2020 was a prime time for new artists beginning to make their mark. While the lockdown prevented countless musicians from gigging and getting studio time, newcomers to the scene were biting the bullet and releasing tracks from their bedrooms. In his first interview, Leeds artist Not William shares his process, his style, and what got him into music in the first place.
So, Not William… if William’s not your name, who are you?
Not William: I’m Billy Tagg, and I come from Exeter. I’m now situated in Leeds and I’m studying music at Leeds Conservatoire. I’m 21. And with the name, most people can guess it. But essentially, most of my life, people that I meet, will say, ‘oh, is it William on the birth certificate?’ And then I find myself saying No, I’m not–not William. So yeah, it’s not that deep. I was collabing with a friend when I first thought of it, and I feel like it stuck.
Have you always been into music?
Not William: I’ve always liked music from a young age. I’m part of a musical family, so all my brothers and sisters played something or other. My first love of an instrument was the drums. There’s pictures of me where I’m three hitting pots and pans! Ever since, I’ve always loved music and loved to play. But creating has been in more recent years. Up until college, I was more focused on playing with other people. And I definitely still am. So I never could have imagined myself being an artist and calling myself an artist or having an artists page.
So you’ve got four singles out at the moment.
Not William: Yeah. The first one I released, “Less of Me”… So I released that at the start of lockdown. Not the start, sorry. Was it the start?
We’ve had so many now it’s hard to keep up!
Not William: Yeah, I know! I think it was just last year. I was midway through creating it when the first lockdown came. In terms of creation, it was kind of cool for me because it meant that I could knuckle down on it. So the meaning behind it won’t be obvious to people who don’t believe in God, but it’s about being humble, and making everything less about myself and more about God, hence the phrase “less of me, more of you.” When I was writing it, that didn’t even come to mind straight away. I often have a weird way of writing lyrics where I’ll think of a melody and be like, “oh, that kind of works.” So, whether it came to me profoundly, whether it was… I don’t know. Who knows?
Not William: Yeah! So that was the premise. For the musical side of it, I was taking inspiration from people like SG Lewis with some of the production. Not quite his standard, but we try! I just wanted to put something together and then release it.
Has that been a similar process for the other songs as well?
Not William: Yeah, kind of. When I was still writing that one, I was also having a look at the other ones. The second one, “In Your Hands,” I’d actually already written a year or more previous for a college assignment. That process was different. I’d heard some bad news, not of someone I knew, but of someone that someone else knew; basically news of suicides. Multiple suicides. And I was heartbroken. So I was in college, and I remember reading the message, and I just went into like the nearest like piano room. I came up with the bit at the end that goes, “it breaks my heart,” which is pretty self-explanatory, and then the line “it’s in your hands,” which then became the title of the song. It’s got the Christian meaning behind it of, you know, it’s going to be alright, and believe that it’s in God’s hands and He’s in control. When I first wrote it, I had a line which was more specifically about suicide, and I changed that when I was thinking about releasing it to the masses. The point was that whatever you’re going through, it doesn’t have to be specific, particularly at the moment with COVID and everything. So I was like, yeah, it’s all good, don’t worry about it.
How about “No Words”?
Not William: “No Words” was my least favourite song when I first started writing it. At the beginning, it was my least favourite, and then at the end, I was like, “actually, I really like this song.” It was a song that I wrote for my girlfriend. It was just a 2 am thing. This was when we were both in our parents’ homes. so separated; it’s like 200 miles or whatever. Her granddad had recently passed away. It was just one of those not nice situations, obviously; not less nice for her, but being a boyfriend you want to be able to comfort your girlfriend. Not being able to do that, or physically be able to give her a hug, was frustrating. That’s where that song came from. And I wrote it as a surprise. That’s what that song revolved around. Sometimes, you don’t always know what to say. Sometimes, saying words isn’t the right thing or isn’t what that person needs. Sometimes they just need a hug. That sums up how I was feeling at that time.
And your last one? “Stand Firm”?
Not William: “Stand Firm” actually was almost the opposite of “No Words,” where when I started I was like, “yes! This is my favourite one,” and when I got to the end I was like, “This is six minutes. It’s so long!” But I was happy to be working with Gomolemo [a mutual friend]. He was fairly pumped for it as well, and it was cool to be in the process of writing with someone else that I respected and enjoyed working with. So I think that was why I ended up leaning towards it.
It has Christian undertones. It was similar to “Less of Me” in the writing as I didn’t really have an idea of what I was going to talk about. I heard this song by an artist called KINNSHIP, who was formerly known as FAVELA… He recently brought out an album, and the first track is “Homingbird.” It was this really long song, longer than mine, but it had his vocals at the start with a bit of pad. That was the inspiration. And I was like, right, I’m going to start with that and go from there. And then it kind of turned into this weird song with a drop and a guitar solo and not much singing. Again, the premise being that Jesus is our rock. It’s very Christianese kind of talk, but I think it’s fact that we can stand firm on God and on His word because He’s already stood firm for us.
Would you call yourself a Christian artist? Or what kind of genre do you think you fit into?
Not William: I’ve definitely given thought to this idea of being a Christian artist. I think, in some ways, I don’t think I’d necessarily label myself as a Christian artist, but rather someone who just writes music, and if it happens to have Christian undertones, then so be it. There was a band that I listened to and they used to do more Christian stuff. And then they stopped doing it. And I remember my brother wrote into them because he was like, “I’m not listening to your music unless it’s Christian.” They were like, “We are still Christians, but we don’t label our music as Christian music,” and I’d probably say about myself. Being able to spread the Gospel is good, but equally, I’d like people to be able to get their own message from my music.
Who has inspired you most in the music you’ve made?
Not William: One might be Tom Misch, particularly with “No Words.”
Can I just come in there? When I was on the phone to my editor about you yesterday, he came back to me and he was like, “I really like the sound of ‘No Words.’ He really sounds like a funkier Tom Misch.” And I was like, do you know what, that is such a huge compliment! So it makes sense that Tom Misch is one of your top inspirations.
Not William: Wow, give my thanks! Goodness, gracious. Definitely, he’s up there. Other ones are Bruno Major, Jordan Rakei… There was influence from both of those two on “In Your Hands.”
Are there any things that you want to achieve musically that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Not William: I’ve wanted to work with a vocoder for a while. And I actually have on a song that I’m working on currently. I’ve always wanted to write a slapper, something that just gets you grooving in a different kind of way. I’ve wanted to venture into some roots of R&B, that kind of vibe because that’s often what I listen to. So I’d love to write in that area as well. I’ve also wanted to do more collaborations.
So, currently, what’s your process? Obviously, with COVID, we’ve all been shut at home, but generally are you a Tame Impala kind of guy where you’re just doing everything in your bedroom?
Not William: I am definitely a bedroom artist! One day I hope to expand from that. But I enjoy it. From scratch, it can just be from jamming an idea, or from a voice memo, or I might have a word in mind, and then just write around that word and cobble together some lyrics. I work with Logic, typically, and a MIDI keyboard. I’ll start with that, or maybe some guitar, just to get a bit of a basis of what I want.
More recently, I’ve been working with other people in terms of mixing and mastering. For the first three singles I was kind of doing everything, I didn’t know what was going on, I kind of just made it up. But I mixed and mastered really well. It was definitely rewarding, you know, that’s definitely a good sign of being independent. And doing that yourself as a bedroom artist, or whatever you want to call it.
But equally, I was also like, why not get someone else to do at least one part of that process? It will make your life easier and they’re also a lot better at it than you. Just being able to have fresh ears on something, fresh perspectives on things, is really helpful. I got the help with the last single. But for the most part, I would work on it and then mix it, master it and then put it on the distributor, and then it goes on Spotify!
By the end of 2021, where do see yourself? Do you see yourself with an EP?
Not William: I definitely would like to have the accomplishment of having a collection of music. But making sure that I’m bettering my craft and feeling like I’ve progressed in writing and production is where I want to be.
Find Not William’s music on Spotify, YouTube, and all the major streaming platforms. Connect with him on Instagram and Facebook @notwilliamsounds.