Ainslie Wills has been pegged as one to watch in 2017. Not only has she played Queenscliff Music Festival, Falls Festival, WOMADelaide and Splendour in the Grass, just to name a few, as well as a successful run opening for Grouplove in the UK last year; she, and key collaborator Lawrence Folvig, have signed on to support Tom Chaplin (Keane) when his British tour gets underway next month.
We caught some of her time at the recent St. Kilda Festival to find out how things have been going.
You literally just got off stage at St Kilda Fest. How did your set go?
It was fun. We had some good responses, especially towards the end of the set with songs like “Drive”. For us to play a band gig, it sort of doesn’t happen. The last band gig we played was probably Woodford [Folk Festival] last year, so it’s nice to play with the full band and get back into it.
I was walking around before, and because you played pretty late into the day, a lot of festival goers may have drank a little too much by now. Did you experience that?
They were pretty drunk – we had some interesting guys down the front. This guy who was requesting more psycho tunes, which were exactly his words, but once we got started it was okay. The wind made it really tricky because you don’t ever play in that kind of environment when you’re rehearsing, so it feels and sounds different.
This is your third year playing at St Kilda Fest. How does this year compare to previous years?
The first time we played we were just starting out so it very new to play on a big stage. It was a while ago now but it was fun, really fun. This time around it’s so different. My co-collaborator Lawrence and I have been in that mode of just being hermits and writing tunes. Then you come out and you have to flex that muscle [of being on stage] a bit to get back into feeling comfortable with that. It’s a bit weird. It like your muscles start to go, “Remember what you’re supposed to do”. (Laughs) But we’ll be looking forward to doing more consecutive dates, because we’re going to the UK in May, so that’ll give us an opportunity to actually play almost four or five nights a week, which is really good.
You’re heavily involved in song writing. How important is it for you to sing/perform your own lyrics? Can you connect as well to a cover or a song written by someone else?
Yeah, I feel like you can – it’s not a black and white rule. But I think crafting your own lyrics and music, because there’s such a synergy between those two things and to be that connected to a tune musically and lyrically, that’s pretty amazing! Then getting to perform it, that’s pretty special! I certainly connect to certain covers, because that person has articulated a mood perfectly, something resonated with me and I’m able to lock into the song.
I’m also open to writing with other people; I’ve done co-writing before. I did a collaboration with #1 Dads. Tom Scary from the Big Scary – do you know Big Scary? Check em out. Anyway, I did a co-write with him and that was great. The other co-write, we did in the UK with Jake Gosling, who’s a producer in the UK. It’s something that I definitely want to get better at and keep doing, because you never know what you’re going to end up with and it’s nice to have someone counter balancing your strengths with their strengths. I really like that experience because it’s bringing something from kind of nothing.
Very rarely are you writing from a personal cathartic point of view when you’re collaborating. You try and find a common ground to write from and you’re a bit more detached from it, which I think is a good thing because you’re a bit more subjective about things, about what it sounds like etc.
Your 2015 EP release Oh The Gold charted internationally. Where you surprised that it charted overseas?
Yeah, I’m surprised and not at the same time because, as pretentious as it might sound, I think the music that we play is that accessible to a lot of people and it’s perhaps better suited to countries that have been around for a longer period of time. They’ve got a bit more of an established culture when it comes to music and embracing whatever music comes their way. It surprised me that it charted but it didn’t at the same time because obviously it’s resonating there with people with a culture that perhaps is a little more established.
Don’t get me wrong, Australia has an amazing scene, but I feel like if you’re doing something that’s a little more challenging … I mean because most of the people that I play with, we studied music and we go pretty deep with the arrangements and all that kind of thing – and you don’t have to have studied to go that deep, but for us, the music that we make sometimes comes off as being a bit more complex, and people get a bit more, “What the fuck … ?!”
It must be amazing to chart in places you’ve never been before though?
Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s the power of the internet, isn’t it? I’ve never played outside of Australia other than the UK last year, so I don’t know about playing in those particular areas. A lot of people have wanted to go outside of Australia to try a different market and that’s been a good thing for them because they’re established, that culture.
Does that open up the possibilities of touring in those countries?
It does offer up opportunities, if you can have someone working to accrue those opportunities for you. The reason we went to the UK last year was because we got played on BBC6 over there. We didn’t even know. We didn’t send our music; no one serviced our music at all. They found it and then it was kind of like, “Alright, let’s go and see what happens if we go and play over in the UK.” So that made sense because there’s a bit of interest.
I think there is potential to play anywhere if there’s people that are listening. There’s this South African artist called Samthing Soweto; I never would have discovered him had it not been for the discover setting on Spotify. Now I want to go over to South Africa to see him play! It’s those little things – we’re very fortunate to have the internet. More people are going to gigs because we’re consuming a lot more music, which is good.
Is there a difference between UK and Australian audience?
We supported Grouplove in the UK for two of their shows and that was an amazing experience, because, when you first tour to a different country, you’re not usually playing venues of that capacity. We were lucky to be given that opportunity to play in front of a good crowd that were there early to see the support. No one knew who the hell we were, but they’re quite ready to engage. We have that in Australia as well but perhaps they were a little bit more open.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced this but because we’re so spoilt for music in Melbourne, some people get a little bit closed when they go to gigs. They don’t want to give as an audience member. They just want to sit back and be entertained; which I get, I’m probably guilty of it myself. But the crowds that we did play in front of in the UK, especially places like Manchester, they seemed a little bit more ready to go if you took them somewhere. They want to have a good time.
I have definitely gotten the impression that at times no one cares for the support act here.
Yeah, there is that; that happens here definitely. It would be the kind of thing though, with the UK audience, that if you’re not on your game, it could be disastrous, because they’re so up for it, that they could heckle.
You mentioned that you’re heading back to the UK, this time to tour with Tom Chaplin (Keane). Can you talk a little bit about the tour?
There’s sixteen dates, playing places like the London Palladium – and that was the main one that’s in my head because it’s quite a famous venue. The tour is a bit more theatre-based so it’s a bit more intimate, which will be nice. Other than the fact that we’ll be going over, it’ll be the biggest tour we would have done to date. The last one we did that was similar size was when we went on tour with Bernard Fanning last year.
It’ll be pretty hectic because we don’t get much down time, so we’ve got to get gig fit for that, but to get given the opportunity to go over is still pretty wild thing in itself. We have a little bit of time at the end to explore, maybe four or five days, so we’ll do that. I’m looking forward to it!
We did a little showcase last year, and I was a bit more, “Oh my god, what’s it going to be like?” You think everything is going to be so different. And it is – but it’s not so alien that you can’t exist in that world. So it is good to have had that experience under our belts so we can go back and feel a bit more comfortable with our surroundings and know that it’s pretty much the same as here.
Lastly, apart from the song writing you mentioned earlier, are you working on anything at the moment?
We’re working on a four-part release that’ll come out this year. [We’re also] working on releasing a single before we go over to the UK, that’ll be part of an EP. We’re trying to be strategic in how we release it. I don’t think we’ll do a full album. We might do a series of singles or EPs, the jury’s still out at the moment with that.
We’ve been working on pre-production for a few of the other tunes but it’s a time management thing at the moment. We’re trying to write as much as we can before we go over so we’ve got a few to choose from. I think that’s the goal each time, to write so much that you have a good list to choose from.