It’s a roasting hot day in South London when William Poyer strolls through the pub’s door, instantly recognisable despite sporting longer hair than on his album cover, and showing absolutely no signs of melting in the heat unlike me.
“Hi I’m Will” he says with a grin and extends his hand before taking any drink requests and dashing off to the bar for a cold beer. Right off the bat, it’s clear he’s a genuine guy and that this is going to be a great interview.
For the uninitiated, William is a Welsh-born singer-storywriter who recently returned from a three-year stint in Mexico, departing on a journey of discovery with the intention of honing a sound unique to him. It’s safe to say his mission was accomplished with the launch of his stunning debut album Born Lucky, out now on Laid Bare Records.
Beers sorted and questions at the ready, I ask him to describe his sound in his own words. He explains, “it’s acoustic music but quite driving, quite rhythmic, with a strong melody. I suppose it comes under the blanket of Americana with some slight influences of blues and country music”. It’s the Americana element that makes his album stand out amongst a sea of over-commercialised music and he smiles when I quote a description of his sound as ‘Americana from a boy from South Wales via Mexico’. He replies, “Probably I’ve been most influenced by roots music from the US, taking inspiration from bluegrass, folk and country and just letting it naturally marinade in my own history. Thankfully someone else articulated that better than I could myself!”
His musical journey is an fascinating one. His interest in Mexico was ignited at the age of fourteen, when a hippy visited his parent’s surf shop in South Wales with photos of Mexico where he had lived and this inspired William’s father to take the family. Years later, the love affair was reignited when after living in London during and after university, William had the urge to do something different and learn a language. “I Googled ‘how do you travel with no money’ and teaching English popped up!” he explains with a grin. “There was a course in Mexico and I thought that’s a cool place, and that was as much thought that went into it!”.
This is, I learn, one of the appealing things about him; he is warm and genial but speaks passionately and intelligently about his craft. Leaving the UK with just a keyboard, a guitar and a microphone and a plan to stay for six months, he wasn’t sure if he was going to make “an electronic record or a mix between soul music or blues”. After the first six months he had a batch of songs, which got pushed aside to make way for a new batch and then the return home was delayed as the songs just kept getting better. Six months soon became three years and William realised he had the record and sound he wanted. He explains, “I think I found it. I think when you go solo and you want to put your name on something you want to find yourself as an artist and what your sound is. It took that long I think for me to really search and scour through all these different places to find something that I was happy with”.
The transition from songwriting to recording to releasing the album was no mean feat. Working with engineer and producer Gethin Woolcock, once he had the songs a detailed, intricate crowdfunding campaign was devised to secure funds. After production, William returned to Swansea to record the album. He was put in touch with fellow musician and creator of Laid Bare Live, Rami Radi. William was searching for a label to invest something in him and time and it was Rami’s encouragement that helped him put the album out, signing him to Laid Bare Records. The rest, as they say, is history.
He chats openly and enthusiastically and halfway through our interview I feel it only polite to check he’s still OK for time? “Absolutely. Perfect. I’ve got all afternoon” he says with a relaxed smile. Although concerned he’s been asked this a million times before, I take the risk and investigate the meaning behind the album’s title, Born Lucky. “Do you know what, I love that question!” he says animatedly. “You’re the only person out of all the interviews I’ve done since the album came out who’s asked me that and it’s actually got I think a really significant purpose!”. Working with words and imagery, he looked at the significance of old luck symbols since a lot of the album’s tracks revolved around the theme of luck, and in particular the horseshoe.
However, it was his own personal story that really inspired the title. A series of horrific and near fatal accidents and illnesses in his early twenties, including a ruptured spleen and a serious car crash that ended up with him under a 32 tonne truck, left him feeling he was cheating death as a young man and it had a significant effect on him. He expands, “My mother had always said I was born lucky” he reflects, “That’s where the idea of having the title Born Lucky came from and juxtaposing it with an upside down (unlucky) horseshoe on the cover. I was either lucky or very unlucky depending on how you look at those circumstances” he says. Was there a favourite song from the album? “The Liars, The Bitches, The Crooks and The Thieves” which he admits “sounds like a Western that I’d like to make!”.
I’m keen to understand about what influences him. On a recent Laid Bare Transmission Podcast, he recounted how he fell in love with the music from Nashville and Mississippi, and in particular Johnny Cash due to his lack of ambiguity and the clarity in his songs, and how he could tell a story so straight down the line that you can follow it like you’re reading a book. “I wanted to learn the trade, the craft of songwriting and that’s when I think Country music or Americana music had this real skill that was new to me that could tell a story, still with metaphors and euphemisms from one end to another, but for there to be a beginning, middle and an end like any good story.” he says.
Musical influences are cited as Townes Van Zandt and in particular the song Waiting Around to Die which he first heard after watching the Heartworn Highways DVD. One particular scene really stood out for him, where Van Zandt was singing a song which had such a powerful impact on a man working for him, he broke down in tears. “I need to learn how to write songs that can tell a story in a way that a man can imagine himself and that story can relate to his story as well” he says and I get a glimpse of the passion that drives him.
William is a prolific gigger, and cites Spiritual Bar in Camden as one of his favourite venues due to the regularity of the outstanding acts which require little or no promotion thanks to the owner, Rafael Pesce. Does he get time to go to gigs himself I wonder, and could he recommend any acts to feed my appetite for new music? “I try to” he explains. “I’ve just bought tickets to see Shovels & Rope in London next year and will try to catch them in Copenhagen or Amsterdam too. I am obsessed!” he says eagerly.“Nathaniel Rateliffe & the Night Sweats have an amazing album out and I’ve recently been listening to The Staves”. He also cites the importance of catching other bands he is playing with so he can “enjoy the scene that I’m trying to contribute to”. He’s astounded by the quality of musicianship and wishes there was a bit more support for it, although says confidently “We’ll always be there whether or not we’re making a living or not. We’ll always be there doing it, we can’t help it”. We both agree you simply can’t beat going to hear live music.
So what’s next for the boy from South Wales with the sound of Americana? William is aiming to get another album out by Spring next year and is in the process of putting a band together. As for the upcoming Blogtober Festival, which he tells me he can’t wait for, we can expect some tracks from his current album but, as he has been writing a lot, there will be a lot of new songs with a more uptempo flavour.
The interview draws to a close and I ask him one last question, do you love what you do? With real passion he says “I absolutely love it. I wish I could do it every day” (he currently has a day-time job running street food events but the first album is doing nicely so hopefully with time and the next one, he’ll be able to ride the music train soon).
I leave him in peace to drink another cold beer (plus half a pint free due to it being the end of the keg which is rather lucky I think) and await his photoshoot, a man who looks happy and relaxed with the direction he is going in.
Born Lucky? Born Talented.
William’s EP Born Lucky is out now on Laid Bare Records.
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook & Photography by Rachel Lipsitz