By Noah Zeidman, In-House Writer
Fresh off their massive win at the Corner Indie Battle, The Willies took a break to chat about their music, their history together and their future plans.
You guys have pretty diverse backgrounds at UVa. How did you all meet?
Nick: Me, Tyler and Grey were helping with a friend’s wedding…and after we went to the Villa, and ordered $60 worth of food for the three of us. At the Villa, one of the conversations was about doing something in the future, and at that point it was more aimed toward acoustic-y wedding-type things. We asked, “Who would really enjoy doing this?” And we were like, “Marcellus!”
Grant: A.K.A. Marcelly
Marcellus: No! No no no.
Nick: Yeah, Celly would love this! Marcellus, I’m sorry. Eventually [we realized] the main pieces of a band we were missing were a bassist and a singer. These are two pretty integral parts of the band that we don’t have! So I’m like, “Yo I met this guy Grant, and he’s awesome!”
Grant: I think you’d only heard me play like twice.
Nick: Yeah. And I think it was like classic rock, so it wasn’t even the vibes we were going for. But we were like, let’s go for it! We were thinking, who’d be a good vocalist?
Marcellus: Julia was pretty unanimous.
Nick: Julia was like, “Yes that’d be sick” with ten exclamation points. We recorded an EP, and we were doing a little release concert, and Tyler brought in Matt as part of a brass section. We didn’t realize it, but we just had a sundae and there was no cherry on top. We invited Matt to join, and he was stoked about it. Now there’s a sundae with a cherry on top!
So it sounds like you stumbled upon your jazz-inflected style?
Tyler: Well…we’re definitely not a jazz band. I would say soul is the closest thing I can think of. We’re gonna play an Ed Sheerhan song tonight at our concert. It’s not jazzy, but there’s definitely soul in it, and that’s a testament to everyone in the group. We all come from different, unique musical backgrounds. I think that enables us to flirt around different areas of music without hardcore going into jazz. I think we have a cool sound because all of us are thinking, all of us are trying to get as creative as possible with it and not just settle for what is standard, not just settle for what is easy to do.
Nick: One thing we’ve noticed is that if we can’t tweak a song to make it our own, it fails slightly miserably.
Marcellus: I think of how we approach it as organic. [Sometimes] we get something cool, like “This Love” or “Vulnerability.” That was a really spontaneous thing!
Julia: [“Vulnerability”] was actually one of my original songs I had written in high school when I was playing in a band. We started playing it, and [the Willies] just made it so much rhythmically more interesting. That’s definitely one of my weaknesses as a musician, the rhythmic aspect, and it was cool how they made it more funky and fun.
How did you learn to approach music collaboratively when you started playing together?
Grey: It definitely took us a few weeks to figure out how to do a rehearsal. We’d be like, “Let’s try and play music together!” Then everyone’s kind of like “I don’t know what you’re doing…this is weird.” We decided to make chord charts one time, that was a big step, and we played “Break Even.” I think that’s where we learned how to play together, figure out how to work through a song and create one thing from something else.
You guys clearly can command a big crowd—you swept Corner Indie Battle—do you have big plans going forward?
Grant: Well, we have a pretty solid following in Indonesia! It’s all of six people. My friend’s mom is from Indonesia. She loves us, and shared us with her family.
So is it too early to call you the number one band in Indonesia?
Grant: I’m not saying no…but I also wouldn’t cancel out yes.
Tyler: Seriously, though, we have a rough kind of calendar with at least three other gigs outlined. In terms of the summer it’s going to be interesting, we’re going to be all over the place.
Corner Indie Fest is going to be May 3rd. Do you have any songs in the works for that?
Nick: Well tonight we’re going to do two new originals, and then we’re going to do three songs we’ve never done before before a crowd. “Clarity,” by John Mayer…
Tyler: “Strasbourg Symphony,” by Roy Hargrove Quinet. One of Julia’s songs, “Blue Eyes.” And then an original that we all kind of did called “Next To You.”
Grey: Name pending, but it’s like you’re driving on the beach with the windows down, nice summer day.
Nick: I thought it was like a California highway?
Grey: Yeah! That’s like the beach!
So the songs are very geographically placed?
Tyler: Imagine, you’re in a woodland forest, and there’s a nice gentle mist
Marcellus: And there’s a moose.
That’s how you would characterize your overall sound?!
Tyler: It’s per song. But it’s a great way, because everyone can relate to a geographical location or an atmosphere, because everyone gathers something different from it. So, “Feeling Good” is a meadow at the beginning, you’re kind of going through a meadow like one of those black and white movies. And then it gets more intense, and darker thematically.
Nick: And then at one point, there’s a face-melter! Which is not, like, physically happening…
Grant: We hope for physically!
Nick: For later on, a lot of the stuff we haven’t even had time to talk about. Maybe, don’t quote me on it, but maybe pulling out one original and having that ready by Corner Indie Fest. We’ll see. Ain’t gonna rush it.
Want to find out what catchy, jazzy tunes the Willies put together next? Come see them perform at Corner Indie Festival, May 3rd on Elliewood Ave!