Editors’ Notes What’s a singer-songwriter to do with their time when their next album’s already finished and a global pandemic is keeping them from playing gigs? For Willie J Healey, the answer was to take a job in the greengrocer’s up the road from his new home in Bristol. “Just to keep myself sane,” he tells Apple Music. This new career coincided with his single “True Stereo” getting regular plays on the national airwaves. The first couple of times that Healey heard his music on the shop’s radio as he served customers, he assumed no one would believe it was him and kept quiet. “But it makes me want to kind of show off, like, ‘Can you believe that I work here and, at the same time, I'm on the radio?’” he says. “Now if the song comes on, I'll be like, ‘You know this is me, right?’ And I can see people looking at me like, ‘Why are you such a horrible liar? Just serve me my vegetables and leave me alone.’ Some people seem quite depressed by the reality that being played on the radio doesn’t make you a millionaire, sadly.”

Such confusion and disbelief is understandable. Twin Heavy is an irrepressibly imaginative and tuneful album—not the sort of record that usually finds its creator running a side hustle among the courgettes and galia melons. Recorded in short, intense sessions in Eastbourne and New York with Florence + the Machine drummer Loren Humphrey behind the boards, Healey’s second album takes beautifully simple pop songs and gives them a satisfying otherness via his wit and love of, among others, The Beatles, Dr. Dre, Brian Wilson, and Brian Eno. In this track-by-track guide, the Oxfordshire-born singer-songwriter reveals how Christmas songs, chatty airline staff, and reclaimed love letters helped inspire the album.

“This was from the last session. We were tasked by the label to record a Christmas song that I’d written, and obviously I jumped at the chance to go back to New York. Me and Loren basically rushed this Christmas song so we could work on some new ideas, and [‘Fashun’] came from a big jam between Loren and his friends and me. I think it sounds quite different because of that, actually. It was a very different approach—even looser than the Eastbourne sessions. The chorus, the ‘You’re going to be a big star’ bit, is just a really ironic joke. When people are like, ‘You're going to do so well, this is going to be such a big success’—friends and people that mean well have said that to me—you can't help but laugh. The actual reality is that you just don't have a clue. Actually, the lyrics were ‘I’m going to be a big star,’ but when I was in New York, [the other musicians] didn’t know me well enough to know that I’m joking. So I changed the lyrics because I was like, ‘That takes the heat off me a little bit’—just being able to really own it when I was singing it. The rest of it, I was just trying to make as English as possible. I’m quite influenced by a lot of American music, but I also love The Beatles. They make things that might seem less adventurous, like things on your doorstep, kind of exciting—singing about flower beds, the gardens, and ‘How’s your dad?’ That felt a little bit more in the world that I actually belong in.”

True Stereo
“I’m quite lazy when it comes to technical ability and knowledge. My eyes are pretty much closed and I don't really know how things work—and that's so far worked for me. I'll be swinging in the dark and eventually I'll connect to the baseball. My friend gave me a baritone guitar. It’s all tuned down, and everything sounded really different. So I was like, ‘This is great, like I don't have to learn anything new. I can play all of the chords I already know and they just sound…they’re just different chords.’ So I was really just messing around with that one day, and I think I wrote this in maybe half an hour. I was really channeling Elvis Costello. He’s got a song about the radio [‘Radio, Radio’], and I was just thinking about that and the idea of bringing the radio into it, and one day maybe it would be on the radio. There wasn’t too much thought involved really, I was just having fun with this new guitar.”

Big Nothing
“I was going through a huge Big Star phase. They've got a song called ‘Thirteen’ and I was listening to that over and over again. And Elliott Smith has a song called ‘Ballad of Big Nothing,’ which I really, really love, and I wanted to do a little hat tilt to that. In my head, I was, ‘Imagine if I could get a song that was a bit like “Ballad of Big Nothing,” a bit like “Thirteen.”’ It’s a freak accident, ’cause I never have the actual skill set to pull that off. But I think I did. Weirdly. The lyrics were just a bit fun, the kind of nostalgia that comes with leaving your teenage years. I can see now why my parents and older people talk about their youth the way they do, because there's something about [having] a bit of time in between, and the way you see things changes. It becomes a bit of a golden period, and I don't know if you make things better than they were, but that's what I was kind of channeling with that track.”

Songs for Joanna
“That was, again, another teenage idea. Now that I’m not a teenager, I have this kind of relationship with the feeling of being a teenager—missing it, I guess. This song summed up all of the little things that I remember being a big deal to me, like who likes who? And who's got hairy legs? Does so-and-so like me? Is my friend gay and just not telling me? Musically, I was channeling The Modern Lovers, I suppose. I always really loved Jonathan Richman's voice, and my early songs, I was basically just trying to rip him off. Not that I could. Yeah, and just up front like Lou Reed, kind of clumsy, a lovely clumsiness to it. I was going for that.”

Twin Heavy
“I had just got this keyboard called a Juno-6 and stayed up really late, really enjoying playing it. This song just kind of came out. [The words] ‘twin heavy’ started as a placeholder almost. I put loads of harmonies on the chorus and the ‘twin heavy’ bit that repeats over and over again. The more harmonies I put on it, the more I realized it would be really hard to replace: ‘If I put different lyrics in now, I'm going to have to do all of those harmonies again.’ The more I sung it, the more I thought this is just a great pair of words. It’s a really good matchup of words and it's pretty much wide open—you can make of it what you want. I will say that it has nothing to do, in my mind, with being a twin. A few people have been like, ‘Is it about, like, you know, your twin’s like way cooler than you and you feel a bit sad about it?’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s not really.’ But if there are twins out there that listen to it, then I guess that would be particularly relevant to them. It just felt like a good, honest song that came out of nowhere, and I like turning small details into big details if I can. I thought, ‘Why not call the whole album this?’”

Sweeter Than Most
“It’s a track that I've had for a couple of years. When we were making the album, it felt like a really cool opportunity to do something like that. Me and Loren, and a lot of people in the band, we love 2001 by Dr. Dre. In the type of music I make, generally, you can’t really reference an album like that too often, but in that track, it felt like, ‘Oh my god, we can get the curly Moog sound, like that West Coast G-funk sound.’ So we really just had fun doing that. There aren't a lot of lyrics, but they’re very simple and quite rewarding to sing.”

“I remember putting my track listing together and being like, ‘I just don't know where to put this.’ It’s just so different to the others. So it nearly didn’t make it. I had done the original demo at something like 4:00 in the morning and it had all these synths that we couldn't recreate—with the Juno, you can't save any of the settings. So we ended up just layering stuff on top of the demo. I think it was me having just gotten that synth and being really inspired by the sounds of it, and thinking about when I first met my girlfriend. It’s the things, the vessels you use to hang out with someone. Like, we could watch some TV, and it's really not about TV—it sits with the ‘Twin Heavy’ idea, where there’s some really small ideas that are really normal, but you somehow make them, in my mind anyway, these huge ideas. With this huge kind of synth behind it, it’s like one second you’re talking about watching TV, and then the next second you're talking about being able to see the future. I just love the kind of comedy behind those textures of lyrics. That’s how I feel when I listen to Dark Side of the Moon or something: It’s like, ‘How have they made something so otherworldly, yet they're singing about such normal things?’”

For You
“‘For You’ was a song that I had written when I was about 21, and I’m 26 now. It was a completely acoustic track, and people had kind of shown interest in it, like labels and stuff, but I was like, ‘Oh, if I put this song out like this, people are going to pigeonhole me as Jason Mraz or something,’ which is not what I really want to be—not that I have anything against Jason Mraz. So I put it on the back burner for years. Then I must have accidentally sent it to Yala! [Healey’s label] in a folder with lots of other demos. And I remember getting an email back saying, ‘What’s this track? You should do something with this,’ and my gut reaction was like, ‘No way.’ They were so persistent that we ended up doing a version of it—kind of trying to make it sound like ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ by Brian Eno. That was a learning curve for me, because in my mind it was not a good idea, but I trusted Yala! and I'm really glad that we did do it. With the lyrics, I had just finished a little tour and I was feeling a bit kind of low—that song just came from wanting to be back on tour.”

Heavy Traffic
“This was another one I'd had for a while. I was on a flight to Chicago to mix my first album [People and Their Dogs in 2017], and the whole experience was so exciting to me because I had never been to a different country completely on my own. The air hostess was just like this massive character. She was talking to one of the passengers about how her friend had just sold her condo or her apartment or something. I remember just sitting there and thinking, ‘This is absolute gold.’ I wrote down everything that she said. When I got home, I instantly just got my book out and I had pages and pages of lyric ideas that I turned into a song.”

Why You Gotta Do It
“It’s to be taken with a pinch of salt, this song. I've always found it funny when people have said, ‘Money doesn't make you happy.’ Not that I’ve ever been someone who hasn’t had enough money that it’s affected my life, but it’s always struck me as quite an inconsiderate statement. What if you haven’t got money to eat or what if you can’t pay your rent? That will make you really miserable. So I just channeled that, making fun of that way of looking. And some of my friends got into meditating, and I found that really interesting: the idea of a mantra. I thought, ‘I wonder, what’s the legal stance on writing your own mantra? Are you allowed to just make your own up?’ So I put it all into that song. Just minor frustrations, but making fun of them.”

Thousand Reasons
“‘Thousand Reasons’ is about a manager I'd had at some point. Me and said manager were going to part ways, in my mind, and things were just not really working out—but we were great friends. And I wrote the song like, ‘I have so many reasons why I think that we should not do this anymore,’ but I wasn't really brave enough to say. It was not in the mix of songs [to record for this album], but I was messing around with ideas while people were having lunch one day and Loren overheard me playing it and said, ‘Why don't we just do a really quick version of that?’ And it turned it out to be one that worked out really well.”

Caroline Needs
“I had written my girlfriend a love note, which I don't do—I wouldn't class myself as a romantic in that sense. But I'd written her a little love letter that was kind of like a poem. Probably because I had forgotten to get her a gift or something for a birthday. And it turned into this song. It was a bit of an awkward standoff: It was a really sweet little letter that was really personal, and I remember saying, ‘Oh yeah, you know that letter I wrote you? Well, I’ve actually ended up kind of stealing it back off you. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve turned it into a song and added lots of bits to it.’ I'll say this: I don’t think she’s touched by the song. I don't think she sees it as, like, ‘Oh, the song you wrote about me.’ I think she's a bit like, ‘Oh yeah, that letter you wrote me and then ended up cashing in on.’”


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