March 9, 2020

Only two months ago, we carried the news that Wille and the Bandits were starting a significant tour, promoting their latest (2019) album Paths. Sadly, we now live in a very different world, in which the advent of Coronavirus has led to the tragic loss of so many, and the cancellation of all gatherings, live events, even simple things like band rehearsals. It has at least provided a window for us to talk to Wille and to get the low-down on his new ensemble. And there is good news in that the remaining tour dates have been rearranged for the Autumn, all the shows being recorded for a live album as well as working on a new studio album which will be out at some point next year.

I start by asking Wille how the Lockdown has affected him. Has this “forced” Wille back into writing mode – does it potentially bring the next album forward? Wille responds “You’re quite right – it does, it is also nice though, because normally you have the time pressure of leaving for the next tour so your writing is more focused on getting ideas down but I’ve had the opportunity to take things further which is always nice. In terms of bringing the album forward I’m quite a prolific writer and across many styles so it just depends if I feel the songs are either WATB songs, a solo one or for another artist. I’m actually currently pitching songs in Nashville in the country scene as I have a corker which will work well out there, so I suppose there is more focus on the production side now than the live side but I’m gagging to do a gig!”

Photo: Laurence Harvey

I note that it also gives the band a bit of a breather, the last 12 months having been really busy so I ask – aside from creating 2019’s Paths album, what’s been the most significant event for you (apart from Coronavirus): “I think our first tour of the US was pretty significant. It’s a country you always dream of touring one day and for that to happen was a big deal for us. We played on Broadway in New York at the Iridium and The Basement East in Nashville which are both iconic venues.”

Looking back at Paths, it’s notable for the wide variety of styles on it – is the style changing even now, after Paths? “I think our intention has always been to be as creative as possible and bring in new instruments and ideas that give you the chance to apply new textures to your music and soundscapes, which we have always been drawn to. We have never been one of those bands that have set out to sound like someone else or target a certain market. We do what interests us as musicians and I think our audiences pick up on that.”

“It appears to me that in the 60’s and 70’s bands were allowed to be experimental and that is where some of the best music comes from, when you are playing out of your comfort zone. Sometimes I feel that mainstream music is encouraged to conform to a pigeon hole, but with the internet it is also possible to have access to so much music from different periods and places, and it’s easier to purchase unusual instruments, so we live in a world now where music should be at its most mature and knowledgeable, and that drives me every day – the thought of the possibilities available to me that I haven’t found yet. So, our music will never stand still for me – if you regurgitate the same thing because it sells, that’s not art!”

Having recently seen and reviewed the band playing in Sheffield (see VT review 17 February), as a first-time viewer I was struck by the great variety of musical styles – so I ask who Wille might cite as their biggest musical influences, both for yourself and perhaps more recently the band as a whole? “I love the classics; albums like Dark Side of the Moon and most Zeppelin Records inspire me a lot and always will. I am constantly picking up new ideas and vibes from these records. I’m a huge John Martyn fan; his album Solid Air is a masterpiece. With slide guitar I’m a massive Derek Trucks fan and his album Joyful Noise is always a go to album for me for slide technique and tone. But it is not just music that gives me and the band inspiration, I find a lot of creativity in the ocean and natural beauty and the love and despair in people’s lives”

I cheekily suggest that from their live banter, there’s hints of the band living the classic Cornish “beach-bum surfer” lifestyle! But then Wille’s lyrics cover so many difficult subjects with such eloquence, I ask whether some of this comes from personal experience? “I suppose I do live a “Cornish beach bum” lifestyle as do most of the band, by living close to the beach and surfing but in no way are we bums, we are very connected to the outside world! We probably have to work harder as a musician through being based down here!”

“As a person who feels strongly about global issues, music gives me the tool to express my displeasure with world issues that need to be resolved. I am not going to be at the front of marches across London or anything, for me music is the way I communicate my feelings. I often wonder, in this day and age, when everyone has their opinion on social media about how the world should be run, why we don’t have more artists singing about these global issues that will shape the human race. Can you imagine the 60s or 70s having radio silence on these issues? Musicians have a right and a duty to try and be the voice of the people. The bands who are more political are being side-lined by those writing about the mundane.”

“A great song for me has to come from a strong feeling, so normally the rockier tracks are politically driven as I’m pissed off and turning my amp up loud and letting it out. But I feel other emotions too and I often write about other people’s struggles and experiences. Always writing about yourself, can be a bit limiting and one dimensional. I would say that I’m quite an empathic person so can tap into other people’s experiences and lives. An example is Four Million Days on the album which was inspired by a heart wrenching story I read about someone looking for their real dad. Spending a lot of time on the road touring, you drift through different towns, counties, countries and meet their people who are always willing to share their stories, opinions and ideas with a humble musician. This gives me a clear view of the world, not obstructed by rhetoric and social pressure.”

A potentially awkward question here – what brought about the change of personnel? The previous guys were genuine quality, was there a “difference of musical opinion” or was it a natural progression of some sort? “It obviously was a decision the guys had to make and I completely understand, we spend a long time on the road and it’s tough when you have children and families and I think they wanted to be at home more, which has happened. In terms of the impact, Wille and the Bandits has always had revolving members in the early days – it was whoever was free that night to jump up with me. Over the years the line-up became steadier as the gigs got better and we needed to be more committed, but still has had its changes over the years. The main focus of the band past and present is the songs and they will live on and evolve with each personality bringing their take on the performance.”

“I am incredibly excited about the change; New energy, new ideas and a level of professionalism that I find amazing considering how short our prep time has been. Most exciting for me is how well we all get on with each other. There is a real buzz. It’s been very strange for me as the band has always just evolved, we changed bass players a couple of times, but the sound just changed as a result of us changing in our ideas about music, our development as musicians and because of what we were listening to and into at the time. I feel that the situation of Andy and Matt choosing to take time out of music at the same time gave me the opportunity to select musicians according to a vision I had for how the sound could be. I was delighted that being the established level we now are, touring around the world, we were able to attract top class musicians to be part of the project. I was able to select the perfect blend of musicians to take the band sound to the next level, but who I can also enjoy touring with. People who can get on board with the Bandit lifestyle of enjoying the music, travel and the occasional surf.”

“After making Paths we knew that we needed another member. We used a lot of keys on the album and were trying to recreate that live with Matt Brooks playing keys samples with pedals and with Andy adding extra percussion, but it wasn’t quite having the effect of an actual Keys player or percussionist. Additionally, my writing was starting to incorporate Keys lines and three way vocal harmonies so either way I think we would have ended up with a fourth Bandit. Having another melodic instrument in the band frees me up a lot on the guitar. I find I’m not having to have such a big aggressive sound and control all the melodic parts of the songs. Now I can sit back more, rather than driving the sound. With writing it gives me so many more possibilities as there is another melodic instrument to play off, which I think will only make the music more interesting moving forward.”

I ask Wille to say a bit more about the new guys, how they met up etc: “Harry Mackaill was the first to be brought in on bass, for WATB to play support for Kris Barras, so he had the most intense audition. I knew him to be one of the top bass players in Cornwall and I have always been a fan of his. Harry is from Newquay and I often see him in the surf so it’s nice to finish a jam and then jump in the sea and share some waves. Finn is an exceptional drummer, from the moment he came in the room, after just two snare hits Harry and I looked at each other and knew he was the one. The infectious groove, which the band is known for, but so much tighter, such energy; You might notice that both Finn and Harry are west country boys, and this was no accident. I really wanted to keep the band local to ensure that we could rehearse easily and ensure the smooth running of the band, but when it came to finding a Keys player this proved far more of a challenge.

Finding someone on Keys who could sit on the groove, not dominate, feel what was needed to enhance a song, and have good vocals was a real challenge. I met Matthew Gallagher in New York when we were touring over there, we hit it off right away. He told me that he ran an analogue studio which sounded amazing with all these vintage Hammond organ and guitar amps etc. I knew the amount of different instruments Matthew could play and also what a great singer and songwriter he is, so if we were ever going to get a fourth member, even with the old line up it was gonna be him. The only issue, he lived in Preston, but for the Bandits gig he was willing to relocate!”

I believe you’ve said elsewhere that in the UK music industry, there’s lots of natural networking between musicians. Is this particularly so in Cornwall, is there a sort of wider “Kernow-rock” family that gets together?! “Ha ha! I suppose in a way there is, as we all know each other, but Cornwall is a hot spot for musical talent of all varieties. It attracts creative people due to its beauty and isolation, so you are constantly hearing new people with fresh approaches. It’s very different to how musicians network in say London or something as we don’t have any cities with music industry or venues to congregate at, we are all spread out and remote, it’s almost like the deep south in the USA so our networking is generally through social media etc or through friends.”

“Also, one massive difference, which I’ve found in Wales too, is that musicians play very much what they want, they’re not swung by fashions and industry. A lot who move to London to chase the money and maybe can be guilty of changing the roots of the music to fit the system. Many of the artists here love the music first and are quite happy operating in a smaller way but with 100% integrity, this creates a wide range of styles which are quite unique and without preconceptions.”

The Bandits have a rare skill in producing the excitement and gusto of rock and roll, whilst crossing musical genres with ease and aplomb. The new line-up gives a fuller sound and the enhanced musical diversity which makes their music so appealing, all underpinned by Wille being such a warm, compassionate, committed and extremely hard working musician and human being! I wish them well!