East India Youth: Out of the Bedroom

[While most of the interviews I hook up are by my own doing, assignment occasionally land up on my desk. While I didn’t plan on talking to East India Youth (a.k.a. William Doyle) it turned out to be a very excellent conversation with a truly thoughtful and intelligent artist, and it deeply enriched my appreciation of his music. I love when that happens.]

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William Doyle is still new kid on the block.

After spending his adolescence in bands, notably leading the promising U.K. indie rock outfit, Doyle and the Fourfathers, the now 24-year-old split to make music alone. Under the name East India Youth, Doyle began composing electronic music with a set-up consisting of an unstable computer, an outdated mixer and a Casio MT45 keyboard he bought for £15.

After self-releasing the Hostel EP in 2013, Doyle released his debut full-length, Total Strife Forever, just last year. Noted for its highly personal thematics and eclectic experimentation, the album was critically hailed, and eventually shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize. This warm reception also led to East India Youth being signed to XL Recordings.

And without skipping a beat, Doyle is already back with his sophomore album: Culture of Volume.

Titled after a line from poet and Brian Eno collaborator, Rick Holland, Culture of Volume was recorded and produced in William’s London bedroom, with mixing done by producer Graham Sutton (These New Puritans, British Sea Power, Jarvis Cocker). As is supported by his customary tie and blazer, East India Youth is electronica for the thinking man. Left to alone to his own devices, Doyle reflects deeply on every sonic, lyrical and thematic detail, and his aural ambitions succeed the general limits of what electronic music can achieve.

Though very much from the same ambient, genre-jumping school of its predecessor, and concerned with self-reflective subject matter, Culture of Volume is a decidedly more extroverted affair. Where Total Strife Forever was a highly insular record, fueled by isolation and escapist ambitions, this album observes a more outward looking mentality, which Doyle parallels with a change in his own personal life, marked my a move to the city and a newfound connection with people and his surroundings.

We talked to Doyle about sophomore expectations, his approach to electronic music, and the colossal influence of Brian Eno.

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Following a well-received debut, the sophomore album always seems to have a lot riding on it. Did you feel any pressure this time around?

Not really, because I finished my first record a year and a half before it was commercially released. I was just getting started – finding a label, playing shows – but I had pretty much finished the album, which means I had all that time before it came out to play with new ideas, so the two processes really overlapped.

By the middle of last year, when [Total Strife Forever] was getting a lot of attention, I was already finishing up [Culture of Volume], so the success of that album didn’t really have any bearing on this one. I didn’t feel any pressure from that one being well received, which is good position to be in. It allowed me to take on this one with more confidence.

That explains why these only came out a year apart too.

Yeah, exactly. A lot of people think I only spent three months on this record, when I’ve been working on it for two years.

How did you start making music?

I started playing when I was 11, and from there I started writing songs almost instantly. I formed a lot of short-lived bands when I was in school. When I was 14 I started using the computer to record my songs, and that was a big moment looking back, because I has just begun to use technology as an instrument itself. That was 10 years ago, when I started making electronic music, in a vague sense. From there it was a natural progression to become the guy I am today.

Some people fear or distrust technology, or think that it spoils some sense of authenticity, but it seems like your music is quite dependent on it.

I’ve been using [technology] so intimately for so long. For me the process becomes a conversation between the technology and the human operating it. It’s kind of a collaboration between the two things, rather than a dictatorship where one is controlling or limiting the other. It’s this game of war that characterizes my creative setup.

Under this guise [as East India Youth] the technology is a necessity. Perhaps I’ve relied too heavily on it, but I’ve also worked in methods and calculated margins of error, to make it more fluid and surprising, rather than the cold, angular thing people expect.

So you’re trying to ambush people’s expectations of what electronic music can be?

A comment that a lot of people have made about my music is that, despite it being electronic based, it has a strong human presence to it. I think that’s kind of a crazy remark, because other people have been working toward that for years. But I have thought a lot about the separation between the technology and the person. It’s become something I think about quite a lot, to the point that with everything that I do now, I consider ways to subvert it as something more than this cold mechanical thing you expect.

Besides feeling very human, it seems to be coming from a deeply personal place. It feels like you feel very much alone in your creative space.

[laughs] Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the way I work. My music is largely made in my bedroom, on my computer. It’s quite an intimate, personal connection you have when its on your laptop – this little box you use to interact with social media and communicate with the outside world. A lot of people take for granted how you’re engaging with that physical object in a very interesting way.

For the most part you’re also the only guy involved in the making of this music, right?

On this record I got Graham Sutton to help me mix it in the last stage, and my friend Hannah plays strings on a couple of tracks. Other than that it’s essentially a solo venture. I just find it easier working with myself really.

Why’s that?

Maybe I’m a control freak, maybe I just find it difficult to collaborate intimately with people. I’ve been in bands with people before, and with the last band I was in, I just got tired of that format – having to compromise ideas that I had already seen the logical conclusion of. It’s hard to have an idea worked out completely in your head, and then strip it back so someone else can have their say. I mean, that’s what collaboration is, but I just felt like I needed to record my ideas in the ways I wanted to, and that’s why I started making music as East India Youth.

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So compared to when you began, what’s new to East India Youth this time around?

Well a lot has changed in fact. It was after finishing the first record that I moved to London. I’ve lived there the last three years now, and it’s been a vibrant, colorful, exciting – which was new.

I feel like this record is an outward looking one, whereas Total Strife Forever was so introspective. I was so isolated in that time period in my life, whereas my time in London has been more social, and my career has been building strength. I’m playing more shows and getting to travel the world. So it has this much stronger world view. It feels wider, deeper, warmer.

That definitely seems to be the case. Even comparing the two album covers, ‘Total Strife’ was so blue and serious, whereas this one has such a striking warmth to it.

I think I established a few guises on the last record, rotating between techno, neo-classical, ambient, krautrock. I like that kind of eclecticism, and this record is as eclectic if not more so, but I think I take those guises to the extremes. It’s not that I’ve changed my style – if you can even say I have one – I’ve just opened up and taken it further.

Would you agree your music has a very cinematic quality to it?

Yeah. I guess that’s because when I started using the computer to make this kind of music, I was always attached to the idea that the music I was making in my bedroom could sound like it was being made in a much larger place. I’ve always been used to having these big, grand sounds to everything I do.

I was living in the suburbs before coming to London, and so the whole process became this effort to instill this transforming, transporting quality to the music. I wanted to transcend that environment with what I was doing. A lot of people that make music in their bedrooms want that lo-fi setup to show through. What I wanted to do was take my environment and make something that was at odds with it.

I’d say that’s what the magic of cinema is for people too – the sense of escape it provides.

Absolutely. It’s basically the same thing.

I understand that the title, ‘Culture of Volume’, is taken from a line in a poem by Rick Holland.

I came to Holland through the collaboration record he did with Brian Eno back in 2011, called Drums Between the Bells. All of the words on that album are Holland’s, but a lot of them come from this self-published book of poems called Story the Flowers. I just bought the book off the fact of it, but I just connected with the words, and the general style.

The poem is called “Monument,” and that line comes from the end of a phrase on a larger line. While on tour I was looking for a title for this record before it was finished, just so I could have a frame to put my ideas in, and that line just jumped out at me. At the time it pointed to a lot of themes I was working with. It wasn’t like there was a definitive meaning, but it just felt like the atmosphere of the record.

I love how how you can read it more than one way.

Yeah, completely. Having that room for interpretation is really important to me. When people read something different ways then I think it’s doing it’s job.

Speaking of Eno, he’s had quite the influence on you.

Yeah, I’d have to say I’ve learned more from him, or reading about him that is, than from any other artist. Just the way he approaches the problem of creativity, I’ve learned a great deal from that. As much as I love his music, his philosophy and methodology has been the most inspiring.

What’s the essence of that philosophy to you?

There are just so much that he will consider. It’s almost like he has a list of every possible variable involved with the creation of music, and he’s found solutions for problems people haven’t even thought of. He works out ways to subvert the norms, whether it’s the dynamic that two musicians work together, or how the studio is used, or the technology involved in it.

It’s pretty crazy how someone can have that kind of breadth of ideas and then have someone who’s had that breadth of influence over popular music. I can’t think of anyone who’s changed the face of popular music in the same way.



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