The earnest singer-songwriter making thought-provoking pop.
“I was on a canal boat yesterday, we rented a canal boat out all day and just went from Waterloo to Camden on a bit of a pub crawl. You know, you can legally drive a canal boat while drinking?” Billy Lockett laughs. Meeting him on the Monday after a rare weekend of sunshine in London, the Northampton-born singer-songwriter is looking surprisingly sharp after a weekend of beers and boats.
First making an impact with his music almost two years ago, Lockett has soared to certified greatness finding critical acclaim with his emotional and beautiful songs, the latest of which – “Feels So Good” – he’s dropping today.
With a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire announced today too, this year is gearing up to see Lockett become one of the greats. Canal boat pub crawl to celebrate?
When did you first get involved with music?
My dad was a big inspiration. He was an artist and he would always buy random instruments and just stick them in the house and I’d just have a go. He’d always buy them with the intention of playing them and it never kind of worked out. So I’d just fiddle with them and ended up sticking to piano which was the main thing. That’s what I ran with and that’s how this all started!
Was there anyone you listened to growing up that you were like “I wanna be like them when I grow up”?
Yeah, weirdly I wanted to do classical piano for a long time so I was listening to a lot of Einaudi who’s this contemporary classical pianist. It’s quite simple stuff but it just makes you feel things. It’s just really beautiful piano playing, no singing or anything, so that was the focus in the first place. My dad showed me Tracy Chapman, and Dylan, and Nick Drake, so very homegrown singer-songwriter vibes. I kind of combined the two – interesting lyrics and classical piano.
So when you write these “interesting lyrics”, where do you find inspiration?
It kind of changes. At first it was all about my dad and the memories that I had with him, but trying not to make it too specific so you could relate to it as a love song as such. They always say “write about what you know” and they only way I could make people believe what I was saying was by writing honest lyrics that meant something, but again trying not to be too specific. I think about what I want to say and then try and look for the parallel of it. Sometimes it can seem like it’s a bit more vague that way. You wanna say it without saying it. I’ve just been writing mainly about grieving and missing someone and wanting something. Sometimes it can be quite dark, but at the moment I’m actually starting to write happier songs! It’s getting cheerier!
And you’re dropping your new song today! Can you tell me a bit about it?
The idea of the song is about going back to an ex and that situation when you split up with someone and find that you keep waking up in their bed. You think that you’re getting through it and it’s almost that sometimes a relationship seems better once you’ve broken up and the questioning of why that is the case. Sometimes when you’re in a relationship, you can find that it gets really stagnant and boring and you almost feel like “maybe it’s a good idea now that we’ve broken up to get back together?” but it never is! There was a reason you broke up, so it’s the good feelings of a sort of sinful situation.
Are you working towards a body of work now then?
Yeah. To be honest, I wouldn’t even say an album really. I would just say a body of work. I’m just writing songs and recording them and releasing them. People can call that an album or an LP or whatever! I don’t care, as long as you like it. I guess in the phase of Spotify, you don’t have to be so rigid with it all now. You can just put songs out! I’m just enjoying writing them and releasing them.
What’s the response to your writing been like so far?
It’s been great! Really, really great. For the first two EPs it was a bit cult-y. It felt weird! There wasn’t a massive amount of audience but they were very loyal and it was a very specific set of fans that would come to every show and you would start to recognise them and know this little family. Since my last single – “Empty House” – came out, it was the first time it started to branch out a bit. The last show at Union Chapel, I didn’t really know anybody! It was confusing to see so many faces that I’d never met and they weren’t my mates! I think with “Empty House”, it was the first time that the numbers started to get a bit bigger on Spotify and a bit more mainstream, I hate saying that, but in terms of the audience.
Was that a conscious decision to become more mainstream with your music?
Well I don’t really care about the whole labelling of “mainstream” and whether it’s cool or not. As long as I like it and I’m really comfortable with what I’m releasing, I don’t really mind who likes it. As long as I do and as long as I’m into it. So far, so good. I’ve been really into everything I’ve made. There’s been some compromises but I really love the sound that I’m doing and the music I’m making. The audiences have really grown in the last three or four months. It’s really starting to go a bit mad which is great because that’s always the end goal.
So do you have big dreams of a number one album?
I just want to keep being able to enjoy it. Obviously the idea of selling out Wembley and all of that stuff would be amazing, and I think that’s all a bonus now and I genuinely am so happy that I can call this a job and so lucky that I can keep doing it. I just really hope that people can keep liking it enough for me to carry on doing it. I feel like I’ve already kind of succeeded by enjoying what I’m making, even if no-one else did like it at least I wrote songs that I loved. That’s the real task. If you can do that then everyone else will catch up and it will all come. If you’re fighting for them to like it in the first place, I think you’ve already messed up a bit.
Festival season is looming – what have you got planned for it?
I’ve been trying to revise this list! We’ve got Wilderness – that’s our first main stage! – Festival Number 6, Great Escape, loads!
And finally, what’s your end goal for 2018?
I think my end goal is to have got to a point where I’m really comfortable with the whole sound and I’ve set my lane. I feel like I’m already in my lane but I’m still slightly too influenced by certain people in my personal opinion and I really want to hone in on that feeling of when Billy Lockett comes on the radio you instantly know it’s me! I’m always learning and I’m really enjoying learning.