Taking a decade to craft his debut album, Billy Lockett’s release of Abington Grove comes after his live performances alongside Lewis Capaldi and Lana Del Ray. His work has already hit hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify and in an exclusive interview with Ewan Gleadow, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter talks over his new album, the charms and influences that come from it and what is next in store for Lockett.
Ewan Gleadow: It’s been a nice day. I listened to your album throughout the day actually, that was a hangover cure. How are you feeling now that the album is out there?
Billy Lockett: Yeah man, I’m feeling great. I’m so pleased that, firstly, it’s over and finished and I can just get it out there. I’m proud of it, there’s always that worry isn’t there when you release something. This is the first time I’ve ever released something I really love. By the time you get to actually releasing songs, you’re sick of it by the time it gets there. I’m still into this, which is good.
Ewan: It’s the recency bias of it. About a month later and you’ve moved on to different projects, but this is clearly something you still have feelings for. Is it harder to connect with music when you know people are listening to it and putting their own meaning on something so personal?
Billy: It does, because it’s, you know, it’s an entertainment form really. It’s just like a movie or a TV show or anything really. Yes, you want it to be good and you want it to have this connection but really it’s, I’m making it because it’s fun. There’s not anything deeper than that. I guess it’s also none of my business what anyone else feels about it. I’m just making it. I enjoy making it and then everyone else can decide whether it’s good or not. You’d send yourself mad if you think about all that stuff too much, wouldn’t you?
Ewan: Oh yeah, big time. It’s a very personal album though. There’s a lot in there that documents a decade in your life, culminating now with putting it out there.
Billy: Yeah, it feels almost like a full stop. Definitely. The album came out maybe a week ago, and it was just over. I feel a huge weight is off my shoulders. I’ve been sleeping well for the first time in ages since it came out, and I just feel a bit more relaxed. It’s a weird one. I mean maybe it’s because I’ve had this looming over me for so long, you know, you’re not getting any younger here Billy, you’ve got this album out soon. I’m thirty-one and this is my first album. I just wanted it to be the best thing I’ve done in my entire life. That takes ages. It takes ages and I just didn’t want to have an album that was good, I just wanted it to be perfect for me.
Ewan: There are a lot of messages on the album about your family, and your relationship with others. How do you think that will connect with people?
Billy: There are things about addiction and loss of family members on there. Also hopeful things, and a lot of messages to myself. Ten years is a long time to work yourself out. A lot, even the titles, you know, are reminders. I guess the whole thing is a mental health album. Not intentionally, but I’ve accidentally written this sort of mental health help album. I just really like it. I tried to focus on it sounding good. The lyrics do kind of pop out, but the main focus was to make a fun album that has everything for everyone, I guess that’s why it’s every genre and it doesn’t really have any rules to it.
Ewan: A decade is obviously a long time to record an album. Did you ever find yourself looking back on tracks you had previously recorded, changing lyrics, the mixing? It sounds like something that could spiral quite quickly.
Billy: Totally. Don’t Worry was that song. I wrote about four hundred songs for the album over the last ten years. Obviously, I had about two, maybe three hundred on a Soundcloud link. That was the link me and my manager were going through, my manager, my girlfriend, my mum, and my friends, we listened to all these. They told me what they think is best, but I didn’t really get anywhere with that, to be honest. Everyone has a different opinion. Some people love one song and you just have to think they’re wrong.
But when we got it down to probably thirty or forty, Don’t Worry was actually a song that had quite a dark message, because it was about having an affair. It was the idea of two people having an affair and we say it all the time, what if we’re going to break up soon, and then I was thinking, that’s so depressing. I just tweaked the words, instead of it being “don’t we” it’s “don’t worry”, and then that went okay, so I tweaked the verse a little bit and it’s actually about telling someone that everything’s going to be okay. Then I used the same melody and then all of a sudden it was a bit more hopeful, you can’t have an album full of depression.
You have to have something hopeful. I was going back over things over and over again, even to the point of how many seconds of silence was going to be after the fifth track. Once we got all the songs done, I must have listened to the album thousands of times over the last half a year. I listened to it probably four or five times a day all the way through, changing the order, tweaking things, and taking out reverbs that were too long, that attention to detail was ridiculous. The second one won’t take anywhere as long to make.
Ewan: Yeah just bash that second one out. You worked with GoldLink on the opening track too, how did that come about?
Billy: That was my biggest song. I guess that’s kind of like a cult favourite. I did it on the James Corden show and then Covid hit. It was on course for being quite a big hit and then everything just stopped, but GoldLink heard it. He discovered it and knew that song and liked it. So when it came to us reaching out to people that we wanted to make a collaboration with, he was one of them.
I love his first album, he’s brilliant. When he got in touch, it was perfect. He does this emotional, romantic rap. On paper, it sounds like something I’d throw up to. But this, it’s beautiful when you hear the words. An emotional, romantic rap. You’ve got to get it right, haven’t you?
Ewan: Absolutely, and you’ve worked with Lana Del Rey and Lewis Capaldi in the past too, that must have been a lot of fun.
Billy: It was great. With Lewis it was before he had become a superstar, it was just on the cusp. It was quite cool to be a part of watching that, that moment where he went from being the level I’m at now to a superstar. It was nice to be around that. I don’t even think he’d released the big hit yet, Someone You Love. I don’t even think he’d put it out at that point. He had put Bruises out. Then Lana, that was mind-blowing, because it was at the time, the biggest crowd I played to was fifty people at my own house party. It’s crazy. It went bigger and bigger.
I think the K.T. Tunstall shows were straight away to a thousand people, which for me at the time was just mind-blowing. Then Lana was straight after it, and that was five thousand people at Manchester Apollo. I remember it, the sea of people. You could see the steam coming off their bodies, like a rain cloud over the top of them. It feels like one mass, one monster.
Ewan: And streaming too, one hundred and forty million streams, before an album.
Billy: It’s a weird thing Spotify, isn’t it? There’s always someone on Spotify that has more streams than you. Half the work there for me is looking at what other people around you are thinking. I should have done that, I should have said. You can only get so far comparing yourself to others until it clicks.
But I think it’s also about, when you compare yourself, it’s almost embracing it, isn’t it? If I see someone who’s got loads of Spotify monthly listeners, I used to be like ‘Oh God, why are they so much bigger than I?’ whereas now I’m like ‘I wanna listen to them. I wanna find out why they’re so good.’ You can learn from it. Then you can start turning those toxic thoughts into something beneficial.
Ewan: You sometimes need that kick though, to see how well someone else is doing compared to what you’re doing. It’s a nice motivator.
Billy: It is. I think the people who struggle in life are the people who don’t realise that. You can learn from everything and you should learn from everything, really. If you don’t, then you’re going to get stagnant and left behind. It’s going to affect your work and your success. You’re going to get angrier, and then you’re going to, you know, it’s a vicious spiral.
Billy Locket’s album, Abington Grove, is out now and can be streamed and purchased from this link.
Lockett is currently on tour, taking his debut album across the UK, with tickets still available for some shows here.