The musician’s gorgeous sophisti-pop songs are as intricate as they are understated
Will Westerman’s music is deceptively low-key. His songwriting is understated, his sound atmospheric, his lyrics literary and romantic. It’s so gentle that it feels as if it might wash over you, but listen to his songs a few times and you start to pick up on its intricacies: how “Easy Money” starts from zero and slowly unfurls over the course of its runtime, or the way that “Confirmation”, his best song so far, manages to delicately balance melodic complexity and a variety of different instruments in a way that sounds not just easy, but effortless.
Westerman’s roots are in folk music, and his earliest songs were presented in a more straightforward way (acoustic guitars, simple percussion, etc). Later, he started working with leftfield electronic producer Bullion, whose dubby FX and propulsive Compass Point-style grooves add a greater sense of space and depth to his songs. “We think a lot about space with my music,” Westerman says of their work together, “and that has become an animating principle.”
So far, Westerman’s singles have been released by Blue Flowers, the indie label and live music night that has most recently given us the perfectly poised guitar pop of Nilüfer Yanya. Westerman and Yanya are both friends, and both hail from west London, shining a light on a small but evidently vibrant sound emerging from the area. “Musically, I guess me and Nilüfer started out just playing our guitars around London and are now building out the sound from that instrument as a base,” he says. “She’s very driven, and I admire that about her.”
Westerman’s “Edison” and “Confirmation” singles are getting a vinyl release on August 17, with a launch party at east London’s The Glove That Fits to celebrate a day earlier (August 16). After that, he plans to release a new EP later this year and, hopefully next year, an album. We spoke to him about school days, west London life, and the songs that make him cry.
How do you feel west London relates to the music you make?
Westerman: I think the fact that it’s quiet around here probably has an influence on how the music ends up. I’ve always worked alone, and often at night. Coming home to a space where there isn’t a lot of external stimulus helps me with trying to whittle down my ideas into their most compact form. I get a lot of the ideas while I’m walking around London, but it’s very important for me to have the quiet to be able to order them.
What was school like for you?
Westerman: Not good. I was always in trouble. I was angry and impulsive when I was younger, actually. I also struggled, and continue to struggle, with organisation, so I was always on behavioural report cards. I know it was frustrating for my parents. It feels like a long time ago now, thankfully.
I’m a big fan of Bullion’s work, and I think you both complement each other really well when you work together. Since collaborating, have you discovered anything about your music that you hadn’t realised before?
Westerman: The process of recording music is so different to playing it live. I realised how overwrought a lot of my writing had been – there was an opaqueness, with too many ideas competing. We think a lot about space with my music, and that has become an animating principle. He helps me vocally, too. Having to listen to yourself back can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary, and it’s fascinating how your experience while you’re singing matches up to the raw sound you create. I try more and more to sing without affect and without self-consciousness. He’s an important part of that.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Westerman: That’s a hard question. It really depends, I don’t have a formula for making music. It could be anything, something I’ve seen or heard, something I’ve read. It’s best when you get triggered by something and then it sort of comes out of you like a river. But it could be anything, and sometimes nothing comes. It isn’t a linear thing for me.
“I’ve always worked alone, and often at night. Coming home to a space where there isn’t a lot of external stimulus helps me with trying to whittle down my ideas into their most compact form” – Westerman
Do you have a favourite book?
Westerman: I like allegory a lot. Aesop’s Fables and the Just So Stories, or How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Tolstoy. My favourite is East of Eden by Steinbeck. It’s a staggering piece of creativity and written with a real love. I recommend it to anyone who asks me what to read.
What was the last song that made you cry?
Westerman: Frank Ocean’s version of ‘Strawberry Swing’ on Nostalgia Ultra. I just went through a big life shift and the lyric ‘Say hello, then say farewell to the places you know’ really got me.
What are you working on now?
Westerman: I’m just about to finish another EP, and I’m trying to order my thoughts on the album for next year. I’m also thinking a bit about the live show, how I want to start presenting that. I’m also working on my disappointment that football didn’t come home. That is a big one for me at the moment.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
Westerman: I’d like to have made records which I felt sincerely were getting better. I’d like to live in other places, to follow the music and not feel regret at letting anything slip by through inaction. I’d like to be in a place where I allow myself to feel good about how I am spending my time. To be happy I suppose, the same as everyone else.
Westerman is touring Europe and North America throughout October and November