Analogue Music | Will Dailey

Will Dailey

By Matt Conner

Will Dailey is reaching for something but it's not an audience.

For the last 15 years, the Boston-based songwriter has obeyed his own artistic impulses, releasing beautiful albums like Back Flipping Forward, National Throat and, his latest, Golden Walker. From song to song, Will Dailey's musical pursuits have carried him across conventional lines and categories. The boxes aren't necessary, he knows. The music is.

As he "fights" for another new album, we recently spoke to Dailey about this greater pursuit and how it helps him make sense of the world.

Analogue: We've talked in the past about the struggle to rise above the noise. Fifteen years in, what keeps you going?

Will Dailey: I think part of it is survival. I want to write and record songs more than anything. It helps me understand what it means to be on a rock floating through space. It's the most logical thing for me to be doing with my time here, other than loving other people. To be allowed to do that within the constructs that we allow for our lives, I need to fight for it every day, because I refuse to not be allowed to do it.

So in that comes, 'All right, you gotta learn some HTML or respond to emails or talk about a record on this Monday right now authentically.' [Laughs] Even though I'm promoting Golden Walker right now, I am also fighting for that next record.

Analogue: You just used the word "authentically" there. What does that mean for you and what informs that as some primal value for you?

Will: Well, music is a thing that belongs to all of us, right? It's this universal language blah, blah, blah, right? [Laughs] But we still thrust these constructs on it like genre and style and format. I grew up with all kinds of styles of music. It's the purest thing I've felt in control of my whole life—how I enjoy it, how it made me feel. As all of this is happening around us now that is deeply disturbing, I can still be in control of music even as I'm not in control of these deeply disturbing things.

I cannot control who is President right now but I can control what I create and what I give and what I love. That step forward might be the best step forward to influence the next positive moment for another person. If I'm not doing that honestly, it might corrupt that pathway to connect with the next person.

I think the algorithm is driving us away from each other and not toward each other.

For me, it's writing the song I have to write. Some songs, like "Bad Behavior," has something familiar to the vibe of the song, but others, like "Middle Child," have nothing familiar and are kind of trippy. It's all just what I want to make. I am not going to try to fit something into a genre or a musical algorithm. I think the algorithm is driving us away from each other and not toward each other.

Analogue: I love so much of what you're saying, especially about writing what you have to write, to be obedient to the impulse that you have. Have you always had that obedience since the beginning or have you developed/learned that over time?

Will: The obedience and the pride in doing that was learned, but it was kind of happening all along, I just didn't know it. On my first and second record, I got picked up and signed with an indie and then an indie major. I started having discussions where people are having a problem with one song to the next on the record and how they fit. I was thinking, 'I don't know how that's a problem.' But I do understand it and if I was sitting in their shoes, I might be saying the same thing.

I learned quickly around that second record, when people are helping you, whether it be a radio station or label or anything, it helps their design for you to have a box. I don't mean that in a negative way towards them. That's how you have such a thing as a company, because a company is a box. But I am not in music to be in a box. I'm not even trying to think outside the box. I'm trying to get outside the realm of boxes even existing, because that is where music exists.

So the obedience comes from understanding that, having sympathy towards things operating that way and not getting overly upset about it. But it's also about doing the work. It's sitting down and getting down to work and connecting with people. Bring your art through those boxes, see what sticks and then get out. What I find from every record I make, I have an intention behind each song. Because there is a variety, each one connects with somebody. When I find the person who liked the random song on the record that others didn't connect with as much, I connect with them much better because of it.

Will Dailey
Will Dailey

Analogue: I'd love to ground this conversation a bit. Is there a song from Golden Walker or this new album that serves as a good example of some of this you're talking about?

Will: Definitely. On Golden Walker, some of the best examples are like "Bad Behavior," which has a familiar vibe to it but it's my own version of that. It uses some other flourishes, and that's something obvious to connect with. But something that sounds like the inside of my brain would be "When It Dies," which is, for me, the centerpiece for the record. When it came together in the studio, I got super emotional. I couldn't believe it. At the end of the end of it all, I couldn't go back and re-engineer the song. If I had to do it all over again, I couldn't do it.

Analogue: What was the last piece of art that connected with you in that sort of meaningful way?

Will: That's a good question. [Pause] Wait! James Acaster's Repertoire. It's on Netflix. He's a British comedian and it just has this scope. He filmed it all in one day but it's four hours long. It employed every kind of comedic technique you've ever experienced—from silliness to physical comedy to observations or jokes to narratives. It all tied together in this weird, fun, joyful way. I've been trying to find people who want to talk about it. I have one friend in the U.K. who has watched it and we geek out all the time about it. I've watched it several times now and I don't know if it inspires me, if that's the right word, but I found it very brave.

It's something that you have to take time to engage with. Engagement is just so atrophied right now. I don't know if it's always been this way and I just never noticed it because I'm now an adult, but it's not good. It's not good that it's that way. I'd rather have an argument with someone about guns or politics or anything with someone in person. It'd be far easier for both parties. I like getting an email from someone saying to check something out, but it doesn't beat someone sitting down with you saying, "Listen to this song." You see their energy and body movement while they listen and it's put on you.