Evening all, thankfully I’m back behind the keyboard again on ‘The Sound Sniffer‘ after a tough month. September 2020 will always be remembered as ‘the tough month’. I’m delighted to sink back into another super interview again and get back on the horse. God I’ve missed the writing!
At the very start of the month, I had the privilege of catching up with Lewisham-based artist William Serfass (Wassailer) for a chat on Zoom. The opening single ‘Son‘ from his forthcoming debut album absolutely blew me away. I just had to get in touch and speak to the man behind this uniquely captivating sound. Here is what came of that chat!
Thanks for answering the call Will, First off, could you tell me a little about yourself and your new musical direction as ‘Wassailer’?
I moved to London ten years ago. I came here initially whilst performing in an indie pop trio. We had just signed a record deal with Island Records, so it was quite a big deal. We toured a lot around the world – I’ve been living in London ever since. In addition to making music and producing for other artists, I’ve been doing some lecturing on improvisation and songwriting at Goldsmith’s University and also ran percussion workshops at Haymerle school in Peckham, which is a school for children with severe special needs. My journey in music has been pretty broad and varied – ‘Wassailer‘ is my new moniker which captures the sounds I’ve been working on as a musician over the last decade here.
Son is the first single from your forthcoming debut album – can you tell us the idea behind the song and why it chosen to be the first release?
My 2018 self titled debut track Wassailer, which proceeds Son, was an attempt to introduce the moniker in a smooth way which was strongly influenced by folk. That song was a fitting opener as it started with an acoustic guitar and ends up with massive hip-hop styled subs and electronic hi-hats. It formed a good base to introduce my music, I’m quite eclectic – My sound is somewhere between folk, a mix of urban sub-genres and pop music.
Son is the first single from the upcoming album and was the song that my friends earmarked as the most impactful and intense. Although it’s only a short one, the lyrics are really direct and it gets straight to the point, I felt it would be a fitting first single.
Could you tell us about the production end of Son – did you produce it yourself?
Yeah, there are actually no electronics on Son at all. I am not a computer geek really, I don’t know synths and I barely use any plugins – I only work with audio. One defining sound on the song comes from an old Hammond organ with a Lesley amp, it’s such a loud instrument – it was given to me by an old friend who was a sound engineer. To generate an electronic sound out of it, I’ve been using that organ with a level pedal to create an electronic pulse/pump sound. All the instrumentation is live, the hi-hats are little Moroccan shakers which were looped and edited. If you listen carefully, your notice that it’s not recorded 100% crisply, It’s a very DIY sounding song and that was my intention.
I’ve always been a firm believer that a recording is just a version of a song. It’s not the song itself, the song is in the air somewhere, both the live and recorded depictions are just a version of it.
I’ve grown out of using distortion on guitars and electric guitars in general, but there’s something powerful when a song hits a chorus with distorted chords, I think it’s something that’s missing a little bit in today’s music. I think James Blake was the one that used the prophet (synth) in the best way to recreate the euphoric electronic feel, I guess my use of the Hammond here is me trying to imitate that.
‘Son’ honestly comes with one of my stand-out videos of the year so far, it’s an incredibly cinematic experience. Where did that idea come from?
I’m so lucky, it came out of nowhere to be honest. It all came about when my publisher listened through the album a few months ago. He asked if he could send the album to a few of his friends, one of which was French video directer called David Bertram (Cannes Film Festival, YDA Award winner 2015). At the time, he had just entered Coronavirus lockdown over in The Netherlands. He was spending his time out in the forests with his friend’s children and got in touch with me and told me that he really resonated with the subject matter of ‘Son’. He asked if he could shoot a video for it.
At the time, I had already directed my own video with a friend of mine which was a pretty DIY/LoFi video. A couple of weeks passed and David sent over his version – it totally blew me away. I had to make a difficult phone call and explain to my friend that our video wasn’t going to be used. Bertram’s video was incredible.
The fact that I didn’t know him and we didn’t communicate meant that he depicted the imagery of the song in his own way. The kind of ‘Lord of the Flies’ vibe, it opened up a new door for me. The song is quite personal and heavy as it deals with my own relationships – seeing Bertram’s interpretation took the burden off my shoulders and enabled me to view the song in a different way myself. He actually had some of the footage used in the video made prior to hearing the song so it was just magical that our paths crossed at that particular time.
The song and the other songs on the albums are all DIY and it’s been so good to have some outside perspective and fresh air to help the songs along.
You have played a number of gigs with L.A Salami over the years, he is another artist who has been featured on this site recently. How did you meet and what is he like?
I met him about eight years ago in Camden, in a flat of a friend we both have in common. He has come such a long way since – at the time he was playing ‘Another Shade of Blue’, I remember he asked me to remix it (I didn’t even know how to produce at that time), the song was simple in its structure with literally two chords and a melody. He has released five great albums since and I love the journey he takes on every release. I’m trying to convey my own story over that time into one album.
With the debut album on the way, where was is recorded?
In my lounge, I have a little corner with a lot of instruments, one microphone and a laptop. The horns and strings that are included were recorded ages ago in different studios when I had spare time. I asked my musical friends along the way if they would play certain notes for me sometimes, I collected quite a large sound bank over the years. These are some of the sounds you will hear on the album, sounds that I’ve pitched in different ways but all of them originate from live instruments. Some of the drums on the album were recorded in a rehearsal studio in Deptford whilst a metal band were playing next door so you can hear the buzzing distortion in the background.
I like to have a live feel to all the recordings, for example, the introductory single ‘Wassailer’ was a one-take live acoustic recording which I then added in a couple of other elements afterwards. The album will follow that same pattern, I don’t like re-touching my vocals, once they are done they’re done. The songs on the album are all straightforward and personal so I wanted the vocals to be like that aswell. My aim is to be able to sing these songs live so I didn’t mess around with too much tuning. I wanted the recordings to be truthful to my own ability so people will enjoy my live performances.
You live in South East London nowadays – what’s the music scene like in London, what venues do you recommend?
London is great for little hidden gem venues – one of my favourite locations was a place called Passing Clouds in Dalston, which has since closed down. In Deptford we’ve got a place called Matchstick which is like a volunteer-based venue where ‘Steam Down’ a great Jazz crew do an improvisation nights every Wednesday (pre Covid). It has a great guest rotation and it is packed every week. The place has a lovely warm and cosy vibe to it.
When will we be hearing the album?
We will be announcing the release date of the album together with the release of the next single which will be in October/November. It’s looking like early next year for the full album to drop. I’m ready to do a second album already.
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About ‘The Sound Sniffer’
The Sound Sniffer is a one-man music blog which is still only a baby – Founded and run by Kevin Coakley in early 2019. He is a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists I find in my submissions inbox.
Check out my Interviews HERE