Interview: William Crighton
When you sit down to listen to an album by an artist you’ve never heard before, there’s always a certain amount of trepidation. For me, it takes a couple of spins to really get to the truth of the record; to understand what they’re trying to achieve, the purpose of the music.
With Australian folk-rock newcomer William Crighton’s debut self-titled album, the connection was instant. Crighton’s storytelling has an immediate, honest sensibility, telling the truths of his life from growing up in New South Wales' Riverina to feelings of isolation and questions of spirituality.
If that's not enough to get your attention, Rolling Stone labelled him one of Australia's Hottest Rising Stars for 2016. There's no arguing with that.
We chat to the humble musician ahead of his upcoming WOMAD appearance.
BNKR: First off - congratulations on your debut album. It’s received some pretty serious praise already, being labelled as one of Australia’s hottest rising stars of 2016 by Rolling Stone. That must have been a pretty big deal for you!
Crighton: Thanks so much for saying that! To be able to make the music that inspires you or to at least tell the stories is one thing, but another when people actually like it. That’s never a guarantee in any context so I’m extremely grateful that the album's done alright.
Especially from the way we made it, down in a little place called Barrinjuck and we didn’t go into a studio or anything, it was just the place we were living at, at the time and just all hung around for a few weeks and played the songs. There was no time limit because we had the spot and we just set ourselves up, so there was no real stress at all.
About the recording process: I know you had your wife Jules on backing vocals and brother Luke on bass guitar - quite the family affair. Do you think this impacts on your music in anyway?
Absolutely. Playing with people you know - well I’ve known my brother all his life, he’s my younger brother and we’ve been through a lot together, and Jules as well. I had other friends as well; Matt Fell and Jason Walker who I only just met, he was the only newcomer. But Matt Fell and Matt Sherrod flew over from America. He’s the new drummer from Crowded House so it works well because whenever they tour I can kind of cash in on Neil's fortune by getting him, without flying him out. But you know, it’s cool because it’s just one of those things you can open up and you can play better when you’re with people who you know, who know you very well because you feel completely comfortable. You know when you first meet somebody you kind of have interesting … you never really get to you until at least maybe the second conversation, unless it’s an exceptional circumstance you don’t really cut to the heart of it straight away generally.
Each track off the album follows it’s own unique, authentic narrative. Is this where you’d usually begin when writing? With a story you’re wanting to tell?
Yeah I think so. They all have a story to them in a literal narrative which is cool, but a lot of those narratives are metaphorical stories for how I’m feeling. Priest for instance is that. It’s pretty much that this record, the first one, was just a lot of those songs. 2000 Clicks, Riverina Kid, those songs are just documenting growing up out in the Riverina. They’re all close stories to me. Those stories are true and they are part of growing up out there.
You’ve just released your third single 'Jesus Blues' from your debut album. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind this track?
That song is about when we moved down to Burinjuck. I’d been living in America for a while and I came home and we moved down there, which is a little spot down next to the Murrumbidgee River.
It’s the end of a one-way road so you don’t really see too many people at all...there was only six other people living in the village and they were all state water workers so we wouldn’t really see them at all. So we were quite excluded from society and that enables you to rethink some of the ideas that you had. When I was growing up between the age of when I was born and seven or eight, I formed a lot of opinions in my mind about spirituality and life in general that really we should be taking our whole lives to ask....it took me until my mid to late twenties to actually figure that out and 'Jesus Blues' is part of that process.
It takes a long time to get to know yourself, who you are and get your head around it. It’s hard to imagine that we could actually answer such serious questions at that early age.
I think we answer a lot of those questions early on when our brain function is quite simple. We answer those fundamental questions and they stay with us for a long time until we consciously go back and revisit them and wonder why we had those opinions in the first place, all those thoughts and we can trace them back to when we were a kid and we didn’t know the gravity of the decision or what we were aligning our point of view with.
With a bunch of festival appearances under your belt including BIG SOUND, Mullum and Queenscliff - as well a busy calender of your own tour dates - have there been any moments which have really stood out for you?
Every show. Every show is different and that’s the thing that keeps everything fresh. Recordings cool and I really enjoy that but playing live for me is the best thing possible because you get a new energy every time you play. The people in the room are different. You know it feels like at the end of one of our shows we have a real connection with people there and they have as much of an effect on me as I would potentially have on them. It feels like people open up and we really get to feel what’s going on in the room. So that’s been an awesome thing. When I first started playing at the start of the year, there weren’t many people at our shows and now there’s, more than that. It’s still very modest obviously but we’re going from having not many people to selling out shows and that’s kind of awesome because you get to be a part of that and each show can take on a completely different vibe as well. It’s a different vibe when a room has people in it, for when most of my musical career I’ve been kind of playing to no one.
It must be really amazing to watch the audience grow and see the same people coming back -and new ones too.
Yeah that’s awesome. That’s the best part. What more can I say, that’s what it’s all about, I suppose isn’t it?
Now that WOMAD’s just around the corner, can you let us in on what to expect from your set list? Will you be sneaking any unheard material in there?
There will be some new stuff, as well some stuff on the album. The thing about WOMAD is I’ve wanted to play WOMAD since I was very young. I remember watching on television. I got home from, I don’t remember if it was primary school or high school, I got home from school and I turned on the television and it must have been ABC or SBS, whenever WOMAD used to be on. I don’t know if they still do it or not? They used to broadcast it and I saw Jimmy Little playing with a weird fusion band and I just thought, hell I want to play that festival one day. I reckon it’s the diversity that the festival has, I’m honoured to be a part of it.
Finally are there any acts on the line-up you’ll be hoping to catch while you’re there?
We’re playing in Skyfields with Neil Finn in Tasmania, so we don’t get to WOMAD until the Sunday morning but I’ll be walking around seeing as much as I can. Everything! As much as possible. Generally the people who I want to see at the festival, who I earmark to go and see, I end up seeing other people who I’ve never heard of who blow me away and that ends up being the memory of that particular festival. So I’m kinda just keeping it open and seeing what happens.
Listen to William Crighton's self titled album here + get your tix to WOMAD here.
Words: Stephanie Dugan