In this world of manufactured pop, it’s always good to discover artists who are doing all they can to get their art out there. That’s certainly true of Billy The Kid who has recently been supporting her new release by touring the UK with the awesome Northcote and Against Me. We caught up with Billy to talk about her music and that tour.
• I guess we have to start with the obvious question, how did the name come about and why did you decide to release your music under that name?
It’s just a nickname that stuck. I was always the youngest person in the band. People were already calling me Billy the Kid when it came time to release my first solo release. I could have changed it at that point but I didn’t want to confuse people even more than I probably already was going to.
• How important is music to you and how/when did you first get in to it?
Pretty important. I was in piano lessons when I was a kid and started playing guitar when I was 12. It’s always been there.
• Which bands were your biggest influences?
I was in to Nirvana, Hole, Babes In Toyland and L7 as a teenager.
• We understand you are a multi instrumentalist, what instruments can you play and is there still one you would love to play?
I wish I could learn the violin or the cello. I play a bit of guitar, piano, drums, bass and harmonica.
• You have worked as both a solo artist and with a band, are you now permanently solo and which do you prefer?
If it’s possible to bring a band then I will. I like them both for different reasons.
• Many people might mistakenly think Horseshoes & Hand grenades is your debut, but it’s actually your fourth album, does that feel a bit weird?
It’s all pretty weird. My punk band had another 8 albums plus some other weird half releases from over the years so I think technically this is like the tenth release or something. At least people are hearing it. I would still keep making it if things continue on like they were though.
• How would you describe your sound and has it changed or developed over those albums?
Canadiana. I still feel like the same kid in a band. Sometimes I will want to go make some kind of rock record and sometimes I just won’t feel like it. I always want that freedom. I want to write whatever kind of music I happen to be writing. Genres really seem like a bunch of made up fabrication by human brains that think too much.
• We loved your album when we reviewed it (see the review here https://thesoulofaclown.com/2014/09/28/billy-the-kid-horseshoes-and-hand-grenades ). It wasn’t quite the punk/folk sound we had been expecting. Indeed, many of the songs were more polished and had a wider commercial appeal (that’s a compliment by the way!!), was that intended?
Not at all. The three of us just stood in a room and that is what happened. That said, I definitely care about sounds and the sonic qualities of things when you put them together. In some senses I am a stickler and in some senses I could be perceived as apathetic. Choose your battles, I say.
• Self funding seems to have been a necessity for you, both in terms of album releases but also supporting your tours. How difficult is it to keep going in music at the moment?
I realized a long time ago it was always going to be impossible because I am not the kind of person who is willing to compromise. If I want to keep doing things my way (which I do) I don’t expect to ever make a living off it. That would be pretty bratty to start assuming people should support my various hobbies. I’m cool with doing whatever it takes to keep doing it though. There’s finally a pretty cool support system of supporters, though. The fact that I can keep doing it or that people even care is pretty surprising.
• You’re also selling some of your art to fund your current tour, can you give us some details on that project?
I love painting. It started out as a New Year’s resolution, one of those “bucket list” things. Just something I have always wanted to try. I never really wanted to keep any of my own paintings (same as I don’t really like listening to my own records, but I still like making new songs) so I started selling them off. When things get kind of busy with shows the painting thing has definitely helped me get a flight or pay some baggage fees or whatever…it’s getting tougher to find a job quickly that I can quit to go on tour.
• Is it hard to get support from record labels etc?
Yes. But I say keep doing what you’re doing even if you have to work three jobs. Just do what you love. Do whatever it takes.
• Maybe it’s because I am the father of two girls, but it’s great to see female artists such as yourself who show a strength of character and a love of music, rather than just being ‘pop’ stars or X factor wannabes. Are you conscious of your role as a potential role model or inspiration?
Thank you. That really means a lot. I’ll be honest I don’t actively think about it daily but it definitely comes up in my mind from time to time. When I was younger I knew who I looked up to and why. It was because I could relate to them. I wonder who younger people relate to these days when they feel alienated or different. Every one is supposed to be cool and beautiful all the time and that’s just not feasible. If I’m the reason someone does anything, who could ask for anything more than that?
• Returning to your latest release, how did Frank Turner become involved and what was he like to work with?
It was one of those “we just happen to be in the same city” kinds of things. I had a day off, ended up at a show of his, we played some songs backstage, covered a Neil Young song during his set. I guess someone from his label was there and they reached out about maybe putting out my last album. I sent them a bunch of demos and they were like maybe let’s just make a new album. Oh and we sent the demos to Frank. Hope you don’t mind.
• He’s a bit of a legend here in the UK, has that helped with your exposure over here?
Yeah I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason anyone knows who I am over there haha. Like I said I was cool to just keep doing what I was doing, like a lot of us who just have a job and make an album every couple years or something. There have been times where I’ve tried to make it my job but coming from punk rock that doesn’t always work out. He’s helped me more than I think he realizes.
• You recently embarked on a mammoth stay in the UK firstly supporting Against Me and then Northcote, how did it go?
You never realize when you buy a record and look up to someone from a songwriting perspective that they might always be a really awesome person. That was how those shows went. Every night I got to watch these people who are so talented and right after you get to hang out with them and have the most fun, funny night ever. It’s one of those things I couldn’t have predicted about trying to play music for a “living”.
• They’re quite different bands and in terms of Against Me a potentially hard crowd to win over, how do you think you fared and did you change your sets for the two slots?
I would say everyone was pretty accepting. Their fans are very supportive. Just cause they’re punks (some of them) doesn’t mean they’re all jerks. I definitely felt a little nervous, or like I should try and change what I sounded like at the last minute (haha) but once I settled in to it, I realized it was okay to be who I am. And what is the point of any of it if you can’t even do that.
• One of the main aims of http://www.thesoulofaclown.com is to introduce people to great new music, so who are you listening to at the moment and who would you recommend?
I really like this band Beach Slang as well as Blackpool Lights, Nada Surf, Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams.
• Along with music and art you’ve also published a children’s book, is there no end to your talent?
There is definitely an end haha. I just like making stuff. Sometimes people buy it. Sometimes they don’t.
It’s that spirit which really means that Billy should get the rewards that her effort, passion and most importantly ability deserve. The life of a musician can be hard work and sometimes it’s easy to forget the effort required to bring us the music we all love.