Interview: Jerry Williams

Before her set as the Special Guest at BBC Introducing’s May Fest, part of the BBC’s Biggest Weekend Fringe, at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, I had the pleasure to share few a words with the amazingly talented Jerry Williams. 2018 will perhaps turn out to be her biggest year to date, and maybe even her defining moment. Already armed with a back catalogue full of catchy indie-pop hits, it’s hard to see the Portsmouth native’s ascension to stardom slowing down anytime soon.

We took a break from the sets of other artists selected by BBC Introducing to play on the evening, by stepping outside the venue to talk about festival season, new music, and aspirations for the future…

 

You had Great Escape Festival last weekend, so in a way festival season is already in full swing so far for you! How’s it been so far?

Yeah, it’s been really good! I sort of looked at my calendar and realised I had loads of stuff coming up and was a bit like, “Oh my god! This is overwhelming!”, but you know, when you’re in the swing of it it’s great! And to play all of these different shows it’s really good fun. I enjoy the rush of going to place to place.

So are these festivals that you haven’t played before and visiting new places, or are there a few in there that you’ve played before?

Yeah, this one this weekend in Warrington [Neighbourhood Weekender] I’ve been to before, but the lineup is really good which is cool! And then Great Escape I’ve done a few times now, Victorious Festival here in Portsmouth I’ve done every year… A lot of them are familiar to me, but then there are a few that I’ve never done which is nice.

What’s been the highlight for you so far? Leaving one obvious festival out for now… Out of the British festivals, what’s been the highlight so far and what are you looking forward to the most?

The highlight… To be honest, Great Escape last year has been my absolute highlight, I played in Jubilee Square which is outside and it was a gorgeous sunny day and there were so many people there, so that was probably my favourite gig ever actually. Victorious is always a highlight every year, it’s like Christmas when it comes around, I buy a new outfit… it’s always great! So Victorious is good, but I’m really looking forward to Neighbourhood in Warrington because that’s just like Noel Gallagher, Blossoms… the line-up is incredible, I can’t believe my name is on there, I’m an anomaly in that line-up!

So it’s almost going to be a case of you’re going as a punter as well as being an artist on the line-up!

Exactly, we’re driving all the way up there so we’re going to make a day of it! So yeah, that’s probably the one I’m most looking forward to.

Jerry Williams performing at SXSW in Austin, TX

And obviously we can’t have this chat without talking about SXSW… I mean, the Austin and San Antonio area is my favourite place in the world, I went in 2014 as I am a massive San Antonio Spurs fan (I wore my Spurs jacket just to prove the point…) and I saw on Twitter that you went to a game there, how was that first of all?

DFENSE! DEFENSE! Haha, I mean that was just like so good! The whole time in San Antonio was amazing, doing the Riverwalk and the basketball game, it was amazing! I had the best time there, I just ate so much food, I was having hot dogs and nachos and guacamole made at the table for me… the latin vibe was so cool. Did you go to the Alamo? I still don’t really know what it’s for… It was really nice to see though!

It was just something that happened a couple of hundred years ago and it now looks really cool, retro… perfect for the insta! [Laughs] And then obviously the festival itself in Austin, that must have been mind blowing…

Yeah definitely, there’s not really much I can say, it was just an absolute dream come true. I still can’t believe I’ve actually done that, because that’s always been sort of like “Oh, so-so is such a big act already, I’ll never get to go there”, so to actually be there, I feel so lucky that I got the chance to go!

With it being right at the beginning of year career as well, America must have just seemed a hundred years from now…

Yeah! I remember playing in London for the first time and I was like, “Oh my God, this is so far from home”, or Manchester or something, thinking “Oh God, I need to book a hotel for the night”, and then to go to that and as far as America, it felt weird going over there… the pavements felt weird, I just felt like I was in a dream!

And obviously the reason you were able to go was because almost 100 people dug into their own pocket, basically backing their belief in you by putting their own hard-earned cash on the line to send you and your band over there. Simply, what does that mean to you?

I didn’t expect it, I really didn’t expect it all… I just thought, “I’m going to aim for £1,000…” and we phoned up Pledge to ask what do you sort of do, what do people usually do… and they were like, “Oh, they go for ten grand” and I was just like, “What?!” So we just went for it and put it up there and I can’t believe the response it got and it really made me emotional. I remember at the end I was just crying, I couldn’t believe that people actually wanted to support me that much. It’s very kind and hopefully I did people proud and it’s nice that they like the music. That’s why I do it I suppose!

Yeah definitely, that’s the thing! And with all the feedback that was coming across on Twitter and online from people involved in the BBC and other journalists or what have you, everything was positive. That must give yourself such a boost in terms of self confidence?

It really does! Because I just write songs in my room and then put them out there and you get people going, “Oh, I like it!”, but when people actually go out of their way to show that they like it it’s really special, and I didn’t expect it at all!

And seeing people 5,000 miles away singing your songs and having a dance… What was that like?

Yeah, there were a few people out there that did actually already know the songs and were coming up to me saying “I really love this song off of your EP” and I was just thinking, “Oh my god, someone over here likes me!” I honestly can’t believe it happened. I want to go back, it was so good!

So if you had everyone here right now that put their hand in their pocket to support you and to help you get there, what would you say to them?

I just want to say thank you for believing in me that much that you would want to help me achieve a dream! Thank you so much and I will try my best to give you new music and make you happy! Just thank you, it’s all I can say really. I can’t put it into words, it really is overwhelming and all the Pledge’s that I was sending out, they were going all over the place to like Paris, some to America, all over the place! People from everywhere wanted to help, it’s super cool and really nice!

Jerry performing at Great Escape Festival in Brighton last weekend

You eluded to new music there, and I saw the Tweet you put out a few days ago from when you were in Bristol with a lot of writing emojis, so is that something that is currently being worked on, or?

This is the super annoying thing, I’ve got songs written and ready to go! Most of my set live now is new songs and it’s really frustrating because people can’t sing along or anything because they haven’t heard them before. But I’ve got a new single that’s just been recorded and will hopefully be out next week, and the other new songs can be recorded once I’ve got a little bit of money in the bank to do it, so that will be coming soon! That’s my main priority right now, to get new music out there.

So I guess this summer is going to be that next step, hitting all the festivals and releasing new music?

Yes, recording, getting it all out there, that’s all I want to do. I’m itching to get it all out there!

Will that be a debut record?

I think it’s going to be single by single and then hope to release an EP or album, I’m not sure yet… I’ve been telling people its an album, but it’s a big old job so I don’t know how I’m going to do it… But we’ll see!

And are you still working with Dan Brown (long-time writing partner) on everything?

Yeah, so we’ve done a lot of writing together and we’re doing a lot of writing together, but he’s super busy as well so when we find a good time that correlates, we can record together.

How would you describe your relationship, as you’ve been writing together since the beginning, what is it like to have that kind of support and someone to bounce those ideas off of?

He’s great, I’ve been working with him since I was 17, when I was first starting to co-write, so he’s really helped to nurture my journey in songwriting. He lets me get on with it, which I know it sounds kind of silly but I really like to just being left to it. Then I’ll come back and he’ll listen to what I’ve done and he’ll ask me to try something here and there with it, and that’s what I really like because I’m really into my lyrics and my story and he helps that.

So he adds to it rather than just ripping it apart and starting from scratch with you?

Definitely, and when I’m put into that situation to write a song, he’s just so good at trying different ideas with it and it works really well. I can’t really describe the relationship, we’re just really good friends and work really well together!

With your writing, how do you feel your sound has developed in that respect. You’ve obviously been playing the guitar for years, starting off classical and then gradually moving into different styles, do you find the style is more linked to the guitar side of things or do you think it’s been developed through the lyrics?

I honestly think it’s from the guitar side of it. Obviously a lot of the songs I write are just me and the guitar, so they’re nice and sweet and twee and all very self-indulgent songs, but then since I’ve gone with a band it’s taken a long time to get it all to a point where I’m actually quite happy with it. A lot of it started out quite disco and I can’t believe I went through that phase, but now it’s come to a bit more indie and edgy sound which I really like, and my lyrics seem to fit really well with that sound now. It’s taken a lot of experimenting, but I feel like I know exactly who I am now, and that is who I am because I like the songs.

Nearly 100 people contributed to Jerry’s Pledge campaign to take her and her band to Austin

It must be good to have that so early on in your career too, because you can throw the biggest names in the industry out there and their sound can change so dramatically from record to record, that you might not know exactly what their sound is.

I do love when artists do that though. That has been one of my biggest criticisms in the industry, with people saying that I don’t know my sound or that I don’t know who I am, but I do. I like lots of different music and I want to try different music as a result. Sometimes I wish that some of the early songs weren’t out there, but it’s a part of my life, part of the music I used to write.

It’s funny how many people say that, I’ve spoken to a few artists before who have said the exact same thing in wishing some of their earliest tracks weren’t out there or that they wish they’d never released them in the first place.

That’s the same with me, but I’d feel bad if I were to take them down because it’s a song that I’ve written and people still like to sing it!

Now that you have the band, are they involved at all in the writing side of things or do they take a back seat and then when it comes to the live arrangements they have more of an input?

Yeah, they do take a back seat. I’ll usually go to them after I’ve written a new song and then we’ll build it up around that together, listening to the recording and then make our own band version of it. And they’re great at saying, “At this point we should try this sort of sound”, so they do absolutely inspire me! And it is them on the recordings, so if there’s a band on there, it’ll usually be them. But yeah, I do all the writing and structuring and stuff like that.

So what do you envisage the next 12 months looking like? You’ve already mentioned new music, so this time next year, where would you like to be?

You know what, I’ve always wanted to just go on a really great support tour and support someone really cool and really nice. That’s probably one of my favourite things to do! Either that or have my own little mini sold out tour would be amazing. That would be it really, to have really good shows!

That’s a really nice answer actually, because it shows how you have kept your feet firmly on the ground and remained modest despite the success you’ve seen so far. It would be so easy to say, “This time next year I want to be headlining Victorious, I want to be touring with Ed Sheeran…!”

You know what, I honestly don’t think I ever will! That’s not me being bad on myself, I just don’t see myself getting to that stage. But I’m happy with the gradual build-up. I can’t see myself getting to that point, obviously I’d love to, I just don’t think my music is on that kind of level. Playing the likes of Shepherd’s Bush Empire, The Joiners, King Tut’s, and places like that would be my dream venues to play and sell out.

Let’s say in a theoretical world you were to get to that level, you are at that level where you are able to sell out much bigger venues, would you still like to think that you would still the intimate shows and playing those venues?

Definitely, because intimate shows are my favourite kind of shows ever. A lot of how I feel after I get off stage totally relies on the crowd. If the crowd are having a good time, then I’m having a good time – even though I always have a good time, but you know what I mean. But it’s the intimate shows for me that give me that buzz, so no matter how big I get, that would still be my favourite bit, doing those intimate shows. Definitely.

You mentioned you’d love to go on a really good support tour; realistically, if it was to happen next year, who would you pinpoint as that artist or band to support?

I saw PEACE the other day in Southampton, I’d love to go on tour with them! But we’re different music, so I don’t know how it would work… A band called Slow Club I love, but we’re different music again… I don’t know! Jamie T, Vampire Weekend would be my ultimate! Do you know anyone in Vampire Weekend…?

I wish I did! Coming into this actually I was thinking, if only I knew Chris Martin, that would be incredible! “And here he is!”

Oh my God, Chris Martin would be the ultimate dream! I’d turn round and just fall over! There’s no point in even trying to dream about that though!

Finally, for anyone who has never watched you live or never listened to you before, what should they expect?

In music, they can expect a story. A lot of my songs are quite personal or about someone else’s life. A lot of them are narrative or conversational lyrics, and I like to think they’re quite catchy and quirky and things like that. Then live, I really like having a good time on stage, so dancing round a bit and just enjoying myself! So they can expect a good time too hopefully!

 

Jerry Williams was playing a set at BBC Introducing’s May Fest, part of the Biggest Weekend Fringe, at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth on 26th May.

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