Friday, April 19 2024

Join us today as we explore the evocative sounds and heartfelt narratives of singer-songwriter Austin Willacy‘s latest EP, ‘Gonna Be Alright.’ Hailing from Berkeley, California, Austin has established himself as a veteran member of The House Jacks and an award-winning solo artist. With ‘Gonna Be Alright,’ Austin invites us into a world of introspection and resilience, fusing together tales of hope and personal growth against the backdrop of soulful melodies and raw emotion. Discover Austin’s signature blend of soulful melodies and introspective lyrics, reminiscent of artists like Maroon 5, Tracy Chapman, Ben Harper and more, as we delve into the heart of his music. Let’s find out more…

Hi Austin, thanks for joining us and taking the time to answer these questions about your new EP. How did your collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Rich Jacques shape the lead single, ‘Gonna Be Alright,’ and what personal experiences influenced the songwriting process?

My collaboration with Rich was the catalyst for the birth of ‘Gonna Be Alright’. We collaborated on another song, ‘Runnin’, on the Big Island after the Hawaii Songwriting Festival. It felt really easy and we loved the song, so we decided to carve out some time to write some more at my home studio in Berkeley. Rich drove up from Santa Barbara and arrived around dinnertime with a car full of gear and guitars. We unloaded it and went to a great Ethiopian place near my house. We started catching up over dinner, and then, the conversation meandered a bit, and eventually settled on a direct, open conversation about the beautiful, complex, challenging, and soul expanding relationships that so often exist between family members. It took me to a place where I was in touch with the challenges I had in my relationship with my brother. It also allowed me to find the hope for a more loving relationship that I didn’t have at that time.  

One of the things that’s powerful and meaningful about having people in my life I can go deep with is that I’m willing to be more vulnerable when I know I’m really being listened to. And, that makes it possible for me to learn more, understand more about myself, and, grow more. 

Rich is an incredible listener, which is no surprise given his incredible musicianship and his prowess as a producer. An additional gift of his is the art of gently asking deep, soulful questions. 

The Songs, ‘Saw You In The Light’ and ‘Gonna Be Alright’ seem to draw from personal experiences, particularly in dealing with loss. Can you delve into how these experiences shaped the overall theme of hope and perseverance in the EP?

A little over five years ago a friend I’d had since I was 12 died from cancer. Pete was my friend for as long as I remember starting to become my own person and was utterly irreplaceable. He was the first person I lost who was a witness to my becoming and a wisdom keeper for me on my journey in life. We were friends long before I fell in love with music. Back then, we did a bunch of sweet, fun, nerdy stuff together—D&D, word games, strategy games, and more. My friendship with Pete was one of those deeply formative friendships that was like a pillar; It was always there and provided support that I didn’t always understand or acknowledge. 

Pete was passionate about music, and-when I started singing in high school-was the first person to ask me to sing in a band. ‘Saw You in the Light’ was born out of my desire to embrace the pain of his absence from my life in all the ways I was/am used to and the gratitude I have for the knowing him and understanding the ways in which his friendship still shapes me.

I was deeply struck by a Madeline L’Engle quote. She said “I’m every age I’ve ever been.” I took it as an invitation to maintain relationships with all of my life experiences instead of cherry picking the easy or flattering ones. In  re-examining the challenges I faced in my relationship with my brother as a teenager I got curious about what I would say about it now, and about what I could retroactively pay forward to my younger self to bring me the self-assurance and ease I really needed then, when it felt insurmountable. ‘Gonna Be Alright’ was born from my need to bridge my older and younger selves so I can heal and release that which does not serve me.

I’ve had some trying experiences over the past 5 years. The loss of two long standing friends, COVID, George Floyd, and the 2020 election to name a few. When I love something, I dedicate myself to it. I do what I can to help it thrive. I try to protect it. I’ve tried to treat hope and perseverance like beloved friends. We can’t always hang out because we’ve got other friends, and other stuff we need to get done, but it’s always good for my soul when we do. 

Austin WIllacy Singer Songwriter

‘Better Days Are Gonna Come’ addresses the challenges of 2020 and the need for societal transformation. How did the events of that year inspire the creation of this song, and what message do you hope listeners take away from it?

My friend Bob Sima wrote a song called ‘No Mud No Lotus.’ It’s a powerful, artful exploration of the aphorism he named it after. Without  mud, there is no lotus flower. Without suffering, there’s no understanding and compassion. Suffering can create understanding and compassion.

I feel like COVID slowed the world down enough for all of us to recognise our interdependence and interconnectedness in a way we had never experienced before. Our physical worlds became hyperlocal as our awareness of the interrelationship between our fear and loss and that of people in other parts of the world grew. And during the lockdown, since nobody was going anywhere or doing much of anything out in the world, we became more introspective, particularly around mortality, fear, and vulnerability, but also about what’s most important.

This was the global emotional backdrop for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and too many more. Because there wasn’t much else for the news to cover—aside from COVID—there was nothing for the news to move on to. 

I had a zoom songwriting session scheduled with my friend Patricia Bahia. We were still grappling with what COVID meant, and, at the same time, we were horrified by the violent manifestations of institutionalised racism. It would’ve been easy to tip into hopelessness. Patricia and I chose to embrace hope, as individuals, and were called to write something to invite others to join us in that. That’s how we came to write ‘Better Days Are Gonna Come”.  

My prayer for this song is that listeners hear it and find reserves of hope they didn’t know they had. I want people to hear it and trust that doing the difficult work of holding onto hope in times that don’t inspire it is worth it. 

Austin WIllacy Soul Singer

The EP covers diverse themes, from family relationships to personal empowerment. How do you strike a balance between creating music that is deeply personal and resonates with a broader audience?

My belief is that most of the time, in a room of 10 people, if one person says something at least two or three other people are thinking it. In a life that is so full of choices for so many of us family is often one of the arenas in which we have so little choice. I have talked about family and enough-ness with enough people over the years to recognise the broader relatability of some of what I write about, even if the specifics of the circumstances are different. I write what is real for me so I can infuse all aspects of the song with the meaning and feeling it holds for me. At the same time, I also try to leave enough room for others to see themselves, too. Sometimes a song needs to be super specific for it to work and sometimes it needs to be broad. A huge part of my work as a songwriter is to honor those disparate needs and bridge them when I can.

Your EP explores various genres like pop, singer-songwriter, and soul. How do these musical influences contribute to the overall sound and message you aimed to convey in ‘Gonna Be Alright?’

I am influenced by all the music I hear whether I like it or not. Songs that I love contain aspects of expression that I try to bring into my own music, actively or passively. Songs I don’t like contain aspects of expression that I more actively try not to incorporate into my music.  I’ve always had fairly eclectic taste in music. ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is a musical meeting point of the genres that I feel best carry the messages I wanted to express in this suite of songs. As a songwriter, I wanted the freedom to be intimate in sharing my story and my feelings. I grew up listening to soul music and have always loved rhythm-driven music with unpretentious, passionate vocals. And, given the themes of the music, grief and remembrance, owning my uniqueness with dignity, perseverance in the face of daunting challenges, finding a path to healing, and holding on to hope in desperate times, I wanted to draw upon pop sensibilities to hook listeners with catchy, accessible mantras.

Austin WIllacy

What can we expect next from your music? Any upcoming themes or styles you’re looking to explore, or exciting collaborations on the horizon?

I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with different instrumentation as I’ve deepened in my experience as a producer. I have some super talented artist/writer/musician friends. I’m really looking forward to exploring collaborations with them. 

I will definitely continue experimenting in what I release next. Thematically, I’ve been writing a lot about love and enough-ness. I have some songs I’m very excited to share that straddle those themes. 

And, finally, a question For fun…. If you could choose any artist, past or present, to cover one of your EP’s songs, who would it be, and which song would you want them to perform?

What an awesome question! I’d love to hear Bruno Mars do basically anything. It’d be a dream come true to hear him cover ‘Better Days Are Gonna Come.’ I’d love hearing Otis Redding on ‘Gonna Be Alright,’ and Chris Stapleton on ‘I’m Not Gonna Stop.’ I would also love to hear Pink and Jessie J cover ‘No Apologies’ with a rap by Nicky Minaj!

As we conclude our exploration of Austin’s ‘Gonna Be Alright,’ we’re reminded of the potential and profound impact of music. Through raw honesty and soulful melodies, Austin has created an EP that resonates deeply with themes of hope and personal resilience. Here at TIG, we eagerly await his future releases. For now, let’s carry Austin’s messages of strength and optimism with us – thank you Austin for sharing your talent and touching our hearts with your music.

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About Author

Matt Warren

Matt Warren is a Cheshire based musician who studied contemporary music and composition. When not writing for The Indie Grid he enjoys watching 'Breaking Bad' on continuous loop and going to gigs. Since a youngster his fave band have been 'The Beatles' (with 'Cardiacs' in at a close second)... and this still applies to this day.

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