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Willis Earl Beal is a lo-fi, soul-leaning, musician from Chicago applauded for his visceral performance and dramatic vocal ability. He recently announced that he’d effectively chucked deuces to his label, Hot Charity, with plans to release his project Experiments in
Time solo dolo. Faulting the label with lacking “the patience and professionalism to allow [him] to develop personally,” Beal feels he’s better off alone, “Imperfections be damned.”
Hashtag Alice DeeJay.

In a detailed interview, Willis laid out the tumultuous relationship with his former label, and how his experiences from the past year and a half have informed his approach to music. 

Where are you right now?

Purgatory [read: Olympia, Washington]. It’s gray here with lots of trees. The people are pleasant but vacant. I encounter meth burn-outs, insane homeless people, angry Anarchists who don’t do anything except make graffiti and pretentious young people dressed like extras from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (which sounds cooler than it is) while potentially having pseudo-intellectual conversations that ultimately go nowhere….except in a circle..

I’ve read that you felt frustrated by the way Hot Charity/XL worked with you as an artist. What specifically was frustrating?

Initially, I was totally ignorant regarding all matters of business. In addition to this, I didn’t have enough time to transition from recording music in the primitive way of overdubbing with cassette tapes and the karaoke box to using a high quality digital recording machine. I needed not only money (which I received) but also creative space and time (which I didn’t get enough of). There seemed to be a mad dash to live up to the hype and Hot Charity lacked the patience and professionalism to allow me to develop personally. It was all showbiz , promises and nice dinners (which I enjoyed thoroughly), but it started me off on the wrong foot and I’ve been lumbering ever since. I wanted my first record to be a representation of my perspective and ability at that time not a greatest hits of my most embarrassing formative musical trials, but the money was irresistible and people prefer a black homeless idiot savant to a normal man who simply wants to express himself so, it’s no wonder that I used that money to drink and fight because I felt insufficient, unprepared and in-over-my-head. I was stupid and ridiculous to behave as I did, and I suspected it at the time, but I went on anyway because I had been sold on the dream of fame and fortune. We had stars in our eyes so we couldn’t see the truth.

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Is there anyone you bounce demos off of now, or do you prefer to create music on your own?

I prefer to create music on my own these days. Imperfections be damned. Just me, my Tascam, my microphones, and my instruments in the comfort of home with no one trying to influence me or charge me by the hour. No embarrassment. Just pure inspiration.

While in post-label flux, you managed to release two EPs. How did they come about?

Well, I released ‘A Place That Doesn’t Exist’ as a consolation prize to the people who bought tickets for my cancelled European tour. It was music that I, Matt DeWine and Alex Ept on had worked on prior. I’d wanted to release it much sooner, but this was a good opportunity to do so. I’d written and recorded the songs independently but later collaborated with Matt and Alex via Email, who live in two different cities. Their contributions were subtle but essential. It felt good to release another record that was entirely different than ‘Nobody Knows’ or ‘Acousmatic Sorcery.’ ‘Curious Cool’ was a quick fix for public feedback during a particularly lonesome winter week. I knew that it was under produced, but I felt that only a few people would pay attention. I suppose they did. For me, it was also a declaration of independence from producers. It empowered me to release those records.

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There are several quotes from past interviews where you propose that the audience you’re directly addressing is made up of mostly loners. It’s interesting that you focus so much on trying to connect with others, yet you seem to feel rather isolated. Why do you think that is?

People are mostly fickle. You can spill your guts to them, give them all your best and they will either demand more, minimalize your sacrifice, or forget you. They will throw your explanations down to the ground and tear them apart. I am speaking to people who not only have this experience, but who decide not to subscribe to it any longer. There are a lot more Sheep than Shepherds. It always feels isolating to be outnumbered. Related to who you make music for, I think, is who inspired you to make music. Some of the artists you’ve listed as inspirations were only able to ascend to their level of mastery because of the team they were a part of.

Tom Waits needed Marc Ribot and Kathleen Brennan and Nick Cave needed Mick Harvey. Looking at those artists, do you think anything about their legacy suggests that working solo is crippling?

These are people that make no apologies. Artistically, they have separate idiosyncrasies. If it’s solely a question of making a specific noise and putting it out, then you don’t need other people for that. If you want to make a specific noise that is beyond your means, then you must incorporate others into your effort. I think their legacy suggests that they had goals in mind that evidently couldn’t be accomplished alone. They needed those individuals because they had larger expectations than I do. If you want to be a big star, you must do what it takes to accommodate the masses. If you just want to get a bit of acknowledgement and make a bit of money, you don’t need too many people for that. It depends on your intention. My intentions have been misinterpreted time and time again by people I’ve worked with. It’s easier to do it myself.

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How did your physical environment affect the creation of ‘Experiments In Time’?

‘Experiments In Time’ represents the non-locality of reality and the timelessness of the feelings that I describe within the songs. It’s a distant radio transmission from the gray place in which I reside. The synthesizer represents the cold of Winter. The static represents the ever-present static within my thoughts. The way I sang on this record represents a new kind of desolation and contemplation. The overall sound of this record matches with the rainy Washington weather and the subdued demeanor of the

Why the dedication to working almost exclusively with a synthesizer for every track?

I wanted to create one dream in the form of a full length record, like a symphony. Minimalist Retro-futuristic chamber music. The key board I used seemed to fit this task perfectly. You don’t have to pay direct attention to this music in order to feel the vibration of the soul at its core. I also combined some organic elements to create a warmth and natural grit. In this record, the loners have a companion. It’s simple but I believe its poetic straightforward-ness will resonate with my audience.

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What has ‘Experiments In Time’ taught you about creating music, yourself, and time?

This record has taught me that intention is the only moderately controllable thing, and even that is subject to circumstance. Time as we know it is non-existent. We can’t tell the real time. Time tells us. Time told me how this record should come together because I had no idea. Some of these songs were written five years ago. You think I knew where they would end up? Of course not.

Overall, What is the overarching message you’re trying to convey?

There is power in motion…because it requires energy to move. This is always substantial. After taking the proper time to contemplate, one must be deliberate in all actions without delay or doubt. No second-guessing after the fact. It is useless. I would not change anything because my path is unique. I’m curious to see where it leads.

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Ira Chernova
interview by Eavvon O’Neal