Billy Lockett on Being a “One to Watch” and writing Honest Music
Northampton singer Billy Lockett has been making waves in the pop scene since 2016 after the debut of his EP “Burn it Down”. Before that, he was known for his guitar performances and for supporting Lana Del Rey and Birdy on their tour in 2014. Shortly after the tour, his father passed away. This lead to Lockett sitting in the cellar of his childhood home for two years writing music and being his most real self. The result of these years consist of authentic singing and piano performances just like his father always preferred. Since then he has been labeled by YouTube Music as one of the “Ones-to-Watch” for 2019 and has sold out every performance on his first-ever European Headliner Tour.
Before his performance at Prinzenbar in Hamburg, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Billy himself. We talked to him about his identity, music-making process and staying grounded.
“I never felt like I did anything different”
How does being labeled as one of “The Ones to Watch” make you feel? It’s really flattering, although I try not to think about it too much. I like to put all of that stuff away and spend my time thinking about my fans and music. The hype can get in the way of everything else when it becomes too important.
It is interesting though because I never felt like I did anything different. All of a sudden, people just started getting on board and I became “the one to watch,” which is cool.
How does it feel, going from performing for a drunken man and a barking dog to being on your first European Headliner Tour? It’s really crazy. When I lived in Camden I did a lot of open-mic nights. With those, you show up around 7:00 PM and put your name on a list. You are usually one out of fifty. You just hope that you are given the chance to perform even one song. If by 12:00 AM you haven’t performed, you are told that there wasn’t enough time, and you go home. I find it amazing that not only do I get to play my songs now, but there are also people there to see me, it’s my show, and it’s sold out.
Would you say social media plays a big part in your success? Do you think it helped you reach the point where you are now? Yeah. I try not to let social media take over too much, but unfortunately, it’s such a big part of this job. Although, I do think it’s great that social media allows your fans to get to know you so well. Often fans will come up to me and ask me how Barney, my cat, is doing. I think it’s things like that, that are so important because they help my fans connect with me. They really do want to see me do my best.
Now with social media, we are all in this together and we are all supporting each other in this cult-like thing. I can tell them things that I maybe wouldn’t be able to say on stage, such as why I wrote this specific song and what it is about. I think it helps bring fans together.
Considering how competitive the music atmosphere in London is, what would you say distinguishes you the most from the thousands of other musicians who start every year? It is very hard. There are a hell of a lot of people on the London music scene and a lot of them are very similar. However, the good thing about London and most big cities is when something is quality, people get behind it. They really do support it.
Obviously, everyone has their differences, but I think all of the people that are doing well in London all have one thing in common; we have fans that believe in us and what we are saying. In my opinion that is what makes an artist to stand out. I have always tried to make every show as honest as possible, and I want everyone to feel that. I want them all to want to keep coming back.
How do you help yourself stay grounded when you see your fan base continuously increase? Well, sometimes I don’t. My dad used to always say “Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously” and I think that is the trick. It’s important to realize that there is nothing more special about me; I am just doing something that people really like. I’m doing it because I love doing it and people are on board with it. I have also stopped partying so much. Nowadays, I usually just go back to the hotel to stay in, which is nice. I also read sometimes.
Family tragedy a catalyst for writing honest music
After the passing of your father you really changed your musical identity. Would you say that that caused you to find a new personal identity as well? Before that happened, I didn’t really have anything to say or sing about except for ex-girlfriends and such, but nothing was as important as the death of my dad. So, although it wasn’t the happiest reason, I finally had a reason to put my feelings into my music. That was also the first time that my career started going well.
I used to put so much effort into people liking me. When I sat in my cellar for multiple years making music, finding people who liked the music was the easy part. That came very naturally because I finally started making music that was real and honest. I also used to play the guitar, even though my dad had always loved it when I played the piano. He always wondered why I had stopped playing the piano. I liked the guitar because I could move around and be a rock star. After his death, I realized that that just wasn’t me. So, this tour I am only playing the piano.
You are known for your experimental taste in music. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you really like Radiohead because they aren’t afraid to try new things. Do you find it hard balancing a need to be creative with a want to make music that people want to hear? Yeah, I think my label definitely struggles with me because of that. I do generally like a good pop song though and I am definitely a sucker for a good chorus. So, I try to make sure that all of the weird stuff is in the verses to get my fix, and then I make the chorus universal. I do think there is a balance between weird and mainstream that I’ve spent my whole life trying to find.
Is there anything you would like to tell your fans that they might not know about you? I am so open with my fans, but I would want them to know that this lifestyle isn’t always so happy and amazing. There are a lot of times where you struggle and think “Oh god, I really hope this will work out.” I think the fans only see the good bits a lot of the time, so it’s important that people know there are also downsides to it.
I’ll often think to myself, “When I get to that point, it will become easier.” But then, when I get to that point, it is just as hard but with different problems. When it really works and you are on tour, you realize that this is exactly why you spent multiple years in the cellar making music. It was all for this moment.