A Conversation with Billy Liar

By Molly Lubbers

9 Nov, 2019

Scotland-based punk/folk artist Billy Liar performed at Beat Kitchen on Nov. 9. After the show was done and he finished up at his merch table, we talked about his new album, Some Legacy, and his experiences as a musician. Liar opened for Harley Poe; my review of the show can be found here.

The following is an edited and condensed version of my conversation with Billy Liar.

When did you start writing music?

I started learning instruments when I was really young. I guess I wrote my first song when I was 10 or 11.

Do you remember what it was about?

It’s actually one of my songs on my new record. Part of that song is from a long time ago. It was kind of a dark song, but it’s one of the songs on my new record.

What song was that?

The song is called “Noose.”

What was the reasoning behind pulling from that past song for the new song?

I kind of do that for all the songs I write. I kind of think that songs are a process and it’s interesting to kind of loop back to something you’ve written a long time ago and have different perspectives on it. And you learn more as you get older. 

What is your writing process like?

It could be anything. I write down notes all the time. I read a lot, I watch a lot of films, I listen to a lot of music; and that inspires me. I also sometimes sit down with a guitar or other instrument and just play and see what comes out, and that often turns into a song. Or sometimes, I just record stuff which is just gibberish, but then I can listen back to it.

Your album Some Legacy just came out earlier this year. What was your overall theme of that album, if you had one?

I suppose the themes of that record are about sort of being alive in the world that we’re in right now. It’s about the political climate we’re in in the UK, in America, the whole Western world and trying to hold it together within that. It’s also songs about growing up, about heartbreak and mental health and addictions of various sorts, and just trying to pull it together.

You said earlier [during the show] that song is a form of protest or that music can be. Can you expand on that?

Music is a pure form of protest, and protest songs are something that ignites a spark and creates tension. And I still believe that music can change the world and it does change the world. So that makes sense to me.

What made you decide to become a musician?

I always knew that was what I wanted to do. I remember in primary school, we were asked by our teacher about what jobs we wanted to do, and I knew at that point I wanted to be a musician. It’s a ridiculous thing to do, to jump around on stage and play a plank of wood with some pieces of string attached to it, and sing these songs about your life, and then connect with other people, but it’s something that just instantly made sense to me, and I made friends all over the world doing it. I’m so grateful to do that.

You said connecting with people is a big thing how does that work with playing songs live? How is that different than being in the studio?

Being in the studio’s great. A lot of bands hate being in the studio, but I love it because it means that I can actually go into the original thought of why this song was written and then explore the possible instrumentation of that and be inspired by that situation and get friends to be involved in that process. Whereas performing live, it’s purely performing that song that you’ve recorded in a different way and finding ways that the audience can connect with that. The best situation is when people feed off that and then you feed off them and then people sing along or are smiling or laughing or crowd-surfing, that’s the best. It’s a nice feeling, because we’re all alive in that moment.

What is your favorite song off of your new album?

I really like the song, “Neither Are You,” because that’s the last song that I wrote [for] the record, or the song “Less Vegas,” which is the last song on the record, which I wrote in the studio. I’d never written anything in the studio. I’d always had songs going in, and then worked with instrumentation or other musician’s parts in the studio, but those two songs, “Neither Are You,” I wrote the lyrics for in the studio, and “Less Vegas” I actually sat down and wrote on the piano and basically recorded it at that point as well. So that was a really interesting part of the process for me. I think it worked, it worked quite well, ; people seem to really like that song. I love the magic and the excitement of the studio.

You’re a one-man band most of the time, right? How do you find the motivation to be self-starting?

Being influenced by other musicians when I was younger and still all the time being around creative people, and kind of learning from them and seeing how they do what they do. And I grew up in the punk scene and the whole DIY movement is all about just getting your own thing together and keeping it rolling. And also, so much of the punk scene and DIY are about just doing it forever. It’s not about like, “Oh, we’re looking to be famous,” or “Oh, we’re looking to make this much money. It’s just about writing songs and getting on the road and going on tours and getting on the van or getting in a car or doing it on a train. So, I did all that; I’ve done touring all over the world with a shoestring project and barely any idea of what I was doing. But it got me to a point where I’ve been doing it for about 15 years now, and I’ve finally put out my first record. I’ve put out so many singles and splits and EPs but it’s all led me to the point where I’ve finally put out a record, which is a full-length album, on a label I love, and I’m really proud of it. And I get to play bigger and bigger shows and I’m really excited to do it.

Billy Liar’s new record can be found on here on his label Red Scare Industries’ website.