BACK TO THE BEGINNING
In 2005 when I was 22 my father died after 8 years of illness. I changed my name toWilliam Nein and altered my own technique of writing songs. Since I was 14 I had been writing songs in a labourious, tiring and frustrating way which would find me taking a whole day to come up with just one line of lyrics, and rarely satisfied with the finished product. While this may be an appropriate way to write something that deserves respect and genuine care I was also being held back by the details of attempting to attain my own sense of perfection and almost always failing so I decided to cut my losses, accept that the way I wanted to write wasn’t the way that I could fulfill my own expectations and took an easy-going approach.
I was inspired by Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Regina Spektor and The Violent Femmes to express things in an instant, to improvise words over the sounds my voice was making, somewhat of a subconscious-writing technique work-with-what-comes-out style. Suddenly instead of writing a song every 3 months I was writing 3 songs a week and instead of trying to record something as well as I possibly could I recorded the moment of creation whether it was objectively good or bad (what is ‘objective’ anyway, and does it exist?)
‘Asyet’ was the collective I helped start up with David Goo and Roxy Rawson which became a group of 9 people and 5 different acts: David, Roxy, myself, The Zetland Players and Left with Pictures. We ended up doing a compilation called ‘Pixies, Crows and Hats’ which was a front cover CD funded by members of Asyet and attached to a copy of an independent zine called ‘Meat Magazine’. It included songs by other acts too that we knew (one being Fiona Bevan). I wish I still had my copy of the CD so I could remember what was on it but unfortunately I no longer have it.
We put on shows together, playing on each others songs, teaming up and accompanying each other. It was relatively short-lived, maybe one year or two, and not many people came to the shows, not nearly as many as there should have been. We were doing something that many people dream of: a group that was all-accepting and non-cliquey, if we were doing it now we would be filling venues. But this was 2006 and everyone still believed in music so we were overlooked more that we should’ve been. David Goo was a strong inspiration for William Nein, I even took a line of his that he said while we were on a tube one night when he said something about finding the humour in me, which I wrote into ‘Kicking Shins’, and so a humourous, satirical self was found. Something I desperately needed at that time.
The songs ‘Join us in San Francisco’ (we were big John Hughes fans), ‘Firefly Suicide’ and ‘No Apology’ – which was based upon a mix of Nirvana (I wish I hadn’t been born), and The Beach Boys ‘California Girls’ – would never have been written without his influence. And Roxy’s exuberant joy and enthusiasm for screeching, along with her recommendation of ‘Brother Danielson’ inspired songs like ‘I Need Another Guy (along with Carole King and the late-50’s girl bands).
I wrote and recorded incessantly, not worrying about judgement or lack of sound quality. This was before the ‘lo-fi’ scene and I was completely unaware of ‘anti-folk’ at this stage, I was simply expressing everything I could write about, even if I had no idea what it actually meant, and I had been in a long-term relationship since I was 17 hounded by illness and somewhat of a lack of being-in-love. Still the most honest and respectful relationship I’ve ever been in, my girlfriend at the time became the one I would judge future relationships upon. We were like two psychologists living together, understanding and accepting all of what the other was. It was beautiful in its own way but ultimately we were two 80 year olds living in early-20’s bodies and we couldn’t stay that way forever.
Life, love, and adventures was the natural end to all of that.
We broke up in January 2007 which led me to my next adventure.
2007 starts with me moving back to my mother’s house. I hadn’t lived with my mother since 1999 when I moved to Thornton Heath to be close to my college. I had been 17 at that time, my parents had moved down to be near the coast in Eastbourne to a smaller and less expensive house where the sea air would help my Father’s health and the cheaper mortgage would be less of a strain.
But in 2007 my mother was living near her sister in an area close to Croydon, it was only a 10 minute walk to her house and a place she could go to if she needed support.
I however didn’t stay there more than a couple of months as at that time I was offered an opportunity to live and work above a bar in Dalston where friend of mine had taken over the managers job there. It was called Satchmos back then, far up Kingsland Road on the way to Stoke Newington. I was working at UCL library 4 hours a day shelving books but my other job was to co-manage and organise events at Satchmos and try to get more people into the pub. The place had had about 4 name changes in the last 4 years and any clientele it had managed to build up was completely displaced and removed every time it changed styles. My friend Daf, his girlfriend Lucie, and myself had been brought in to its ‘bistro/jazz/leather stool/couches’ stage. It looked alright but it was an absolute black hole for hope or aspirations.
Somehow over the years the owners had managed to confuse every possible patron. Of course we were unaware of this and began our new lives in excited anticipation but we were quickly disappointed as absolutely noone ever came into the bar and slowly it dawned on us that we had been hired as chumps to just keep the place going for its most likely illegal habits of its owners.
But that came later.
For now we were a couple of mid-20’s music-art freaks that had the run of the place and we started up different nights of alternative kareoke, art exhibitions and our very own music night called ‘Anti-Anti’ which I organised, promoted and did the sound for. It was always on a Wednesday. Again our aspirations were above the actual reality of the situation but I managed to book alot of interesting acts for it and I spent most of my free time scouting bands I found interesting through Myspace.com, many of whom have gone on to more successful careers than I have managed. This was a little before Hackney and Dalston was a hub of creative pursuits and once again I found myself trying to convince people of its excitement and opportunity, people seem to be so hard to convince when you are trying something new, it gets tiring.
In May or June of 2007 I went to America for the first time, I had me Jamie the previous year and went to stay with her for 10 days in New York. She was an artist selling pieces in Union Square at the time and I hung out there writing songs, busking and talking nonsense to whoever was wanting to start conversation. The song ‘Bees with Bones of Ice’ was written on a sunny morning at about 11 o’clock with a friend of Jamie’s named Kassie who wrote most of the lyrics whilst I was wearing a shirt to cover my head from sunburn. We then got another random stranger to rap over the top of it. I remember the ticking clock which gave me much anxiety counting each millisecond of the day. I found the place both simultaneously oppressive and rebellious, like the energy of the people was being held down by this money-time machine increasing stress but also encouraging artistry which is so freely expressionist that it is a funny mix. When my time in NYC was coming to and end I took a flight over to California because someone I had met through last.fm and who had listened to the ‘Asyet’ compilation offered to give me a show in a smalltown cafe in San Clemente (I made about $25) and I had figured as I was in America already why not go do it. I wrote the line ‘Everybody is in love with each other’ – from ‘Love is Real in San Clemente’ – as I walked down the main strip towards the pier. I stayed with a nice family who knew Lucy (the person who had heard the Asyet CD) and I remember the young boy who showed me his collection of quarters from all 52 states, though he was missing a few. I also lost a favourite tshirt of mine there.
Back at Satchmos I wrote all the songs for the album playing them to Daf and Lucie as and when I wrote them. When the Satchmos dream came to a premature end (after about 6 months, which is not enough to turn a dead-hole of success of a bar into a successful one no matter how well you are doing), I wrote the rest of the album at my mother’s home in Croydon. I had been struck by a phrase I had read somewhere on the internet claiming ‘Cardboard is Cheaper in America’, I found this a strange fact and turned it into a fantasy-conspiracy tale where the 3 pigs and Nirvana, and the 9/11 attacks all lived in the same place. (See if you can find the references) I also had a friend named Nena who was the grandaughter of a Russian Princess and whose father worked with the Beatles (check Peter Zinovieff), and she also won £80,000 on the lottery show with Dale Winton. I mention her because she was the inspiration behind alot of ‘Alison Rose’ (she made t-shirts with faces on them and sold them on Brick Lane). She also ended up playing drums for the very same song the next year. ‘Seagulls’ had been my fathers favourite song of mine, I actually played it at his funeral as people thought it would be a nice thing to do (it was written when I was 19). What also stays with me is that I was the only one with him when he died and closed his eyelids when they inevitably opened at the moment of death, and there were many seagulls outside the hospital room in Eastbourne hospital.
The fact that the song is about Death and eternal life (based on Richard Bach’s book ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’) only added to the weird mythical life that I seem to live. ‘Jabberwocky’ was a song I loved to write musically, I believe some of the chord changes are some of the most beautiful I have ever written, and as I didn’t feel as if I could possibly write lyrics that would match the chords, I left it unworded.
‘Isabel’ was a song written about a girl I knew, a message of sorts. 2007 ended a little depressing with having left my job at UCL library to go full-time at Satchmos and run the nights there but then being fired along with Daf because we weren’t making enough money.
I applied for a job at HMV Croydon and got it with the help of (my now-friend) Oli who was at that time assistant manager for the store. He went on to design the now infamous WN t-shirt, a brilliant take on the Warner Bros. logo.