It's been a while since William Beckett has been on the radar. Most people think of The Academy Is... when his name comes up. Many heard the news when some band members decided to go their separate ways and some assumed that would be it. But Beckett is a true artist. Music fuels his heart, soul and mind. He is now touring the first EP of a trilogy that will be complete by the end of the year. The tour for "Walk The Talk" stopped at The Space in Hamden last week and before the show I had the pleasure, honor and privilege of sitting down, face-to-face with this brilliant young man. Like many, my knowledge of William was based solely on the stage persona I had experienced at Warped Tour in 2006 and again at The Webster on Halloween of 2007. Once again, I learned that the offstage person is quite different in the best ways possible.
K: I've always wanted to know, is it William or Bill?
WB: William. Bill for short if you're into brevity.
K: So it's been a while since we've seen you on a stage. When was the final 'Academy' album released?
WB: Two years ago.
K: And what has happened since then?
WB: We were writing a lot for fourth record. We toured with KISS, then two band members left after the tour. Mike (Carden) and I continued writing and had some good ideas but our label didn't get it, didn't see the vision. That shattered us a little bit. I didn't feel like writing was fun any more at that point. When I made the decision to end the band and go out on my own, I started writing more. It was fun and exciting again. I kept on writing and there were really good songs. The label was really into it. But there was so much freedom as to where it could go because I was no longer with the band, I pretty much reinvented myself. However, the team was the same one I had with me with TAI so I felt like there wasn't a lot of perspective there. People lost perspective which was unfortunate. When you're with someone for so long you lose that judgement. It gets clouded and confused so the vision of what I should be was muddled as far as the team and the label went. I wasn't about to cash in all my chips and says "Hey! Yeah, make me a pop star. I'll sing whatever." That's not why I do this. If it gets to that point it will be on my own terms. That's what fueled my decision.
K: I was very pleasantly surprised when I listened to "Walk The Talk". Not gonna lie. I was expecting "guy on a stool with an acoustic guitar". This EP is so not that.
WB: It's not an acoustic record. There will be three EPs in total. I just finished the second one and am getting mixes in daily. It's darker. By the end of the year you'll have 12 songs and the full story which, essentially, chronicles the arch of a relationship. The first song on the first EP is "Compromising Me" and it's about knowing who you are, being who you are and not apologizing. It's about not caring about being cool or what your friends or enemies think. Just being ok with being you. From there you think you have your shit straight but then you meet someone that totally turns your life upside down and shocks you and knocks you back and that's the beginning of the relationship. "Drummer Girl" is the meeting place. The first EP illustrates those early days when things are fun and exciting.
The second EP gets into when you've been with someone for a while and you get used to certain annoyances. Real life comes into play. You realize that if we're going to make this work, it's going to be hard work. It's not going to be as easy as we thought...and it never is. So it's a bit darker because it deals with deeper issues.
The third EP is the culmination. I can't really reveal anything at this point because what's the point?
K: I get a real "William signature" from "Walk The Talk". "Oh Love" is probably the best example. At first I thought of the Jackson Five "Give Me One More Chance". But then there was this phrase of words that made me immediately think of TAI's "Neighbors".
WB: I like to write rhythmically with melodic phrasing and lyrically. I guess that is a signature thing. It's just me and I write what comes naturally Lyrically I love that song. I feel it's tight, fun yet desperate. Reflective of the lengths we will go to to have love in our life whether it's real love or if it's this idea of love. I feel like it's what our human nature yearns for. That's what the chorus is all about.
K: Listening to "Walk The Talk" it feels like your music has matured along with original 'Academy' fans. Was that in the back of you mind as you wrote the songs?
WB: It's natural for me. I didn't sit down and mastermind it as to where "Academy" fans are in their lives now. For me, it's just honest songs about the shit that I've always written songs about which is relationships. I can't not write about them.
K: Keeping with my local content requirement, I noticed in your bio that when you set out to tour your first solo music after high school you headed east. Why? Why not west?
WB: It was always east. One of the first songs I ever wrote was about coming east. I worked hard and got good test scores because that's what my parents wanted. Boston College sent me a letters of interest and scholarship information. I never dreamed of going to L.A., which a lot of my friends did. They were in the drama world - real actors, directors and writers. Everyone wanted to go out west and I never did. Actually, this is the first time anyone's asked me this question. Now that I think about it more, some of that yearning for the East had to with some of my favorite bands who were happening out here, like "Jersey". Now it's like I've been to Jersey a lot.
K: Who are some of those favorite "Jersey" bands?
WB: I'm a fan of Saves The Day and Thursday. They were some of the bands that inspired me to go the indie route.
K: Having numerous connections in the Chicago music scene, we talk about it's current state. What's your input on that?
WB: I wouldn't know. Last thing I'm doing is going to a show when I'm home. Although the last time I did go to a Chicago show I saw Gemini Club . The group includes a guy I went to high school with. They sold out Lincoln Hall, a larger venue in Chicago. They're very dubstep, electronic, a club music revival but more lyrical. I find the traditional song writer thing is taking a backseat to energetic production based music. It's seems like a phase.
From here the interview turned into a conversation about music and the industry in general. William Beckett is a very well versed person when it comes to those topics. At one point he mentioned that he spends a great deal of time in Nashville and has a high regard for country music. We were talking about how music tastes are also regional and he stated that country music is not found outside North America. He also delved into how the genre includes well written and arranged songs but it is production and presentation that sometimes turns people on or off to it. It is a genre where songs can be re-styled and found more palatable by those who have sworn off it.
Continuing down the rearrangement, reproduction path and talent William made an interesting observation. He used Rhianna's "Hopeless Place" as the example and said "think about that song done by Bon Iver in their style" and I could actually picture it. Beckett is adamant that music must evolve. Even with his own songs, he said that having the same team when he started the new solo chapter of his career was resulting in stagnation. It's why he is now very happy that the label cut him loose. With the "cookie cutter" pop and rock on the radio right now he predicts the evolution of these genres will be more of a return of psychedelic garage rock, classic rock, raw human with no tuning, "Doors-ey". He sees a natural progression and every decade there are swells and revivals. The present reggatone or 4-on-the-floor club beats on radio right now have pretty much run their course.
Another thing that irks William Beckett is the constant spin that artists lack talent who do not write their own music. It's not to say that it isn't good to see someone like Goyte catch on in the US or to see Arcade Fire and Phoenix win, well-deserved, Grammies. But to say that Rhianna does not deserve respect is wrong when you look at the fact that Frank Sinatra will remain a legend and was highly respected in the industry yet never wrote a single song he recorded. Yes, his sexual references were emotional in a lyrical poetic way where Rhianna's are more blatant. But it still shouldn't effect their credibility as singers and performers. At the end of the day, we listen to music to either feel an emotion or forget our troubles and if we get there listening to Dashboard Confessional or Cobra Starship, it's the journey that counts.
I encourage everyone to purchase "Walk The Talk" and watch for the releases of the other two EPs in this series. Also get out to see William Beckett perform live and if possible, especially while he is still touring small clubs, to talk to him. He is genuine, charming, funny, serious and wicked smart. He has important things to say if people are listening. Even having been a fan for six years, I am even more so after this encounter.
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