East India Youth

We quiz electronic songsmith East India Youth on going it alone…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 15 Aug 2014
  • min read
Total Strife Forever could be read as a dour title for an album but the man behind it, East India Youth (aka Will Doyle), is anything but when chatting down the phone.

He’s animated and excitable, particularly when pushed about his approaches to songwriting and music making. Not only that but he sounds suitably confident in his musical powers, unsurprisingly after the warm reception that met his debut earlier this year.

Will made the record while holed up in a flat in London’s East End at a time when his then indie pop group and personal life were simultaneously disintegrating. Heaven, How Long and Looking for Someone, two of the record’s choice cuts, are the sound of a man setting himself free. It’s a weird, unique sonic web of songwriting and electronica, filtered through East India Youth’s worldview. Soundscapes, genres and themes all collide to create a whole which marks him out as one to keep your ears on.

M caught up with this exciting new talent to see how he dreamt up a musical world all of his own…

How did you first get into music?

Through my older sister. I was fascinated by what I was hearing on the other side of her bedroom door. Whenever she left the house I’d steal her CDs and go on a voyage of discovery. A lot of it wasn’t particularly sophisticated, but then I found Radiohead's OK Computer - that changed everything.

How did you start writing your own songs?

I got a guitar when I was about 11 and started writing songs and playing in bands immediately. It’s been a constant process since then.

I’m not sure why as none of my family are really musical. I just remember hitting felt tip pens on empty ice cream tubs and being attracted to music in a way I can’t describe.

How did the creative process work with Total Strife Forever?

When I was in bands, I was always making stuff at home by myself, experimenting with a computer and synths even though I had no real frame of reference for electronic music. I found myself more attached to that than working in a band. Those ideas became songs which made up the meat of this album.

I found the process of making electronic music an entirely different form of expression to writing with a guitar. It was a much more immediate way of writing. I loved the freedom of having the idea in the morning, then a full song by the end of the day. That instant, visceral thing felt really important.

What influenced you?

Anything I hear will find its way into the songwriting and production process. It’s a constant journey of ideas. I’ve got really into dance music these last few years, especially more industrial techno. I’m a massive Bowie fan, Eno has found his way into it, more trad songwriting like Robyn Hitchcock, orchestral works. It all feeds in and I’m quite happy to appear scatty as if I haven’t settled on a sound. That is my sound.

What did you learn about yourself from making the record?

That I was capable of doing it by myself! Previously I’d go out on projects and be constantly disappointed. To be able to tie up these threads and make an album I’d really been wanting to make for years was really empowering.

I didn’t have much confidence at the time but the way the album has gone I feel like a totally different person to the one who made it. That’s a good point to be approaching a new record.

So you’re working on a follow up?

I finished the first mix of Total Strife Forever about two years ago. I got sidetracked along the way and put out an EP with the Quietus. I had this album in the bag to shop around and ended up going with Stolen Recordings who chose to put it out this year. So I’ve had all this time building up a bank of new ideas. I think I’ll have finished this record by the end of the year. I’m in a very good place with it right now.

Most of it has been recorded at home, but then using studios to do mixing and extra tracking. This has been great as at home I sometimes find I have a questionable work ethic. You get up, have a coffee in your dressing gown, listen to what you’ve done, play a couple of notes and suddenly it’s late afternoon and you haven’t achieved anything.

It’s been more focused this time but stylistically this record is sounding just as scatty as the first.

Do you feel more pressure with this record after your previous success?

I didn’t do until the first album started to receive good reviews and people seemed to be getting it. But then the ideas seemed to tie themselves up a couple of months ago after I had this eureka moment. I put on the previous LP for the first time in ages and suddenly thought this new material is quite a step forward. The pressure withered away at that point.

Has playing live impacted the way you write your music?

Yes definitely. I approached Total Strife in the bedroom on my headphones really as I couldn’t play my music too loudly in the flat I was in at the time. Bringing it into a live context meant there were some quite illogical things I’d done in terms of production and songwriting which would be hard to transfer into live. Having that challenge changed the way I built up tracks.

Are you getting excited by any new acts?

This FKA Twigs album is one of the best records I’ve heard in a few years. I‘m totally devouring that at the moment. I’ve also just produced a couple of tracks for a band I’ve taken on tour a couple of times called Jupiter C. They have some great, interesting ideas going on. I haven’t heard a new band like them before for a while who are totally stylised - they’re got their whole aesthetic in place. As their songwriting gets stronger, I think they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Any advice for new and emerging songwriters?

One of the things that struck me when I started up East India Youth was that for the first time in a while I was taking more time to write songs than worrying about my social networks. There’s a weird thing where people are spending too much time with their online ‘brand’ rather than writing.

It’s also important that when you’re writing a large body of work, that you get up early, start work at nine, and work through to the end of the day. Having such a work ethic is important as is revisiting your songs. Even if you don’t come up with anything new in terms of lyrics or melody, just living with these tunes and letting them grow is really important.