Editors’ Notes “It’s about struggle and release,” Will Westerman tells Apple Music of his debut album Your Hero Is Not Dead. “It’s about being honest about things I find difficult or uncomfortable or unfair, and then creating a response, mostly for myself, and then sharing that to make something communal—something that has hope in it.” It’s an approach that sees the London singer-songwriter ponder and process his observations about modern life—be it climate change (“Blue Comanche”), the knock-on effects of our everyday choices (“Easy Money”), or the inability to live in the moment when you’re, as he says, “not feeling fantastic about things” (“Your Hero Is Not Dead”). But if such subjects sound heavy, the music they are housed in is anything but. Your Hero Is Not Dead is a collection of electro-folk songs which unfurl to reveal comforting, intricate melodies and irresistible pop hooks. “There’s quite a lot of conflict for me in the music,” says Westerman. “But the aesthetics are kind of calming.”

The album, recorded primarily in Lisbon with London producer Bullion, also delivers on the momentum the singer has been gathering ever since he started releasing music in 2016. A former choir singer and saxophone player who taught himself to play guitar at 15, Westerman credits Bullion (aka Nathan Jenkins) with helping him move from writing songs influenced by artists like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Neil Young towards a sound with more “space and texture.” “I’m interested in the idea that you can have an emotional response and feel like there’s some human understanding in instrumental music,” he says. “You hope to write something that people connect to. I’m just trying to give a helping hand or a message of encouragement.” Below, Westerman guides us through Your Hero Is Not Dead, track by track.

“I was thinking about what I wanted the pace to be even before a lot of these songs were written. I had this rhythmic thing on the guitar, and it conjured an image of a drawbridge. That strong visual image felt like quite a fun thing to put at the start of a record. There are no lyrics in this song, so it’s hard to say what it means in some ways. But it’s for my own creative enjoyment, of just being more exploratory and having a bit more space to try different things for different effects.”

The Line
“This song is an internal monologue and it jumps around to a few different places. The overall theme is quite anxious. It’s thinking about how fast accepted norms shift—which is good in terms of societal development and as long as it’s progressive. But just thinking about the disorientating nature of basically being told one thing a few years ago is fine, and being told now it’s not. It’s not about being angry about that, just what it means for the way you view the world and the relationship you have with your own understanding of things. The refrain at the end—having gone through this examination and feeling quite destabilized and agitated—gets to a place where ultimately it’s good and it’s not all just at the whim of the mass movement of public opinion.”

Big Nothing Glow
“Probably the least optimistic song on the record. That’s why I wanted to have it towards the start, given what I was trying to do with the whole album. The song is about an experience I had when I was in London. I saw a homeless man approaching people for money, and then it suddenly clicked that this guy was someone I had been best friends with when I was three or four years old at nursery. It really stuck with me, in terms of where I’m at now and what’s happened to him. And how that’s not really anyone’s fault, or because of anyone doing anything particularly fantastic. It’s more just about the brutal nature of how unfair causality can be sometimes. I didn’t say anything and then was really troubled by that, so I had to go and write about it. The song itself is almost just a loop. Something I’ve been exploring since working with Bullion is that you don’t have to move around a huge amount in every piece of music. What’s the best way to bring attention to the things that you’re trying to bring attention to?”

Waiting on Design
“This was my favorite song on the record when we made it. I had this clear mental image of someone being stuck in a cube of jelly, who is watching people who have been a part of their life getting on with their own lives. The person is incapacitated, a passive bystander, and is almost watching those people like a film. ‘Waiting on Design’ incorporates that image of being stuck and hoping it will become clear at some point why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made. A friend, Laura Groves, who sings elsewhere on the album, is a really great pianist. We would jam in the evening [while creating the record] and she started playing these wobbly chords on the synth—it felt like going from a soft focus to a sharper focus and then in again. Given what my mental image was of the song when I was writing the lyrics, that seemed to work quite well.”

Think I’ll Stay
“When I’m writing, I tend to get a central melodic phrase and lyrics and then build it out. I had the lyric ‘I don’t know how I got here, but now that I am, I think I’ll stay.’ When it came out of my mouth, I thought, ‘That’s a thing I would like to have as a centerpiece of this song.’ The second verse is based on a conversation I had with a friend where he was talking about the fact that our generation is going to have to work until we’re 80. He was saying it in a really flippant, throwaway way. I thought it was interesting—thinking about this kind of acceptance of the strange idea that you’ll be working for your entire life.”

Dream Appropriate
“This is about pace, really. But I also spend quite a lot of time just writing instrumentals on the guitar. I wanted to use some of those as bridges on the album, just to try and break up the music and add variety while also thinking about the arc of the record. It’s almost like a little tonic after this bombardment.”

Easy Money
“The song is mostly about secondary consequence—it’s about the knock-on effects of one action. For example, if I go to the shop and I buy some battery-farmed chicken eggs but think, ‘I don’t think it’s good that there are battery-farmed chickens but I’m just buying the eggs.’ It’s the idea of voting with your wallet. I was quite angry when I was writing this song, and it sounded kind of angry even if my voice makes things sound really soft. It’s kind of taut. Nathan and I made this song together—there’s no one else playing on it, and we only had a few days to get it done. In a way, it made a kind of economy of sound. It’s just quite minimalist and there’s not very much happening at the beginning, but by the end, we maximized the elements that were there to try and change the mood.”

Blue Comanche
“I’m mulling over feeling uncomfortable with the idea of the inevitable annihilation of certain ways of life in the name of progress. But there’s no cognitive idea of what the progress is, it's just 'progress' in inverted commas. I'm not a complete Luddite, and I think that the world is what it is—I have no idea if it was better or worse a thousand years ago. But it's just kind of thinking about that idea of the inevitability of that sort of process. I spend quite a lot of time thinking about the balance of the lyrics and the melody and the instrumentation—a combination of happy and sad tends to be the music I like a lot. I was trying to sort of make something that sounded not angry, but thought-provoking if you wanted to listen to the lyrics.”

Confirmation (SSBD)
“This song quite radically changed the complexion of what I was doing very fast, which was amazing and very exciting. I was very keen on making sure that I’d made an album which wasn’t in any way dependent on previous pieces of music, so the idea of reapproaching the song and doing it in a different way seemed to make sense. It was a new creative process, so in a way it feels almost new. That being said, we didn’t actually record anything new for it, because we had all these parts we hadn't used in the first version. Nathan wanted to elongate the ending and to do something slightly different with the percussion. I think the ending works better now.”

Paper Dogs
“I used to play a version of this song a few years ago by doing the bassline on the bass string of my guitar and just singing it in a very exposed way. Then I start doing it a cappella. We fused the two things by just putting a very simple beat on it and a kind of drone. For me, it’s quite a circular song—it doesn’t have a chorus and it goes round almost in a chant. When the bass comes in, it adds a different sort of propulsion and movement to it. I guess the title just popped into my head. The starting point was the fragility of existence, and then just a load of questions which I can’t answer, which I sing at you.”

Float Over
“This is another bit that has been put there for pace. It’s very light and, for me, sounds pretty soothing. There’s no edge to it: It’s just trying to say something quite reassuring and supportive. A lot of the record is concerned with a lot of questions, and there’s a degree of anxiety at points. I think this is just a little sentence about trying to be at peace with not knowing. It’s the happy ending.”

Your Hero Is Not Dead
“I didn’t have something that felt like it was the right sort of close to the record. I had the phrase for a while, and when it clicked, I wrote it quite quickly and spent a lot less time on the lyrics than I usually do. I tried to keep them as unfiltered and open as I could—talking to a person without thinking about what I’m saying. This is less of a head song, it’s more of a heart song. There are lyrics that speak to the fact that I feel like a lot of the time I get in my own way of feeling better about things or just enjoying the moment that I’m in. And the person in that situation is mostly who I'm singing to. I'm just trying to give a response and give a helping hand or just a message of encouragement to them.”


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