I sit down to talk to William Doyle – the man that is East India Youth – in the week of the release of his debut album, Total Strife Forever. It’s been a long time coming. The demo CD version was finished over eighteen months ago, and was thrust in to the hands of the editor of The Quietus at a Factory Floor show. So impressed was he, that the website created their own record label in order to release Doyle’s earlier EP, Hostel.
Clearly, then, Doyle is a man that makes an impression (or at least his music does), though neither is easy to define. I’ve seen him politely struggling with a situation where the venue’s bouncer wouldn’t allow him back in to his own gig, and on stage he is frantically absorbed in the desk in front of him and the sounds it produces, hardly peering out to the crowd from behind his fringe. It seems strange, then, that the artwork for Total Strife Forever, as well as for Hostel and the video for last year’s single “Dripping Down”, features Doyle’s face prominently. In an age where musical anonymity is easier through the internet, was it a conscious decision to put the visual focus so heavily on himself?
‘It was really, because I make electronic music but I don’t really consider myself part of any electronic scene, and I don’t view myself as an archetypal electronic producer. The album is so personal to me and I wanted to convey that’. It is quite perfectly encapsulated in Total Strife Forever’s artwork – a Lucian Freud-esque portrait of Doyle, overlaid with the ‘notes’ of a MIDI software sequencer. The style seems especially fitting: Freud, too, was a man who firmly created his own artistic identity.
Doyle elaborates, ‘we didn’t want to do any photos where I was staring out into the distance with absolutely no expression on my face or anything. We wanted to shoot straight into the bowel of the lens and pronounce the personality behind it all. It just wasn’t anything that I saw many people doing at the moment and I just thought it would be an interesting way of trying to do something different with it’.
Musically, too, Doyle is certainly ‘doing something different with it’. To me, it sounds as though he has three different sounds, which he uses on different tracks: the more drone influenced ones, the synth-pop ones, and the techno ones. ‘I think the reason it sounds like that is to do with the amount of time it took to make the album. It was quite a long process and in that time I ended up hearing a lot of different and new stuff that influenced me in certain ways. I always thought it would be great to make an eclectic album like that’.
‘On the other hand, when people single you out and identify you as this chameleon or shape-shifter I think it can be harmful, because anything less would seem as though you’ve not tried as hard, whereas really what I want to do is focus on a certain aspect and develop that into something that’s strong. So I don’t know if I’ll always continue to be that eclectic but it made sense to me at the time of this album, to keep things fresh and exciting for me if nothing else‘.
I’m intrigued by the number of artists that must have influenced this project, especially since Doyle fronted a four-piece indie band before exploring electronic music as East India Youth. ‘There’s stuff like Brian Eno, who hangs over me like a bad smell, more in the sense of his methodology and the way he approaches creativity and that’s really inspiring to me’.
‘In terms of sound, I like the tug of war between orchestral and electronic sounds, such as Sufjan Stevens on Age of Adz, and similarly Björk’s Homogenic. I find that an interesting thing, I love orchestral music as much as I love electronic music so binding the two together felt quite natural, and having that same dynamic contrast and textural changes over a piece. In that sense stuff like Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, is such a huge influence on how the record sounds. Also, more minimalist stuff like Steve Reich and Philip Glass‘. He laughs. ‘Every young person seems to be influenced by Steve Reich and Philip Glass now, don’t they?’
The culmination of these influences has produced an album that has had critics rejoicing. As someone whose work was unconventionally given the means to express itself by a music critic of sorts, I wonder how much attention he pays to them. ‘At the start of my career I took notice’, because I didn’t have any expectation of what it was going to be like really. But as time has gone on, I’ve kind of stopped doing it. Reading criticism, either positive or negative, can send you the wrong way if you take it too seriously, so I’ve enjoyed the success and the reception so far but now that the wheels are in motion I’m just sort of keeping my nose out of it for the time being‘.
I had thought the name of the album was a small smirk at critics, and all the others in the music industry, it being a play on Foals’ 2010 album Total Life Forever. It’s certainly an interesting choice of title, considering the rarity of an artist outside of hip hop referencing other musicians in such a direct way. Doyle explains, ‘It wasn’t an attack by any means. I’ve got lots of respect for that band, they’re a really interesting group. It was just a pun I jotted down in my notebook. I assigned it as the working title for the album, but the problem with that is when you give something a name like that, it’s so hard to go back on it and call it something else as it starts to have its own identity really‘.
‘I thought it might not be the best idea in the world to call it that, but it sums up the mood and theme of the album personally and I thought it was worth taking a risk on. I’m not trying to cause anyone any offence by it, I just thought it was too perfect to let it go away’.
Total Strife Forever may be apt for the album’s personal themes, but it’s also a fitting description of Doyle’s live shows. They’re excellent, but he does a lot on stage entirely alone. He frequently switches between instruments, including guitar, and seems engrossed in, if not tied to, his table of devices. Has he ever considered recruiting others to help recreate the music live? ‘I had to cobble together the live set out of pure necessity – I needed to be able to play live to get this thing off the ground really. That was quite a big challenge for me, so I was a bit scared of involving other people at such an early stage‘.
‘It has developed as it’s gone along; I’ve gotten more comfortable and confident onstage. I’ve tried to develop the sound with every show, I haven’t just settled on one set and rolled that out. Every time I go out for a stint on the road, it will sound slightly different from the time before’.
Doyle seems to be a person who understands that sometimes you need to be alone. Whether that’s on stage, or in the musical epoch in which you operate, or simply as a defined individual. He doesn’t seem in a rush for company in any of those things. ‘Perhaps one day I could see other musicians getting involved, but because of the way this project has developed at quite an organic, gradual pace, I want that to be a similarly gradual process. I don’t want to rush into anything‘.By Harry Rosehill