I came across Vienna-based British indie rock singer songwriter Tall William a couple of months ago when I talked to him at an impromptu concert Mark Peters played at Kramladen. He was the support act.
At the time, I remember thinking two things. “Yep, he’s tall”. And that it would be cool to interview him as his songs are quirky, with interesting lyrics, and he is intelligent and an exceptionally good live performer.
That interview took place at Aera last weekend. A popular hangout for musicians in Vienna it seems, as he is now the third one I’ve interviewed there.
And what I liked about sitting down for lunch with Tall William, while we talked for three hours (the longest interview I’ve done in Vienna so far), the time went quickly.
Had a fabulous interview, lunch and, yep, beers with Vienna-based indie blues rock singer songwriter Tall William today at Aera. 😚He is releasing his second EP ‘When The War Comes By’ on May 4th, and is kicking it off with an Album Release Party on May 3rd at Replugged.on Lerchenfelderstrasse. My interview with him will be up on LeoSigh.com next weekend. And don’t miss his concert/release party on the 3rd. I’ve seen him live twice already, his music is brilliant, and he gives a damn good concert. 😊💃🎸🎤🎵 #TallWilliam #Singers #Songwriters #Music #LiveMusic #EP #EPReleaseParty #IndieMusic #IndieRock #IndieBlues #IndieMusic #AustrianMusic #Replugged #IgersWien #IgersVienna #IgersAustria #Wien #Vienna #Austria #österreich @tallwilligram @danfisheraudioheart
Because, while he might be a superb musician and a fascinating lyricist, he also has a helluva lot to say about living in Austria, social issues both in his native UK and here, and about life in general. But all done in a willingness to look at both sides of an issue, and to often give the other one the benefit of the doubt that their opinion was coming from a positive place.
Even if he doesn’t agree with their position.
I think that is also why Tall William does well in Vienna, a city he loves and has now lived in for quite a few years. Because, very much like the Viennese, he might not agree with something, but he is still always polite about it.
As for the reason for the interview, other than that he’s a lovely man and it was nice to get to know him better?
Tall William is releasing his second EP, When The War Comes By, on May 4th, 2018. His release party for the EP will be on May 3rd.
An interview with Tall William
Why did you choose Tall William as a name?
Because it was kind of a necessity.
I was doing gigs in the UK, and people really tell you how they feel there. Sometimes I’d get really critical stuff like “Lanky streak of piss”. (Translation here 🙂 )
The more polite ones would wait till you come off stage and then go, “Yeah, it was good, but you look really awkward and wooden. And lanky.”
And I’d go “Yeah, I can’t really help that”. It’s like, “I’ll go away and work on my height…”. What can I do?
So I thought I’ll put it in the name, and maybe people will forgive it a bit. But now I get off stage, and people go “You’re not that tall”.
How tall are you actually?
6 foot 3″. When I’m out with Dan (his producer, tall and also British), people will say to us “What do they feed you over there on the island?”.
So your EP is in May, and you have a tour coming up?
Yes, there’s a tour, and the album release party is 3rd of May at Replugged in Vienna.
Where does the tour start, and where are you playing?
I start the tour on 1st June in Vienna at Kramladen. Then the next night is in Salzburg. After that, I head to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Then there is Linz. I’m also doing a Hungary gig at the Valley of the Arts festival. That should be particularly fun, as it’s a huge festival and I’ve never played in Hungary.
A couple of concerts on the tour will be with bands, and the rest will be solo.
I’m also the support act for Charlywood’s UK tour in the autumn, and I’ve just done one of Charlywood’s Charlytalk interviews, which was a very cool experience. (see video below)
As far as your gig in Hungary I’ve heard Hungary is very receptive to Austrian artists. Is that true?
This is the thing. Getting gigs in Austria can be difficult. You really have to plug away to get a venue to allow you to play there. You just send one email to Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia and they go “Yeah, come on over”.
Is it more difficult to get people to your gigs in Austria as well?
It depends. I did one a few years ago at Shelter that was three people, and a guy and his dog. And every time I finished a song, the dog would go “Woooooo”.
Well, hey, at least the dog liked you.
True. I think it was probably the amp feedback, though.
As for getting people to gigs, Austrians are very supportive once they know about you. It just takes longer here than in other places. It’s just like friendships in Austria. It takes longer to form good friendships here, and it’s the same with audiences.
But, when they know about you and like you, people here are loyal. They will come to your next gig and bring friends. Then those friends are at the next one as well.
So, yes, it is good, but it takes a while. Sometimes, though, I play the British card.
Like I played at Au near Yppenplatz in a small room at the back of a bar, and it got near to stage time and there weren’t many people there. It was the summer. So I went out to Yppenplatz, and said to people in my most British accent “I’m here on tour, and it would really help me out if, when you guys have finished your drinks, you’d come to Au”. And I started playing, and people came in.
So sometimes, you can really play that expat angle. And Austrian acts can’t really do that.
Do you speak fluent German?
Yes. Well…I’m really comfortable with it, but people can tell I’m not a native speaker.
How did you learn?
I learnt from a book back in the UK. There were long winter nights, and I had nothing to do. So I thought, “That’s interesting. It would be great to learn to speak another language.”
But you weren’t thinking of coming to Vienna?
No, but the contract at my UK job finished, and then a company in Berlin said “Come over”, so I relocated there, then on to Vienna afterwards.
Besides, while so many Austrians speak fluent English, I think it’s good if you live here to speak German. And I love living in Vienna, so I’ve tried to integrate as much as possible.
It’s an amazing city, isn’t it?
I was re-reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable FeastThe book is about Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s while still a struggling young writer, and how he was part of a social circle of artists that included Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald), and I was like “That’s so cool he’s there with all these writers”.
But you don’t even need to think “I wish I could do that” because, in Vienna, you are doing that”.
In Vienna, you go out for a meeting with your label, or with other songwriters, and you think “It’s just like that book”.
And everyone is giving each other tips on how to write, what to write and what to focus on when you’re writing songs.
I wouldn’t have had as much support though, if I hadn’t started going down to the Vienna Songwriting Circle. But once you do something like that, a little crack opens up and then the light shines through.
The singer songwriters here are great too, as they write and sing about their lives and it’s really true.
What I’ve also noticed is you are positive, friendly and very polite. Especially when it comes to talking about Austria and Austrians.
Well, I worry…well not worry but think about…what people say when I’m not around. So I always try to be positive and nice.
To go back to your new EP, has your debut single ‘One Horse Town’ gotten air play?
That’s been an interesting thing.
Because people at two different Austrian radio stations have told me “ We can’t really feature it when it releases because it’s called When The War Comes By. And they’ve suggested I change the name of the EP, and then they can feature it.
I got feedback from one station about the first single “One Horse Town”, and how it’s a really upbeat track and they loved it, but when they asked which EP it was from, I was told they couldn’t play it.
And I thought, “I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot with that title”.
But I’m not really cutting edge enough in my sound to be on FM4 (which is a Vienna station that would likely play it). I have been on them before with my first EP due to the help of a press agent, but now I’m in a bit of a middle place. Because the EP is slightly too non-pop for pop stations, and it’s too pop for the other ones.
(** My comment on that — Many Austrians still seem to be stuck in a place where they feel guilty about the country’s part in World War II, and its alliance with Hitler’s Germany. So the war is not often spoken about here if it can be avoided. Personally, I don’t understand the guilt, as it’s not like most Austrians were even born then, so they’re not responsible. But it definitely has a huge impact on who many Austrians are, and how they think and behave.)
And then you’re stuck with a screwed up EP title on top of that. (Laughing)
Yeah. But, it’s exactly what I wanted to write, so it’s difficult. But it’s up to me to figure out what I want to marry that to, and how I get it out there.
But there have been some people here that are very supportive despite the name. For instance, the EP is not even released yet, and the single has already been on Soundportal in Graz.
And the people from Subtext in Linz are very supportive too. Christoph and his partner put me and another band member up for the night when we played a concert in Linz. And we went to their flat, and they have all the CDs from all the people that have passed through on the wall. They really remember people.
I got into contact with them again to ask if they were interested in featuring my EP. And they said “Yeah”, play listed it and then sent it on to other people.
But it can also be frustrating. For instance, I was told by one place that they couldn’t let me play as they don’t even have enough available nights in their club for Austrian bands. And I’m like, “But I’m based in Vienna, and my band is Austrian”.
And that’s sad, because you’re trying to promote the Austrian music scene as well with what you do, and with the artists you work with.
I’m trying to start this new thing. It’s called Expat Pop, and it’s what I’ve defined for myself and all the other expat people here. We even have “Expat Pop” written on our drum kit.
I’m trying to start up an awards ceremony. Right now, it’s just online and I email people saying “Well done, you’ve got the Best Expat Album award”, and we do it at the same time as the Amadeus Austrian Music Awards.
Now I’m on the second year of the awards, and I’ll be including a new category this year. It’s going to be Best Integration. So for the person that’s integrated themselves best into the Austrian music scene.
I’m hoping that next year we can get a little space, and give out little trophies. Golfing trophies or an ashtray. “Here you go”.
(Laughing) That’s cool. It’s kind of like, well you don’t always invite us to your stuff, so we’ll do our own.
It’s something I learnt when I was 17. We never got invited to the cool kids’ parties. And I remember the day. We were all sitting down at the lunch table at school, and one guy went “I’ve had an idea. We can have our…own…party?”
And there was a silence and then…Mind Blown. “Yeah. Wait. There’s nothing stopping us. We can get some beers, and put some music on”.
But, for the longest time, I was worried about writing music that people wouldn’t understand. Because I’m so special (and he laughed).
And then I thought, no, I’ll just write what I want to write because I’m not that unique and, besides, even if you write really esoteric lyrics, there will be at least 500 other people in the local area that think the same. There are always people just like you.
You do a really strong set live too
It takes a lot of editing. I mean, you write a song, record it on your phone, and you end up with about 50 of them in two months. Then you pick five to go forward, because 10 of them all sound the same. Then one of them after that. And that’s the one that gets played live.
But, it can be hit and miss sometimes. Because I’ve got quite good at writing songs live, and because it comes from a place where you write the melody, and you get the chords down, and that’s pretty much it. You get a chorus and then you play it live. And then you play it live, with the fear and the adrenaline running.
Are you nervous before you go on stage?
Not really. Sometimes it hits you, though. Like the last Vienna Songwriting Circle (VSC) I did, I suddenly started feeling nervous. It’s just something in the room, or something in the air that spooks it.
Plus, isn’t it more nerve-wracking when you’re playing in front of your peers instead of a regular audience?
This is true. And that’s also why it’s weird so many people in Vienna want to do their first gig in front of the VSC. Because you’re playing in front of a room full of songwriters. I mean it’s not as critical as all that but, yeah, they are other songwriters and they do critique performances. But it’s never malicious.
Do other Vienna-based songwriters criticize what you do?
They do, yeah. But it’s always from a good place. And even the conversations where the artist isn’t in the room, it’s always constructively critical.
By the way, where are you from in the UK?
Scarborough (North of England). One of the tracks on the EP is actually from that place. It’s the only one that’s from a fixed place.
‘Blue Town of the North’. It’s the second track on the EP, and it was written around Brexit time. But it’s kind of an ambivalent song. I was a bit annoyed that Scarborough and North Yorkshire were pro-Brexit, and I was frustrated about that. “What’s happened to my town?”
So it has some lyrics about what you would think of as things connected to being typically Conservative. One of them is “In the penny arcades, where I got my first name, there’s a picture of the Royal Family on every key chain” – You know, those little key chain prizes you can win in amusement arcades?
Because this is what I was told, anyway, by someone. I was named after Prince William, although I don’t know how true that is.
The song is a dry, really weighty song at first but, even though I don’t support Brexit, the chorus is sort of like “But you can do what you want really”. It’s an ambivalent song.
How many tracks are there on the EP? And is there a theme?
Four. Not really a theme, but they do come from kind of a British place.
Why did you choose When The War Comes By as a title?
Because that’s the song that was recorded then. It’s about fake bravado.
About how you feel about yourself inwardly. “I’m not scared of anything, I’m fantastic” when it’s not true, of course. And that’s pretty much it. It’s not a hugely deep song, I just tried to think of the most extreme situation that someone could say I’m not afraid of…and “I’m not even afraid of a war” was the most extreme.
Different things frighten different people though. For instance, I have Globophobia. I’m afraid of balloons.
New Year’s Eve makes me nervous. Balloons terrify me. So to have a song like “I’m not going to be afraid when the war comes by” is also a kind of an in joke about myself.
But if you wanted to have a deeper meaning, you could fit this into it. That you see people fleeing war and coming to Vienna, and people already here think “What are they afraid of? What are they fleeing? They don’t look scared. They’ve got their phones. If that’s what war is, I wouldn’t be scared”.
They have no idea. And it’s also a bit about the UK being a “warrior race” – a country built on war. So why should we be afraid of it. There are a lot of political and social things you could add to it, if you wanted to.
But it’s really just a 3-minute pop track about how you’re not afraid, you’re really terrified.
And what about other songs on the EP?
Well, ‘One Horse Town’, people have said they think it’s about a person, or that it’s directed at someone . But it’s more about, even if you come from a one horse town, and you’ve not got much going on in your life, getting up and enjoying your day is still the best thing in the world.
“Devil’s Doorbell” comes directly from a flyer that I saw on the floor from a Christian group. Asking people, women especially, to refrain from masturbation. Not to ring the devil’s doorbell. And I was like, okay. That’s a great little thing. So that song is about self love.
Yeah. The second verse goes like “Tough old world, as far as I can see. And to the lonesome lover in Apartment B. Sure as one and one and one is three, you’ve got to keep your good self company”.
So it’s like, “You can do it. You can go for it. It’s perfectly fine.”
So, the EP starts off in war, and ends up in masturbation!
What you need to know about Tall William’s When The War Comes By
When The War Comes By, Tall William’s sophomore EP, will be available via the Vienna-based Audio Heart Records label. It was produced by Dan Fisher.
The EP itself is only a digital release but, if you attend Tall William’s EP Release Party on Thursday night, there will be some limited edition CDs available featuring hand printed artwork by the musician himself. So, yeah, GO THERE!
Tall William’s ‘When The War Comes By’ Mini Tour
3.5.2018, Vienna, Replugged – EP Release and Concert
1.6.2018, Vienna, Kramladen
2.6.2018, Salzburg, Plan B
4.6.2018, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Prulcek
6.6.2018, Linz, Smaragd
7.22.2018, Valley of the Arts festival, 6 villages near Balaton-felvidék, Hungary
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