‘That idea of coldness with electronic music is starting to wither away’
So says East India Youth, who is behind one of the year’s best electronic albums
William Doyle, aka East India Youth: ‘It’s about making people see that you’ve got this emotion, but not forcing it on to people’
Even when you’re a musician with a successful album under your belt, you never stop being a fanboy. Not if you’re William Doyle.
The man behind the East India Youth moniker can barely suppress a grin as he talks about one of his heroes, Brian Eno, attending one of his shows. “He’s one of my biggest influences, in many ways,” he says, ensconced in his compact dressing room at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
“I didn’t know he was there at the time, which was good. My manager wouldn’t let me see the guest list until after the gig, and when he showed it to me, his name was crossed out. I don’t think I’ve ever been more over the moon.”
Doyle, who has Irish grandparents, is an unassuming sort: tall, gangly, with a mop-top haircut and dressed neatly in a shirt and blazer, a tie slung loosely around his neck. In short, he looks more like he is en route to a Doctor Who theme party than the talent behind one of the year’s most impressive electronic albums.
Still, the circumstances leading to the creation of Total Strife Forever – its title is a tongue-in-cheek pun on Foals’ Total Life Forever (no, he hasn’t bumped into them yet) – are similarly anomalous.
Like Eno, the 23-year-old began his musical career in a more conventional manner, first with violin, then electric guitar.
“I was just getting a bit bored of the format of being in a guitar group, really. I wasn’t enjoying writing songs and then bringing them to the rehearsal room, rehearsing them for a few months, then going into the studio, and then mixing it,” he says, shrugging.
“Getting from A to B took such a long time, and that frustrated me because I like working fast. On the computer, I can have my initial idea down to where I think it should be in an afternoon, if it’s a good day. That freedom excited me, and the band format wasn’t, after a certain point.”
Doyle had been dabbling in electronic sketches since early in his teenage years, inspired by the work of artists such as Beck and Sufjan Stevens. He says approaching electronic music from an outsider’s perspective gives East India Youth a fresher sound.
“I’d just discovered Odelay by Beck, a few years after it came out,” he says. “I loved the collage nature of it, the weird mixture of styles and influences. None of it really seemed to fit, and I quite liked that cut-and-paste idea – so I thought, oh, I could probably do that on the computer if I use this.
“I started to learn some software at school – Cubase – and I just sort of plunged into it. It’s weird, because electronic stuff wasn’t really what I was listening to, but on the computer there were inbuilt synthesisers, so it was a case of, oh, I’ll click on that and see what happens. That’s how I came to doing electronic music – it was by accident, really. Only now am I really discovering the history of dance music and everything like that.”
Total Strife Forever continues that thread of eclecticism, with subtle variations in tempo, mood and style. Some tracks, such as Hinterland, are thumping Detroit techno creations; others, such as Glitter Recession, tip the ambient end of the scale. Many are instrumental, others softly driven by Doyle’s understated vocals.
His previous description of the album as “good pop music interspersed with all this weird s**t” hits the nail on the head.
“It is,” he says, chuckling. “I’ve always worked that way. Every song is different from the last one, and I didn’t feel like I needed to have any consistency. I just didn’t have any regard for it. And also, because of the amount of time that the album took to track and mix – about three years – I was hearing a lot of different stuff that I hadn’t heard before, and if something really inspired me, I wanted to put that in.”
A melancholy mood
Doyle says the melancholic tone that floods Total Strife Forever was deliberate.
“I felt like I needed to make that album at that point, because my life surrounding it at that moment wasn’t in a particularly great place, and music was my channel for it.
“It’s gonna be difficult if I want to replicate the same feelings in the future, because I’m a lot more positive about everything at the moment. Everything’s going quite well, especially on the music side. I’ve finally reached a place that I’ve been working for years to get to. So there’s a bigger sense of achievement and euphoria that I might want to communicate on the next record.”
Masked artists such as Burial, SBTRKT and even Daft Punk add a layer of anonymity to the electronic scene. For Doyle, it was important to stamp his character on his musical output. But there is a balance to be struck between personality and David Guetta.
He laughs, nodding in agreement. “The album was so personal to me that I don’t feel like I could hide behind anything with it. When we were thinking about album artwork, it was all straight down the barrel of the lens; you’re not looking into the distance like Kraftwerk.
“That idea of coldness and synthesis with electronic music is starting to wither away, and more authentic sounds are coming out. Injecting personality is quite important to me.
“But as much as I’m taking influences from electronica, I’m making pop music at the end of the day – and that’s all about personality and image, and having that connection with a person. I suppose it’s about making people see that you’ve got this emotion, but not forcing it on to people.”
He has half a dozen tracks ready to hone over the summer for his next album. “I could really easily make a dance album for the next one, but I don’t think I really want to do that. I’d like to keep my engine well-oiled with other projects; that’s something that I haven’t had a chance to do previous to this.
“I feel like that helps inform your own work, if you collaborate with other people. I’ve got some friends in bands and I’d like to take them into the studio and work on their tracks. I can definitely see me having my fingers in a lot of pies at some point: film scoring, my own music, production, stuff like that.
“I just want it all, really,” he says, with an almost apologetic smile. “I want it all.”
East India Youth plays at Body & Soul, Ballinlough Castle, which runs June 20-22