I Am Willow
THE Valetta-born artist I Am Willow shows the stunning brand of music…
coming out of Malta (she is now based in London). Time Out and Annie Lennox are fans of her music; she has been featured by BBC Introduction - and someone who can hold an audience spellbound by her voice alone. There is something simple and effective when one hears songs like Oceanful and Hearts in the Night (the new single from the talented singer-songwriter). I speak with her about the song’s story and how her music comes together; the musicians that have inspired her and what the music scene in Malta is like.
She talks about music and childhood; whether there will be an E.P. arriving and how big relationships and the personal are to her songwriting – and a couple of new artists we should all be aware of.
Hi. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m feeling pretty good - now that I’ve finally started to share my music with the world. The response so far has been incredibly encouraging and I feel particularly inspired.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a girl that loves to go to my 'safe space': under a willow tree; looking out at the world and then writing about it. I’m human and definitely have my flaws - and this all comes across in my music. I love books and films so you could say my music carries a certain cinematic atmosphere.
However; the Pop princess inside of me always finds a way of showing itself.
Talk to me about the single, Hearts in the Night. What is the song about and was it an easy creative/recording process?
Hearts in the Night was the result of a completely improvised session with Benbrick - my co-writer and producer. We had never worked together before and we had no specific targets on the day we did. This song was an incredibly organic result of our two creative souls coming together and trusting each other.
Funnily enough, the song is actually about trust and allowing someone to show you the way. Imagine being blindfolded and allowing someone to take you by the hand - and cross you over the busiest street in New York.
That’s what this song is about: trust.
It follows the popular and impactful, Oceanful. How do you think the tracks differ and, in terms of sound and lyrics, were you keen to create something new and distinct?
When I work with producers; there’s always an element of trust involved.
I have to believe that they will bring something that I wouldn’t even have thought of to the song and that it will take the song to a much better place.
The beauty of Oceanful and Hearts in the Night is that they were the result of the first session with both sets of producers. In the case of Oceanful; it was Zeke McUmber and Ron Haney. Both songs were written on the day of production and neither session was meant to be an 'I Am Willow session'.
Indeed, I Am Willow didn't even exist when Oceanful was written: it was the seed that started the whole project. And, to answer your question, lyrically the songs differ immensely - because I was in a very different emotional place. The mood is, especially, more intense in Oceanful (boy problems), for example.
However, the main difference - which I find beautiful - comes from the fact that I am working with different producers. They each bring their own individual stamp to my music. It’s completely real, raw and organic.
Is there going to be an E.P. or album arriving at some point?
Let’s just say there’s much more music coming your way….
How important are personal relations and experiences to your songwriting? Do you take a lot from your own life and write about what you go through? How much is fictionalised and abstract, in that sense?
Everything I write about is absolutely genuine and true.
I write about my own experiences, my strengths and fears – and, sometimes, I’ll take lyrical inspiration from books.
But, to me, songwriting is a form of therapy.
Listening to your latest track, and the reception you are getting, it seems like you are in a good and creative period. How do you think you have developed as a songwriter the last year or so?
All I know is that the music people are responding to all happened as a result of trust.
I wasn’t trying to please anyone. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. So, I want to continue to throw myself into completely organic situations and trust that sometimes we will have similar results.
One thing I do feel is that I trust myself a lot more.
Born in Malta; you are based in the U.K. What is the music scene in Malta like – compared to the U.K.? Are there a lot of great artists making waves over there?
Malta is a really beautiful setting for a creative person…up to a point.
It’s a very small place, and with it, comes very few opportunities - which is why, I feel, like there’s a lot of potential that doesn’t really reach its maximum. But, the potential in those waters is evident - even to the highest-trained experts.
I’ve heard it said so many times before: “There’s something in the water”.
Can you tell me about the musicians you grew up listening to and your idols?
I grew up on Classical music. I was playing the piano from the age of four and my grandmother was my teacher. Even on Sunday picnics; the first things she would say to me was “Did you practice?”.
But, I have very fond memories of dancing to the Spice Girls with my mum and then, later, being completely mesmerised by Kate Bush, and then, Tori Amos.
Later, I collected a few more idols like Goldfrapp, Radiohead; Beyoncé, Jungle; alt-J … it’s a funny list - but I have a pretty wild selection.
Annie Lennox is a big fan of your music. Is it weird getting love from someone so huge?! Have you ever performed with her – or is that something you’d like to do?
It’s weird and it’s not...
We often look up to these icons and forget they’re just human beings, like us. I write music from the heart - so it’s bound to resonate with someone. It just so happened to be Annie, which, don’t get me wrong, is the honour of all honours. Performing for her was as amazing as it was terrifying. I will treasure it forever.
If I ever get the chance to perform with her; I would take it in a heartbeat!
You are classically-trained and have a cinematic and emotional palette. How influential are culture and the arts with regards your music? Do you connect film, literature and finery with your own personality and way of working?
I would have to say I am very influenced by any other creative form: art exhibitions, film and dance (and all sorts). But, I would say, the primary source is (definitely) literature. When I find a good book; I am transported so completely that I can step back at any time – and, sometimes, lose my train-of-thought, mid-conversation. It’s very annoying to some. Haha.
Of course; it is inevitable that this has some effect on my songwriting.
Are there any tour dates later in the year? Where can we see you perform?
Keep an eye out on my social media pages/@iamwillowmusic for news of a performance on 16th Sept.
IN THIS PHOTO: JP Saxe
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain
They introduced me to production as a state of mind - and I have always wanted to try the same thing.
Ludovico Einaudi - La Scala Concert
I’ve seen his music used in film and it is (just) stunning. I have recently started composing some piano pieces that this album has inspired.
Blur - Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide
Because it has such a sense of identity and freedom (I, simply, love it).
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Stop trying to be who you think everyone wants you to be and just be you - it will surprise you!
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
ODESZA - Kusanagi
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