The Rebirth of William Doyle, the Artist FKA East India Youth
After anxiety and a relentless schedule drove him away from music, Doyle has returned with a record inspired by his experiences of British suburbia.
Photo by Matt Colquhoun
It’s a cripplingly hot day in east London, and William Doyle couldn’t be dressed any less appropriately. His clothing isn’t much of a surprise – the artist formerly known as East India Youth was defined as much by his suit-heavy wardrobe as his sultry, techno-infused electronica. But, tailored shirts and sweaty brows aside, there’s little telling that this is the same man. He’s all smiles and quick quips – a world away from the stern expressions of his former guise.
Behind the big tours, Mercury Prize nominations, and brilliant techno excess of East India Youth, Doyle was wracked by anxiety, physically and emotionally ground down by a relentless schedule, and increasingly disillusioned with the person he saw himself becoming. “I was knackered,” he starts with a laugh, before changing tack. “I think my ego started to inflate… I was not being a particularly pleasant person.” There were inward impacts, too: “The month when Culture of Volume came out, I was having panic attacks, I was drinking far too much, my diet was terrible, we were playing shows a lot…” With problems clearly mounting, and the project also encumbered with a “stupid”, potentially racially insensitive name that he was now written into contract with, something had to give. In March 2016, after one final show for friends and family, Doyle cut the East India Youth project loose and began the long road to recovery.
A move to York soon followed – one that he now smirks about. “I was a bit like, ‘Why have I exiled myself up here?!’,” he laughs. “Most people move to Berlin! They don’t move to an ancient, Medieval English city.” Pouring that discomfort into a low-key, ambient Bandcamp release, The Dream Derealised, he donated all the proceeds to mental health charity Mind, before finding himself pegged as the music industry’s mental health advocate – a move that only emphasised the gulf between the words and actions of those proclaiming to want to address the issue. “I think it’s great, but there’s just a lot of talk about ‘the stigma’ and ‘ending the stigma’,” he sighs. “Yeah, it’s good to talk about it – and it is, definitely! – but also we’re not doing anything about it.” Nowadays, he’s taken matters into his own hand, working alongside the NHS to build a mental healthcare ‘package’ that can be bought by labels and written into record deals. “I think in the next 12 to 18 months, we’re gonna start to see some practical changes starting to happen,” he says with a note of optimism.
Before then, though, comes Doyle’s return to music. Following The Dream Derealised, he released a further two compilations of ambient music, Lightnesses I and II, in 2017, before embarking on a multimedia art project titled Your Wilderness Revisited – an exploration of the oft-ignored, serviceable beauty of new build housing estates in Britain. And it's that project that has fed directly into his new, debut solo single under his own name, “Millersdale” (which you can stream below). Melding together the psychedelic ambience of those low-key, stopgap releases with an explosive free-jazz sensibility, the track weaves a tale of finding hope and emotion resolution in Britain's new build suburban estates.
Doyle’s love affair with suburbia is near lifelong. Born and raised in a 1930s, semi-detached house in Bournemouth, he found himself packed up and shipped off to a Southampton new build in the wake of his father’s death, just as he approached his teenage years. He was instantly baffled by the rows of uniform houses, and the ways these estates weaved around their environment: “You feel like you’re in the countryside at some points, and then other times you’re in this very man-made place.” As the months went on, and a young Doyle began walking and biking around the back alleys and of his new home estate, he became enamoured with the area. “I think at that age I was projecting a lot – I always had music in my ears, and that stuff becomes embedded in that environment in a weird way,” he says. The likes of Talking Heads became a fitting soundtrack – “I guess David Byrne has always tried to think about looking at the world in a very, very slightly removed way,” he says, shrugging.
“You think that if you move to the suburbs, it’s just so anodyne there that you’re going to end up making boring art because of your surroundings,” he posits. “But actually, what I found was that it had the total opposite effect – I was trying to work out so hard what this meant to me that I started making music in my bedroom and it just being this flurry of chaotic, creative mess.” Holed up amongst the magnolia walls and utilitarian surroundings of new build British suburbia, Doyle found unexpected, endless inspiration. “You don’t think about that when you think about suburbs,” he admits, “you think about people with boring lives and boring jobs, or whatever. You don’t think that maybe you’ve discovered some secret; maybe you’ve worked out something about why people live, or how they live.”
“Millersdale” is Doyle’s return to that life-affirming explosion of creativity he had as a teenager. Pitching itself somewhere between the more exploratory, electronica of East India Youth, and his tentative steps into ambient music after that project’s dissolution, and pinned together by Doyle’s recognisable, near choral vocal, it’s the sound of an artist regaining control over the chaos that nearly engulfed him. The song, named after that very same house he moved to after his father’s death, was born out of an idea he had a decade ago. He sat on it for near three years, bringing it back to life with the recent addition of a sprawling, free-jazz saxophone solo.
“I’m really into the London free-jazz scene, and I was trying to get a very specific player, and get into the studio, and all that stuff – things weren’t quite working out.” Frustrated, he returned home, picked up that same microphone he’s recorded on since his teenage years, and invited a friend over. Aware that “it might sound absolute bollocks”, they put the sax to tape regardless – and that spur-of-the-moment take is the one that made the final track. “Empowering myself in that sense was good,” he admits, “because I made the first East India Youth album like that, and I didn’t make the second one like that… I come from a background of, ‘How can I make the most sophisticated-sounding thing with the least sophisticated method?’ For whatever reason, that’s become my MO, and I wasn’t realising that I was ignoring that.”
A full William Doyle record is slated for some time next year, though he’s taking it one step at a time – no manager, minimal team, and no concrete touring plans as of yet. “This is my first proper single in, what, three years? And I don’t want people to think that I’ve been like…” he trails off. “I don’t like that idea of the sole man wizard, making things,” he says, snapping back to assertion. “I think that’s a really damaging idea, that you’re this male genius, working away in his laboratory, reclused and all that. That’s one of the stereotypes that I think perpetuates people’s descent into madness when they’re making things, because you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta go find myself somewhere, or I’ll take loads of drugs, or become an alcoholic, because that’s where the good material lies’. I’m not perpetuating that.” If Doyle hadn’t had such issues with his mental health, themselves brought on by that pressure of conforming to the tortured artist archetype, he’s sure he’d have returned to music far sooner.
This time around, he's in far greater control – though there’s a far bigger picture to his plans. He’s keen to inspire creative conversation around modern British suburbs, in the same way the white picket fences of segregated American suburbia are seen as iconic. “When you live in the suburbs, you’re constantly being pushed this idea that the actual gold lies in the big city,” Will says, looking to an increasingly brighter future. “Actually, now that London becomes increasingly less habitable, I look at these places like maybe there is somewhere to go – maybe not all hope is lost.”
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