An Interview with Bill Ryder-Jones
The Coral will always have a soft spot in my heart. Six local lads made good, their unique, psychedelic, jangly indie captured the nation’s attention with their self-titled debut LP in 2002. From there, the band went from strength to strength, playing dates with The Libertines and befriending Noel Gallagher. They have since released six albums to commercial and critical acclaim, and have a fan base that stretches across the globe. In January 2008, lead guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones left the band citing personal reasons.
The first two Coral albums soundtracked a great time in my life and it is their second album I play on my way to meet Bill at his Mum’s house in West Kirby, a small seaside town on the Wirral.
Bill leads me up to his room and sits down in the centre of the room, looking a little tense. I set up my various bits and pieces and warn him that I am not quite sure how the newly purchased Dictaphone works. Bill lets out a wry smile.
I try to break the ice by asking about his latest project, a collaboration with photographer Sophie Jarry, the Rock and Roll Animals photo exhibition staged at Camden’s Proud Galleries.
“I wrote two pieces of music for it, the rest is stuff I’ve written over the last couple of years”, Bill tells me.
A couple of photos of Bill appear in the exhibition, and Bill winces slightly when he tells me about seeing them hanging in the gallery.
“When we took the photos, I was in here (his old bedroom). I was having one of those times when you thought, I’m 26…. I don’t really have any of those photos in case something happens. It’s alright when you’re with the band, you gotta do it, but when you’re on your own, it’s not much fun.”
I ask Bill about another project he is working on, Paperhouse, with Mat Gregory, ex-guitarist and driving force of Liverpool band The Little Flames. I propose that his work with Mat represents the wilder, more psychedelic aspect to his music and that his solo work is more introspective and reflective.
Bill says he sort of agrees, but that he doesn’t really think about it. He is wary of the ‘singer-songwriter’ tag. “I’ve got a couple of songs up on my MySpace with lyrics, and I get a bit antsy. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I left The Coral to push my own tunes”.
I ask Bill what he’s listening to at the moment, and he tells me he is listening to lots of instrumental music, “stuff you can let your mind wander in. You know, nice combinations of sounds.”
This is certainly reflected in the music Bill has posted on his MySpace page. However, last year an anonymous blogger downloaded all of Bill’s tracks and presented them as an album, accompanied by photos of Bill playing his guitar.
“I’m my own worst enemy really. Every now and then I’ll write a song, stick it up on MySpace, and before I know it, it’ll have a couple of hundred hits, and I’ll panic, and put up an instrumental. You can tell though that most of them are demos, recorded on a whim.
“I love Leonard Cohen and I absolutely adore Nick Drake. But the thought of me trying to pull that off, it’s embarrassing to me. I’ve always just been a sounds man.”
I ask Bill about a recent composition he did for a short film. He says that this is what he really wants to get into. “The short’s great, it’s a local film. Lots of it was shot on Moel Famau, a North Wales mountain.” Bill’s Moel Famau, A Leave Taking and Nothing Ever Changes were used in the film.
I mention to Bill that I recently read an early Coral interview where Bill said they played “music from the soul”. I asked him if what he does now is more reflective of him individually.
“No, not at all really. Because when I was in The Coral, if I was into something, it would reflect in my guitar playing. I get a lot more of putting something of yours on top of something of somebody else. Well I do anyway. When you’re on your own it doesn’t really matter where it ends up. But we always knew in the band that the last thing you want to do is get in the way of the song. James was such a brilliant songwriter, still is.
I ask Bill about how he crafts his music. I suggest that his music reminds me very much of the local area. He agrees, saying “When I’m making music, it’s always with a place in mind. The sea is always something that inspires me. All my instrumental stuff, I’d like people to associate with British landscapes.
“You know, round here, Hoylake, West Kirby, Caldy Woods, Royden Park, I’d like to think they’re in the music there somewhere. I’d love it to be like when you listen to Nick Drake, and you go to Cambridge, and it makes a load of sense.”
“Like, for example, you can picture punting down the Cam inspired River Man?”, I ask.
“Yeah you’re right, I’d like it to be like that,” Bill says. He continues, “You know Moel Famau, that was the only piece of conceptual music I have ever wrote. Purely because Moel Famau’s a mountain, I wanted to make a big dense piece of music. There’s a double bass, two cello parts and a viola. And there was meant to be one really high violin line. And I wanted to be like there was like this base of a mountain building up to something. I really like the recording of that one. The girls who played in it were great. My cousin, a lovely girl called Megan who plays viola for me, another girl called Abbey who played the cello and my friend Dean who played double bass. We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse and classically trained musicians are gonna want to iron everything out, and it wasn’t easy for me to go “I really like it, it’s kind of frail but I like it.”
Are there are any film soundtracks he’s into at the moment? “Yeah. I like a lot of Yann Tiersen’s music. I just think he’s the luckiest guy in the world. I love the way he has a couple of themes per album.
“I really like Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood. That is unreal. It’s quite hard to follow that music. Really authentic stuff.
“A lot of the obvious ones are the best. I’ve rediscovered Morricone recently. He’s the perfect example of someone who can not be easily categorised. You’ve got the stylised stuff, you know, like what he did for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and then you’ve got stuff like Once Upon a Time in America. He had to find a compromise between the obscure, orchestrated stuff and stuff that would appeal to a commercial audience. It’s easy to think you could do that by doing something simple, but what he does in that film is not simple at all. He just finds those melodies that stick. But past those, there’s also a lot going on.”
The light is starting to fade, dusk settles over West Kirby. I ask Bill about a fan-made video up on YouTube to accompany his song Someone That You Know. A delicate, haunting tune that includes the lyric, ‘Life’s one long cigarette to die from’.
I tell him I love that lyric. Bill laughs and says, “You see I hate that, it makes me cringe. I like that someone has enjoyed it, but that, that’s not really me. It’s true, but it’s not really what I wanna say…Haha, if Morrissey said it, I’d think it was cool.”
The time has flown by, and Bill has to pack his things to visit his girlfriend. Despite Bill being a man who lets his music do the talking, he has been very good company. Bill plays me some more Paperhouse material, and it is something he says may be performed on the festival circuit. It’s swooping psychedelia at its very best. A reluctant man he may be, but Bill Ryder-Jones does not deserve to remain in the shadows for much longer.
To hear Bill’s music, visit
Rock and Roll Animals will be showing at Proud Galleries, Camden, until March 21st.