Interview: Will Varley

Will Varley returns to Nottingham’s Bodega on 20th February in support of his recent release Postcards from Ursa Minor. Having recently touched base here in November to triumphantly support Frank Turner at his Rock City Double Header, Varley has a reputation for the wit woven throughout his light hearted folk songs and for his endless charm. That isn’t to suggest that his music is simply throwaway comedy though, songs like ‘We Don’t Believe You’ make great use of biting social commentary. We sat down with him to chat touring, space and comedy:

You’ve just come off a European tour with Frank Turner, and now you have a month long headline tour coming up, how are things?

Will: Yeah good, we just got back from Europe, doing lots of shows in Germany, played in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. It was amazing. Great to see parts of the world I’ve never been to before. In ten days’ time I start my UK tour, slightly different beast. Opening for Frank I was just doing 25 minutes, and my job was just to try to get people on board. Whereas the shows this month will hopefully be to people who know my music, and I’ll be playing for an hour and a bit.

So what can we expect from the headline tour?

Will: An hour of my songs really and some tomfoolery of some kind. I’d hope there will be a lot of people drunk and lots of good times had.

The Nottingham show has sold out already, how does that feel?

Will: Yeah incredible! When I got that information from my agent I couldn’t believe it. I thought there must have been a mistake. For me having done shows for the last fifteen years, most of which were to very few people indeed, to be selling out shows in different parts of the country is incredibly exciting!

As you mentioned, it will be slightly different to the tour with Frank Turner, playing in Nottingham with the two shows at Rock City, how did you find them?

Will: Oh man, that venue is legendary in its own right. To get a chance to perform on that stage was a real honour. So I had a really great time! To be honest the whole UK tour with Frank was an amazing time. Just the scale of the venues alone was enough to blow my mind. It will be nice to come back on my own and have a bit more time with everyone.

The tour is in support of Postcards from Ursa Minor, The album came out a few months ago now, how has the reaction been?

Will: Yeah it’s been great, it has been really good! Obviously you usually tour an album straight after it came out, but because of these Frank Turner gigs. I couldn’t turn those down. So it has delayed the tour a bit but the response to the album has been great so far! There are still a few videos and bits and pieces to come out, but we’ve had loads of airplay and everyone seems to like it, so I’m really pleased. Time for the next almost, haha!

The album title is a line from ‘Is anyone out there?’ what is the story behind that?

Will: A lot of the songs on the album have a space allusion to them. I think it is one of the big questions that we have. That we are spinning through space not really knowing why or where or what is going on. It’s this underlying knowledge that we all have but we just carry on with our lives not really acknowledging it. Part of the album is just saying hold on, what on earth is going on. It’s just an extension of that. There’s been this talk from Stephen Hawking about how we should be careful attempting to find other life, because it might come and destroy us and I thought that was quite funny, so I wrote a song about it. I actually had that song played into space, I had it broadcast out of a parabolic satellite in the U.S. They blasted it into space at the speed of light towards our nearest galaxy, so hopefully some aliens heard it, haha.

How does that come about?

Will: Urm haha, good question! It was just an idea I had when I wrote the song, thinking how funny it would be to have it sent into space. So I googled it and found these guys in America. They’ve got this big satellite and for a small fee they’ll send whatever you want into space. So I signed straight up!

You have written quite a few songs now expressing frustration with the current political climate, do you think that is something more musicians should be engaging in?

Will: I guess. It isn’t really for me to say. I think if musicians want to then great they should. Equally if they don’t feel comfortable then I don’t think there should be any rules. Everyone should be able to do whatever they want with it. For me, personally, I find it very hard not to look to bigger questions. It is something that is always on my mind. It plays a huge part in my life and in all of our lives, I worry about it, I question it and so I write songs about it, quite naturally really.

“I actually had that song played into space, I had it broadcast out of a parabolic satellite in the U.S.”

Alongside being Political, your music often has comedy elements, there can be a bit of a stigma attached to that sometimes, has that ever caused any issues for you?

Will: For me Folk has always had comedy in it, if you go back to songs like ‘Hairy Mary’ some of these classic folk songs, there is humour there amongst other things. My music follows that, but I don’t think that will be the case forever, at some point, I would like to do a full band album. For me the comedy element comes from when I’m doing an hour long set, and it is all about the end of the world and these scary things, and people start to get bored and everything has less of an effect. I think you need the happy with the sad.

There has been a lot of talk recently by John Cleese, among others, about the power of comedy when mixed with political messages

Will: Yeah it definitely is. It isn’t a new thing either; people come to my shows and say I have never seen anyone use comedy before, but it isn’t new. If you look at the early Dylan songs, they’re hilarious. If I can be something that is anywhere close to the old great folk songs then I am happy.

So the album came out a little while ago now, and you’re doing this expansive tour, what can we expect next from Will Varley?

Will: Well…So I’ve a pretty heavy touring schedule this year. There are lots and lots of shows coming up, which I am not allowed to announce just yet. Essentially I won’t stop gigging until this time next year. I definitely hope to get something out in the meantime, whether that is an E.P. or a book, or whatever else, I would like to produce a piece of work in 2016.

With your history of playing shows, and all of this touring you have this year, has the extent to which you tour ever caused an issue for you?

Will: Yeah, it is still quite a new thing for me. I have always played lots of gigs but never to this scale. If you rewind a year or two I would do a couple of weeks on and a couple of weeks off, then I might do one gig and then have a month off! I used to have other things going on too. Recently it has really stepped up a gear. I will finish one tour, have a couple of days off and then be straight out again. At the moment it is quite novel and fun, but I imagine if I do this for years it could send me a little bit insane. I think my girlfriend would go insane too! We’ll see!

You’ve said you can’t announce many of your shows for this year yet, but are there any festivals you have coming up that you can mention?

Will: I will be at Blissfields, but I can’t remember what else I am allowed to say. I will be at loads of festivals this summer though!

We will keep our eyes peeled! Many thanks again to Will Varley for taking the time to talk to Impact.

Will Varley was speaking to Liam Fleming

Image: Funk Dooby via Flickr

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