Noise Annoys: Bill Ryder-Jones on Belfast show and new album Yawn
Former Coral man Bill Ryder-Jones speaks to Noise Annoys about his upcoming Irish gigs and new album Yawn
BILL Ryder-Jones answers his mobile on Noise Annoys's second attempt to get through: "Sorry about that," apologises the ex-Coral guitar-slinger turned solo artist extraordinaire, "I'll be honest with you – it slipped my mind. I've come into Liverpool so I was under the Mersey."
Yes, with the tour in support of his recently released fourth LP Yawn set to commence the day after our chat, Ryder-Jones has journeyed into the big smoke from his coastal base in West Kirby on the Wirral peninsula to stock up on away fixture essentials.
"I'm heading to Primark to buy underpants," the Warrington-born singer-songwriter reveals. "Maybe I'll treat myself to a new shirt maybe, or T-shirt – I haven't decided."
After a beat, he chuckles: "This is the worst start to an interview you've ever had!"
Having banked that new underwear 'exclusive', our chat turns to the record BRJ put out last November via long-time label, Domino.
Having kicked off his solo career with instrumental, orchestral concept album If... in 2011 and followed it up with 2013's more folksy, guitar-based A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, Yawn and its predecessor West Kirby County Primary have found BRJ exploring musical territory coloured by 90s indie rock, shoegaze and lo-fi – you can hear touches of Red House Painters' way with hauntingly beautiful melodrama, the wryly witty gloom of early Pavement and a RIDE/Slowdive-ian (Is that a word? It is now) mastery of layered, effects-laden guitars woven into the latest record, a pointedly more atmosphere-orientated affair which never outstays its welcome despite clocking in at close to an hour's worth of listening.
Slowcore masters Low are a key influence on BRJ's music and he's also the only British artist I've ever heard citing obscure Sub Pop-affiliated Canadian slackerpop band Eric's Trip as a touchstone – specifically their sonically dense 1993 debut LP, Love Tara, of which he says "I listened to that and thought 'Oh God, this is the world I want to make a record in" – earning this Merseybleater mega points on the non-existent Noise Annoys Coolometer.
Lyrically, Yawn finds Ryder-Jones steering away from the autobiographical storytelling of his last two records – which reached something of a zenith with the heartbreaking Daniel on West Kirby, inspired by the tragic 1991 death of his older brother (and Yawn cover star) – in favour of a less lyrically direct approach which still maintains a tangible emotional honesty.
"With this one it was more about leaving things a bit more open," he tells me. "It was very important not to be quite so direct with the lyric writing. I didn't really want to just tell people stories about what's been going on with me. I tried to infer a little bit more.
"I always know the feeling I'm trying to get across, I just thought that on the last record there were a couple of songs that were like complete narratives – 'this happened, this happened, this happened'.
"And I'm not a huge fan of imagery, so that was quite a tricky thing to navigate: trying to put across what I knew I was trying to say without ramming it down people's throats.
"That took a little bit of craft. I'm pretty pleased, I feel like I managed it. I don't think it's a perfect record but I feel like I went and tried to achieve something that was quite a tall order for me. I'm quite happy with it, all in all, I think.
"I like instrumental music because you're not being led [by words]. I wanted a bit of that, I wanted people to maybe have to listen again and again to this record and to try and unravel bits of it.
"I really love murder mysteries, I like the way they unravel and take you to and fro. I was trying to achieve a little bit of that."
In terms of Yawn's more expansive sound, Ryder-Jones explains how the seeds for the current record were sown during the recording of his previous outing.
"There was a song on there called Satellites, which sort of didn't really fit on that record," he says.
"It made sense that's where I would go [with the new album] a little bit. I just wanted to try and make something that was a little less 'instant' than West Kirby – not that that was like a 'pop smash' or anything, but in terms of my writing it was certainly a more instant, catchy, three minute guitar-y kind of thing.
"I just wanted to kind of explore the music a little bit more and take a bit more time to create a mood. "
Amusingly, despite his deliberate swerve away from autobiographical storytelling, Ryder-Jones felt it prudent to have a pre-emptive chat with a family member lest there be any confusion about the intention of one of his new tunes.
"The song John is kind of based on a 'dear John' letter," he explains. "Typically they're written when you're breaking up with someone, but in the song, clearly the person writing to John isn't breaking up with him: John's either left them or passed on.
"I had to show my dad that one actually, because his name is John and he and me mother split up about 10 years ago. I had to tell him 'this isn't about you', despite the fact that a lot of it does apply very specifically!
"But that's what writers do, you always have to use what you know. I had some very upsetting images from how my mother was when my dad left and it was just by chance that his name happens to be John.
"Good songs tend to come from one little idea like that."
Three months on from its release, BRJ is looking forward to playing his new material live for audiences who've had a chance to spend a bit more time with Yawn than those who witnessed his most recent spate of live work at the tail-end of 2018.
"I've actually only done one show since the record came out," he tells me. "The whole tour before that, people didn't really know what they were enjoying, or not. And now they will know that, either way.
"So yeah, I'm pretty excited about it. I've been stuck – well, not stuck – doing mainly studio work the last eight weeks, so it'll be nice to hang out with my boys and act the fool a little bit. It should be a good laugh."
:: Bill Ryder-Jones, with Mmode, February 21, The Black Box, Belfast / February 22, Whelan's, Dublin. Tickets via Ticketweb.ie