Interview: Ainslie Wills
From Triple J Unearthed to Florence Welch comparisons and recording an LP in the wilderness, Ainslie Wills is kicking goals across the Australian music landscape. We chat with the darling Melbourian musician ahead of her WOMADelaide performance this March.
BNKR: Could you tell us how you got started in the music industry? Ainslie: I suppose my musical love affair began when I was probably six or seven – I grew up in a musical family but my earliest musical memory was playing the family piano with my aunty, who would teach me little tunes on piano, she taught me how to play by ear, so that kind of led to me just digesting heaps and heaps of music, trying to figure out, to kind of unlock what was going on musically. So I did that all throughout my teenage years and then that led me to study music for five years at the Victorian College of the Arts. And then I suppose I started professionally releasing music in 2007 when I was unearthed by Triple J, so I sort of decided that I wanted to make my own EP, with my own hands and my own ears.
I recorded the entire thing, I mixed the entire thing, and – I'm not sure if you know much about process but that is not an easy process, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing, which I didn’t – but it was an awesome thing, and it also meant that I got to support Missy Higgins on tour...so that’s where it launched, I guess – in a more kind of professional way, I’d been performing before then and then that kind of led me to keep going.
I released an EP in 2007 that I got some traction with a song called ‘Wide Load’. With each project you’re learning more, and you're getting better at it and understanding what it is you want to do – and this led to me starting co-writing with my long time musical collaborator and our guitarist Lawrence Folvig - we met uni studying music, and then we decided that we were going to start a band and writing together, and that informed most of what the LP that we released in 2013 - it’s called 'You Go Your Way I'll Go Mine'. And then that was nominated for a number of prizes, including the Australian Music Prize, and it’s been a slow burn. We’re about the slow burn, and chipping away at the music we want to be making – we’re still releasing independently, we’re self-managed, so it’s kind of - like I was saying before – it’s been a learning curve, where every next step that we take is a little bit more polished, a bit more confident, which is kind of where we’re at at the moment. Now we’re at the process of writing more songs and going over to the UK later this year.
Oh that’s exciting! What are you going over for? Just for shows! We’re going to just try a different market – we’ve never played overseas before, so we want to go over and experience something different. We know how small Australia is in terms of a musical market – we’ve got great things to offer here but we’re just going to try our music out on some new ears.
How do you feel your sound has progressed since you began your journey as an artist? It really depends on what you’re listening to at the time when you’re writing and that kind of thing, but I think the deeper that you get into it, the more projects and releases that you do, you get a little bit microscopic with everything in terms of what you're hearing. And that can be a good thing and a bad thing – which is why it's good to introduce other people into your process. When I first began...I was in a really kind of interesting relationship at the time...the EP that I released then, it was a self-titled EP, was very much a cathartic process and a learning process – so everything sounded a little forlorn and I suppose the music is like a snapshot of what you’re listening to, what your life is doing at the time.
My first one was my introduction to playing with Lawrence and playing in a band with another drummer – we played as a three piece for a long time so that EP documented that time, and the LP in 2013 was really inspired by Feist’s ‘Metals’ album – we fell in love with that. She released a DVD called 'Look At What The Light Did Now', and that was documenting that process of making that album - how she went to this chateau in France and took all her engineers and all her instruments and hung out there and made a record, and that just inspired us so much to do something similar – we wanted to take our band into a different environment, hang out there for two weeks and see what we could come up with, and that was that experience.
And that was probably a little bit more of a folky kind of record, more acoustic sounding, whereas the most recent one – upon working with Matt [Redlich, producer], he obviously has a certain sound he can bring to the floor, and we wanted something that was going to be able to be a little bit more sonically lush and sonically interesting and just pushing a more ambitious sound...something that’s got a little bit more bite to it.
What we’re trying to write now is different again, because again everything has changed – our listening’s changed, our tastes have changed, so it really does depend on where you’re at, what you’re doing and what you want to write about.
What kind of music and musicians are you listening to at the moment? I've kind of gone back into my catalogue, even if I’ve heard it a bazillion times. I fell in love with the Tame Impala record – like everyone else did last year – and I've been listening to a little bit of Alabama Shakes. I suppose at this current moment I've been trying to find my next musical obsession, I haven’t really had that since…I suppose Tame, that last record was really my last semi-obsessional record. But you know when you find something that you just cannot stop playing or just cannot stop thinking about – so I'm just constantly trying to find new music, because that’s what ignites most of the songwriting, most of the musical activity.
So let’s move on to WOMAD, who are you looking forward to catching while you're in town? Well when I saw that Ladysmith Black Mambazo were playing that blew my little musical mind, because they’re an act that has so much musical weight. I suppose I just never really imagined that I'd get the opportunity to see them, so that just blew my mind, I'm really looking forward to seeing them. Angelique Kidjo as well, I'm really excited to see her – someone that has so much cred – again, I guess it's someone who I just thought I would probably never catch live, but I'm really excited to see her. And some of the more local acts, like Alpine and Husky. I know Sampa The Great is playing as well, and apparently she’s amazing – so I think there will be lots of music consumed that weekend.
What can fans expect from you during the festival? We try to make a really dynamic set come to life live; we try to make the sets flow to make sure that we can engage people for that amount of time, but I suppose our main aim is to make sure that we can bring in everybody to our space and we can deliver energy to them via the music and hopefully communicate with them in some way. It'll be stuff from our older records and then quite a lot of songs from ‘Oh The Gold’ - and we’ve actually been playing the song of wrote with Big Scary, '#1 Dads' – we just try and bring something that is musically interesting and that we can be really excited about playing.
F A S T Q S
First thing you do when you land in a new city? My boring answer would be something like ‘go and pick up the car from the car park’ [laughs]. My exciting answer would be to find the best coffee joint – and just good food. Good food and good coffee to start the day – and then the rest can kind of figure itself out.
Favourite venue to play? With shows that I've headlined, I would probably have to say Howler in Melbourne, it’s pretty great. But otherwise the Palais is pretty nice – I've played there a couple of times.
Last watched on Netflix? Downton Abbey – I'm quite obsessed.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? I think I’d do something in natural therapy – when I'm not doing music stuff, I love to do yoga and I love to learn about nutrition, and the way in which we can use natural alternatives for medicine.
Who would you choose to cover you? Probably Thom Yorke – that’ll happen in my dreams.