About a month ago, we wrote about William Doyle’s new album, titled “Great Spans of Muddy Time”.
In describing the work of the English musician, we tried to highlight some aspects that, besides characterizing the album itself, seem to reveal something of the artist’s (elusive) identity: his eclecticism, his wandering talent, his moody taste for a certain English canon, the phantasmagorical presence of an aborted work and a previous identity.
Some of these aspects became the questions we directly asked to him, obtaining in return the answers you can read here.

Hi William,
first of all, thank you for this interview.

Foreword: when we saw you debuting as East India Youth we thought: finally someone who can reach everyone, combining post-rave electronics and ecstatic vocal lines. When you released ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’, you changed your name, embraced a more classical sound and bravely renounced all your acquired credits. Now, you deliver another extraordinary piece of work that moves once again towards other places.

To be short, we finally began to think that perhaps your true identity lies in your wavering and inexhaustible curiosity.  Is that so?
Curiosity keeps the mind healthy. It’s not always a comfortable or pleasant journey, but it is an important one. The reason to make work for me is to discover things about the world and myself. Staying within confines of genre and structure narrows the possibility that you might discover something important.

Are we wrong if we think that, rather than belonging to the “major canon” of British music (Bowie, Eno, etc.),  perhaps you belong to “great irregulars” such as Robert Wyatt, Momus or Fad Gagdet? As a listener, who do you usually sympathize with?
It’s best to have one foot in both camps, I suppose. But I don’t really think about it like this. I find Eno as irregular as Wyatt. Fad Gagdet as appealing as Bowie. They operate in different commercial spaces rather than artistic ones, I think. Bowie and Eno have been more financially and (maybe) critically more successful than the others, but their work is as important to me. I don’t really know how or where people view me on this continuum. I just really would like to keep making things, and other people can decide where I sit on the timeline, if they like.

Let’s come to Great Spans of Muddy Time. First of all, we’re curious: what would have become of the album, or at least in what direction would it have gone, if you had finished it without the loss of most of the recordings?
I have no idea! It would just be different. I remember when working on Your Wilderness Revisited’, I initially wanted it to be an entire studio collaboration with a friend of mine, and for it to have a very ‘studio’ feel rather than a homemade one. When it became clear that I didn’t have the money to do that, I felt I had failed. But actually, what my friend said to me is that it isn’t going to be better or worse if I do it other than the way we had started out. It will just be different. That is one of the best bits of advice I’ve ever received.

Antonio Gramsci said: ‘The old does not die and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum, the most varied morbid phenomena occur’. By releasing an “instinctive” version of Great Spans of Muddy Time, do you think you got rid of the ghost of the lost version of this record? Or do you think that certain paths you would have liked to take will come back to “haunt” your future works? If so, do you see this as an opportunity to cultivate fascinating ‘morbid phenomena’?
“Morbid Phenomena” is a great album title! Although I like to work in album cycles, and try to make each piece part of a cohesive whole, recently I’ve been trying to make something new everyday that doesn’t necessarily fit within the structure of an album. Perhaps the context for that piece of music will only appear a few months or years down the line, and maybe then it will work on an album, but I will be in a permanent state of readiness rather than a permanent state of anxiety because I’m trying hard to work on a single project. I think the accidental process that Great Spans has gone through has taught me not to be too precious about individual pieces. So if I do end up going down certain paths that are hinted at on this record, it will only really be unconscious or by accident.

Your writing is divided between sung and instrumental tracks, which, particularly in your latest work, alternate in the setlist. How and when does a song become an instrumental or a  sung one? Is there a clear division between them from the beginning of the composition or does each song discover its own nature in its development? Has it ever happened that a track that was already identified as an instrumental track becomes a sung one and vice versa?
Generally, something early on in the process will dictate to me whether or not my voice is necessary on a track or not. Some people may disagree. But I always try to work on instinct rather than some defined goal. I remember some instrumentals from the first East India Youth album did have some vocals in early versions, but I removed them because I felt the voice was getting in the way. When you are a singer, it’s very easy to think “and now time to sing”. Working against that principle can be very enlightening.

Would you like to tell us about the transition between East india Youth and William Doyle? Do the two “characters” talk to each other from time to time?
The transition has had more to do with my personal life than any artistic vision, really. I consider things like Total Strife Forever” to be of the same line that I am working on now. What it gets called or who it’s attributed to means less to me now. At the time, using my own name was a way to allow myself to start again with some things, a much needed creative reset. But I see them less and less separate as time goes on.

East India Youth - LOOKING FOR SOMEONE (Official Video)

How do you rate British songwriting today? Even a great songwriter like you often turns to the gaseous suggestions of ambient music and the rhythms of electronic music, rather than the concreteness of the song. In your opinion, is this a glorious tradition that is now giving signs of fatigue, unable to combine, as in the past, art school and popular appeal?
This is a very broad question, because I don’t really know what British songwriting is defined by. I am a big fan of well crafted songs, but I also love completely uncomposed generative ambient music and they both give me something. I think what people consider ‘songwriting’ changes over time as well. A good hook need not be a solid melody – it can be a rhythm or even a spoken part. The songwriting tradition I love most is very melody based, and I suppose I don’t hear that around that much with newer acts, but that doesn’t mean I think the tradition is dying. It will probably come around again in some other form.

Let’s talk about eclecticism, a quality that can certainly be attributed to you. In an era of digital flows and information dust, some consider it a way of escaping in-depth analysis and of nimbly slipping on the surface of things; others decline it in the old way: a restlessness capable of leading to continuous renewal and creative vitalism. What do you think? How do you interpret your eclecticism?
I think that what I do is so motivated by the same questions, in whatever way the answers manifest themselves via genre or style etc. Also because of stuff that has happened in my life, I tend to have a very fragmented view of myself, and perhaps I am trying to explore those many fragments and pull them together through what I do. But even this is a unifying principle rather than a dividing one.

Finally, a classic closing question, which in your case assumes a particular meaning, given your eclecticism: what are your plans for the future?
Get vaccinated. Help others get vaccinated. But also the next album is just around the corner, really. I’ve already written all of it.