a very specific scene that I revisit in my head each time I sing the song. That way I feel I am able to channel a certain type of energy.
With the album being out on March 4, an extensive tour throughout Australia is already scheduled. Are there any plans for coming over to Europe or the US? If you could choose a city/destination in which to perform at least once in your life, where would that be and why?
AW: I have only travelled overseas once and that was in 2009 for a leisurely trip to Europe. I never got to Germany, so I would love to tick that off. I have always wanted to go back over to play some shows. Lawrence and I are hoping to travel later in the year. But nothing is set in concrete yet. I would absolutely love to perform in Paris at the Olympia, purely because of the breadth of artists it has housed: Edith Piaf, Jeff Buckley, the Doors, Led Zeppelin and PJ Harvey, to name a few.
I’ve recently stumbled across your covers of other songs: Terence Trent D’Arby, Grizzly Bear, Johnny Cash, Radiohead – the list of artists is quite eclectic. If given the chance to reverse the situation, who would you love to hear covering your songs and why?
AW: Good question. Hmm, I would love to hear what Radiohead would do to my songs. They have such a unique signature style, borrowing elements from so many different musical cultures yet maintaining a focused sound. It would also be good to hear my songs done in a simplified way, melodically and instrumentally. I tend to lean towards sweeping melodies and harmonies with lots of layers, so it’d be interesting to see what a band like the xx would do.