Last month, we were fortunate to catch up with the exceptionally talented Bill Ryder Jones ahead of his sold-out show at CHALK in Brighton. As support act Pet Snake's soundcheck filled the backstage area, we sat down to talk about his life and career before heading for a quick pre-show pint. Bill's musical journey began at the age of 13 when he co-founded the iconic jangle-pop band The Coral, launching a career that has spanned decades. From those formative years, he has continued to evolve as both a musician and a producer, establishing himself as a respected figure in the music industry. Hailing from West Kirby, England, Bill runs his own studio, Yawn, where he has honed his craft and collaborated with an array of notable artists, including Alex Turner, Michael Head and The Wytches. However, it's not just his production prowess that sets him apart; Bill's solo endeavors have garnered widespread acclaim, with each release showcasing his unique blend of introspection and artistry. His latest album Iechyd Da (Welsh for "good health"), released in January - via Domino - stands as a testament to his musical versatility and emotive storytelling.

 

Bill looks much as he did in the early days of his career, his distinctive mop of curls still frames his face, albeit now adorned with a subtle sprinkling of gray. He emphasizes the importance of clothes that "go with everything" and "hide all manner of sins" – pieces he can effortlessly throw on in the morning with the confidence they’ll work. He values clothing that's lived-in, pieces that “go everywhere with me and I’ve got stories attached to”. Many of his favorite items have been with him “for 10 years or so". Packing for a tour, he admits, is a nightmare - he just hopes he’ll get the chance to put on a wash somewhere along the way. Despite the logistical hurdles, Ryder-Jones maintains a thrown-together and effortless charm.

 

Bill cites the Beatles, ‘how could I not? In my school, we didn’t sing hymns, just Beatles songs’, and Welsh experimentalists Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci as his primary influences, considering them the 'two bands to keep if I had to sacrifice all others'. He also expresses a profound admiration for ‘kindest man in the fucking world' Gruff Rhys, whose music 'just makes me happy'. Bill recalls a quote from Rhys's book: Resist Phony Encores, “he’s talking about this Paul McCartney song, and he says, ‘it was at that music that I fell in love with beautiful pop music’ - and that’s just it.”

 

Following his departure from The Coral in 2008, Bill embarked on a solo journey that began with the ambitious symphonic album If..., released in 2011. Inspired by Italo Calvino's 1979 novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, each composition on the album represents a different chapter in the book—a creative endeavor that allowed Bill to immerse himself in storytelling without the pressure of self-expression. Reflecting on this period, he shares, "If... was such a huge part of my life, it was me reentering the music world, but not wanting to speak, not wanting to talk about myself. The idea of writing about a book takes that pressure off, it’s an interpretation of someone’s vision and I love that." Delving into the central message of Calvino's novel, Bill notes the challenge of capturing fleeting moments and impressions, a theme that resonates deeply with his artistic journey. Departing from The Coral's indie-pop sound, symphonic music became a recurring motif in Bill's oeuvre— "I don’t really like the word classical, particularly when referring to my work," he admits. "Classical music is this untouchable, incredibly studied, thing - I hate the pomposity of a lot of it. I prefer the more accessible, playful side of classical music – the b-sides, the Largos, and the Adagiettos. All classical musicians had to make a few quid, so they’d make these tunes, like pop songs."

 

 

Since his solo debut, Bill has delivered a series of acclaimed records that have cemented his reputation as a formidable musician. In 2013, A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart showcased his delicate yet potent blend of folk-rock, recorded in the intimate setting of an upstairs bedroom in his mother's house. The album served as a poignant exploration of vulnerability and resilience, setting the stage for subsequent releases. In 2015, West Kirby County Primary unveiled a heavier sonic landscape, while 2018's Yawn delved into emotionally charged slowcore reminiscent of Duster, later re-imagined as the acoustic rendition Yawny Yawn. Each of these albums is deeply rooted in Bill's hometown of West Kirby, offering intimate glimpses into his life and experiences. Despite these achieving critical acclaim and widespread recognition, as well as being favorites of the Far Afield office, Bill is eager to explore new musical territories. "Yawn was what it was, and West Kirby was what it was," he reflects. "I've been too harsh on those records, but it's not what I'm into." Firm in his resolve, he declares, "I definitely won’t be returning to the Wirral slacker rock stuff [..] At 40, I think you’ve got to draw the line – make age-appropriate music."


While his albums have often been lauded for their emotional authenticity, Ryder-Jones emphasizes that there's much more to them than raw emotion. With his latest record, audiences seem to be appreciating the depth of his musical exploration more than ever before. "People are picking up on the stuff I really put time into, not just songwriting," he explains. "There's a real focus on 'honesty' with my albums, and yes okay, but I spend ages trying to make it sound pretty, you know?". He jokes, "I’ve drank in enough local bars and seen enough open-mic'ers, and you can watch someone sing about how they’re heartbroken - they’re dead honest, but it’s shit."  

With a renewed focus on sonic beauty, Iechyd Da sees Ryder-Jones boldly pushing the boundaries of his musical exploration. This is evident on his latest album, where he melds diverse influences such as Brazilian rhythms, children's choirs, and even Michael Head reading from James Joyce's Ulysses (on the otherwise instrumental track And the Sea). However, beneath the shimmering veneer remains a profound sense of melancholy, reflecting his battles with mental health and personal demons. Drawing from his own experiences of depression, agoraphobia, and loss, Ryder-Jones channels these emotions into a cathartic exploration of hope, resilience, and love.

One such example is the album opener, I Know That It’s Like This (Baby), a blissful nostalgic bop straight out of the 1960s, which delves into themes of self-doubt and romantic turmoil, culminating "I’m not enough for you to love." The track samples Gal Costa's Baby from her eponymous 1969 album, a relic from “a beautiful period of my life”. Recalling the relationship that inspired the record, Bill reminisces, “I met this girl, she was Brazilian,” and recounts how they exchanged music, creating a shared playlist. “It was sweet; I added a song that meant something to me, and she did the same. I think the first song I added was Arnofio by Super Furries, because I love that, and then she sent Baby by Gal Costa. [...] Talking about music like that, sharing it with someone, it's fucking magical. A lot of that ended up in the record.’ 

In several songs on the record, Ryder-Jones employs the talents of a children's choir, sourced from Bidston Avenue Primary School in Birkenhead. "It’s problematic texting your manager at 3 in the morning like ‘can you get us some kids?’, and him just asking ‘how many and how old?’" he jokes. During our conversation, he reaches for his phone to share a video sent by the school of the children wishing him luck ahead of his tour. "The little knobheads!" he laughs, "There’s fucking 30 of them there – only 8 showed up for the recording – Johnny Come Latelys." These choral interludes help imbue the former The Coral man’s tracks with grandiosity and charm, their naivety and exuberance cutting through the severity of the chosen subject matters. "But yeah, the choir was great. I just wanted them to be raw" he reflects, "not polished like a real choir, just kids yelling their heads off – half of them didn't even know the words." He describes the recording day as "bloody beautiful," underscoring the unique charm and authenticity the children brought to the project. "It was boss," he concludes, with a smile. 

 

 

Bill has previously spoken very candidly about his agoraphobia and panic attacks, issues that made live performances very difficult. As we catch him on the 6th night, nestled between shows in Bristol and London (or “the city of exes”), he appears undaunted, composed. "Touring has been problematic for me for a long time," he admits, acknowledging the hurdles he's faced. However a pivotal shift occurred under the guidance of his new manager, who orchestrated intimate hometown gigs gradually acclimating him to the stage. "These gigs are the biggest of my life," he reflects, "I used to be a nervous wreck before shows, but now I'm relatively calm. " Bill seems to have found a newfound sense of presence and enjoyment on stage, with a disarming and self-deprecating stage presence that reflects his natural character. Later that evening he brings out an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression on stage - he threatens one of Nelson Mandela, but he questions its propriety. Such moments highlight a marked departure from previous tours, “I feel far more present on stage, and the audience senses it too. I remember after the Manchester show," he recalls, "when the lights came on, I was just overwhelmed, it was great”.

 

 

"But, fuck me, I'm knackered all the time," he jokes, acknowledging the toll of life on the road. "I did it all when I was 16, the first tour I was 16, I saw the fucking pier!" Now 40, the allure of sightseeing takes a backseat to the simple pleasures of comfort and care, "someone picks me up, takes me somewhere, gives me money, drives me to the hotel – I love it," he admits. Today Bill’s sojourn into Brighton extended as far as the East Street Tap, the pub across the road from the venue, and “the amazing Turkish around the corner”, Istanbul Kebab. 

Touring also gives Bill an opportunity to listen to music recreationally, something he finds difficult to accommodate at home, “it's the last thing I want to do when I get home from the studio, really – it’s a shame,” he confesses. The tour bus has become a haven for him to explore the diverse tastes of his bandmates, “Being on the tour bus is great because you listen to what everyone else is into. People are always telling me to listen to this, to listen to Big Thief and Pheobe Bridgers and whoever, and I can’t be arsed. But when you listen to it in the context of a traveling vehicle where everyone’s having a good time – it's just less clinical, less deliberate, like it used to be when you were a kid”. 

 

Surrounded by a touring ensemble of what he affectionately dubs "serious musicians," Ryder-Jones marvels at the transformative energy they bring to his work. Evelyn Halls, Louie Miles, Nathaniel Cummings, Liam Power, Phill Murphy, and Deaks form a collective powerhouse, each contributing their own unique talents and insights to elevate his compositions. "They not only learn what I ask them to but also bring their own flair to the table," he explains, acknowledging their intuitive grasp of his music. "Sometimes they'll surprise me with something they've added, and it just works [..] Two nights in it’s like ‘ooh, I heard that!’ do more of that," he laughs. Despite the inherent complexities of his compositions, the band embraces the challenge with gusto, effortlessly navigating the intricacies of his music. "This record isn’t easy to play, it’s pretty complex and counter-intuitive, but they just run with it," he notes. Bill admits to bombarding his bandmates with late-night texts brimming with ideas. "I don't really sleep," he confesses, "so they all get texts at 3 or 4 AM with ideas and a caveat of remind me tomorrow, poor fuckers - I never remember sending them, but they're usually good ideas." 

Bill Ryder-Jones embodies resilience and creativity in the face of life's challenges, and it's truly inspiring to witness his journey. Despite adversity, he remains committed to finding beauty amidst chaos, a quality that shines through in his music. With each record, he continues to exceed expectations, showcasing his undeniable talent and depth as an artist. Beyond his musical prowess, Bill's warmth and authenticity make him a genuinely lovely person deserving of all the success he achieves. We're genuinely excited to see where his creative path leads next and eagerly anticipate each new release. Bill Ryder-Jones is not just a musician; he's a beacon of hope and an inspiration for anyone facing their own struggles, reminding us all to persevere and find beauty in the midst of life's challenges.

Iechyd Da is out now on Domino, and upcoming tour dates include London’s Barbican in October, Latitude Festival (month), and End of the Road Festival (month) 

A massive thank you to CHALK, One Inch Badge and Domino for accommodating us. 

April 28, 2024 — Gwilym Evans