The most recent chapter of the East India Youth story goes something like this: after he moved to London last summer, William Doyle went to a Factory Floor gig and pressed a copy of his debut (self-released) album into the hands of John Doran, editor of The Quietus.
Doran, bound by an insane contract heʼs made with himself to listen to every physical promo he ever receives, loved it so much that he and co-editor Luke Turner decided to found a record label to release more of Doyleʼs music.
Itʼs not hard to see why. East India Youth makes a gorgeous melange of Liars-esque art-rock, kosmische, techno, shoegaze and synthpop. There are nods to Factory Floor, but also Neu!, The Human League, Laurel Halo, Fuck Buttons, Bowie and Brian Eno. Itʼs not a crude pastiche, though. Doyleʼs first vinyl release, the forthcoming Hostel EP, is the kind of perfectly formed record that makes you wonder why all pop doesnʼt sound like this – challenging, sure, but also great fun. There are organs and silky harmonies and heartbreaking lyrics, ornate drums and unexpected twists and turns. A rumbling bassline might give way to a delicately layered chorus, but it could equally go down a breakbeat route, and that unpredictabilityʼs central to both the musicʼs charm and its vaguely unsettling quality.
Could you tell me a bit about the East India Youth project and how it came into being?
“Iʼve been writing songs and home recording since I was about 12 or 13. My general lack of social life at the time meant I was obsessive about it, making music at any chance I got. I used to experiment a lot with soft synths and drum loops in Cubase, as well as writing singer-songwriter type things. Things carried on that way for a few years until I began to play in a half-decent band with some of my friends. My focus shifted from the soundscapes Iʼd been creating in my bedroom to writing melodies and lyrics. I really came out of my shell socially around this time too, and my confidence grew with each gig. The band was mildly successful – we put out an LP, 2 EPs and a single on our own label, toured up and down the country, and managed to get onto the radio a few times too. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was on the wane. I also began to listen to more electronic and dance music and that influence began to leak into what I was making again. There was a fair amount of other stuff happening in my life outside of the band too and eventually I reached a bit of a breaking point. In May 2012 I finished putting together an album of solo material that I was incredibly proud of; it felt like Iʼd finally found the outlet Iʼd been looking for. At this point that I decided to call it quits from the band and pursue the East India Youth project.”
Your music seems to draw from a very broad palette – kosmische, techno, post-rock, pop and shoegaze are just a few of the genres I think of. What do you listen to and how would you describe your sound?
“All of those! Since conceiving this project, Iʼve been listening to Laurel Halo, Neu!, Perc, Tim Hecker, The European, Bjork, Fuck Buttons, Shostakovich, Eno, Caribou, Luke Abbott, Phillip Glass… the list continues for a long time in that sort of vein. I tend to gravitate towards quite sonically detailed music. That, and repetition. Lots and lots of repetitive music.
“I always find that someone elseʼs interpretation is much stronger and more evocative than my own. I tend not to think about how to interpret my music. So my musicʼs something along the lines of pop songs and instrumental pieces wrapped in heavy digital sound design with shades of krautrock, techno, ambient electronica and contemporary classical – but every track sounds quite different.”
Would you mind telling me a bit about the artists who influence you, and your relationship with those influences?
“I draw a lot of parallels between my work and David Bowieʼs Berlin period output, both sonically and in the spirit of how it was made. My split of vocal tracks and instrumentals isnʼt accidental in that sense. Iʼm fascinated by that period really… Bowie, Eno and Visconti managed to tread the line between avant-garde and pop, which is something I think a lot of artists strive for – I certainly do anyway. Thereʼs actually a lot of music from the mid-to-late ’70s that Bowie and Eno were also influenced by or involved in that I identify with – Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia, Can, Kraftwerk, Faust, Popul Vuh, as well as Enoʼs own solo output and other projects he was involved in like Talking Heads, Ultravox and Devo. Even stuff that came out on Enoʼs Obscure record label; Harold Budd, Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman and their stylistic relationships to minimalist composers like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley.
“A lot of my poppier sensibilities and structures have been influenced by stuff I listened to more when I was younger, like The Beach Boys, Robyn Hitchcock, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, The Divine Comedy, Beck, The Flaming Lips, or what have you. Iʼm afraid Iʼm yet another musician who feels like the influence of Scott Walker hangs over them at all times too.”
Kind of on that point, do you think that having myriad influences is a sign of the times, as it were? Not to get too wanky about it, but thereʼs a theory – hardly prevailing, I should add – that the ease of access to the annals has given rise to a kind of miscellaneous and unfocused music. What are your thoughts?
“I think I could definitely be accused of being miscellaneous and unfocused! But seriously, easy access to the history of recorded music is all Iʼve ever known and I find that freedom empowering and exciting. I feel like thereʼs still so much left for me to discover. Having a large musical history to dissect, to recontextualise, is exactly what I think breeds the most interesting art we have today. I still think weʼre only just starting to see what possibilities are available too.
“What I think is perhaps more crucial, and something that I feel younger people are susceptible to, is that this ease of access to all music, both new and old, means that itʼs treated with increasingly less respect. Sure, itʼs easier to download 4 billion tracks, but are you really engaging with the music, considering its social and historical contexts? Iʼm not talking about physical vs digital – I download as much as I buy on vinyl. What Iʼm talking about is consumption vs appreciation. I think that engaging properly with the art you make, asking questions about it and finding connections within it – those are the keys to producing brilliant and innovative work.”
How do you approach songwriting and production, and whatʼs your setup like?
“I start with a small segment of music and let it evolve for a long time. I usually map out an initial structure of the rest of the piece and then revisit it every day for a few months. I might not change anything on these revisits, just consider different things like the structure and the timbre, but slowly I make changes and things develop. If it feels like a vocal track then melodies form in my head and I go and write lyrics. Itʼs quite an organic process. Eventually I end up with loads of 90% finished songs and thatʼs when I really go for it and work for hours on end finishing them off. Thatʼs usually the most satisfying stage.
“I donʼt romanticise faders and knobs too much. Iʼm not much of a gear geek. The world of recording really lends itself to becoming one but I find that worrying about that sort of thing too much can get in the way of actually having any good ideas. I use mostly the same gear live as I do when recording. I record onto my MacBook Pro, and Iʼve got a condenser mic and a MIDI controller. My instruments are a Squire bass, a Telecaster and a Casio MT-45. Everything is recorded in Cubase, Logic or Ableton depending on the style of the piece, as I find different DAWs work easier for different styles. I also use a lot of Native Instruments plug-ins and Iʼve recently been completely stuck into my Arturia ARP V2600 and Minimoog Vs. One day I might buy some cool outboard gear but itʼs just too expensive at the moment.”
Your lyrics are very personal and I get a sense of catharsis in your music – there are references to antidepressant drugs in forthcoming track ʻHeaven How Longʼ, for example. What kind of emotional place are you in when you write?
“I find I work best when Iʼm in a good mood. I know that may not be obvious listening to the music I make, and though I sometimes draw upon darker experiences and subjects, I find the actual act of creation is stunted if my serotonin levels arenʼt riding high. Iʼm more productive in the summer. I never thought the seasons affected my mood so much but for the last few years my most fruitful bouts of creativity have come during spring and summer. Letʼs see how this year goes with that in mind.”
I think your songs have a very English vibe – they sound as though they couldnʼt really be made anywhere else. Do you see your music as fitting into a tradition? Thereʼs also the matter of the name…
“I never intentionally project my nationality or let it influence my music. I suppose itʼs nice to think you might be part of some lineage of great British artists but I sometimes wonder how much the nationality of the people Iʼd personally include in that pantheon mattered to them. Musically speaking, thereʼs not a lot of music entirely native to this country that inspires me. I never think of ʻBritish musicʼ as an independent entity. However, there are plenty of British musicians, bands and artists that have taken aspects of other countries and culturesʼ musical output and fused them together. We seem to be very good at thieving from others and thatʼs certainly a tradition Iʼm doing my best to carry on.
“As for the name, I lived in the Docklands for half of 2012. Itʼs where I spent a lot of time during the shift between my previous band and East India Youth. East India is a stop on the Docklands Light Railway and I was staying in a flat right next to it, which was owned by my previous bandʼs manager. We used to have a lot of parties there, and there seemed to be a revolving door of people. We jokingly called the flat the East India Youth Hostel for that reason. Since I wrote and recorded a large portion of the material there, when it came time to choose a name for the project, ʻEast India Youthʼ seemed so obvious yet so right. I have to thank LJP for letting me stay there as long as I did. It really was the most accommodating and useful base anyone could ask for.”
Youʼre doing a mini tour soon, is that right?
“Itʼs not so much a mini tour as it is playing in London nearly every week! But I am starting to get about a bit, yes. When I started East India Youth the problem of how I might translate it live was kind of a terrifying prospect. I constantly worried if people would find just watching me press buttons and twist a few knobs entertaining or not, or if my very basic gear would be able to pack enough punch through a good sound system. So far people have had mainly good things to say, which is massively encouraging. I hope that performing live vocals and having a bass guitar present over the top of me triggering loops and manipulating sounds adds a physicality and showmanship to the performance that keeps people engaged. At the moment I donʼt have any visuals, though I am looking towards implementing some. Iʼve seen far too many throwaway visuals and light shows over the years to risk doing it half-heartedly now.”
What are your plans for East India Youth after the Hostel EP?
“I hope Iʼll be releasing more music this year if the right deal comes along. Thereʼs a lot of stuff that Iʼm sitting on thatʼs waiting to be put out there. Iʼm playing some festivals in the summer so Iʼm looking forward to taking East India Youth out on the road to more people. I just hope I get to continue what Iʼm doing. My ambitions are quite modest.”