Music Interview Interview

JW Ridley says he enjoys songs that are simple, have underlying complexities and something captivating within; all sentiments captured his debut, Everything (Deathless).

The former art school student is the latest artist to release on Speedy Wunderground and the premise of the label is just as its name suggests – speedy. All recordings have a one-day turn around and serve as a snapshot of the moment. This is something Ridley was at first uncertain of; a London-based musician who savours these moments alone, rather than collaborating and sharing. But it’s for this reason the label’s idea works – with no time to overthink and continuously refashion – so reducing his debut single down to this DIY mantra, leaving his comfort zone was both fulfilling and eye opening.

Simplifying the formula, Everything (Deathless) assembles the washed out, dreamy essence of Captured Tracks roster to the 80s Underground scene; with Ian Curtis’ deep, soulful poetry and John Maus’ avant-garde sensibilities. The London-based musician modestly explains it’s “just a single” or “just one song,” but its arrangement and mood convey a confidence and statement suggesting it’s also the start of an exciting journey.

Clementine Zawadzki: How did you first get into music?
Jack Ridley: It was in my early teens, really. I started playing the guitar a bit and I think it probably came out of what I was listening to…

Clementine: What music was that?
Jack: I think I was just starting to go through my dad’s record collection, so there was a lot of singer-songwriter stuff like Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Drake, kind of quite simple, good songwriting. I think I was really into lyrics when I first started listening to that kind of stuff. I was really captivated by Cohen’s and Springsteen’s words; just these worlds they both created through words.

Clementine: How did those influences change as you started finding music yourself?
Jack: I was initially drawn in by lyrics and then I got a lot more into sonics and sounds and really started exploring bands like Cocteau Twins, The Cure, New Order and Joy Division, and they kind of twist it on its head for me. The power of the song within the sonic – especially the Cocteau Twins – like, half the time the phrases are either making up words or you can’t quite distinguish what she’s saying, but it’s so loaded with emotion. That combined with actual atmosphere and space of the song really made me think about music as a whole, rather than that primitive songwriting, expression thing.

Clementine: What makes a lyric good or what does it need to take your interest?
Jack: That’s a tricky one… it really varies because I think there’s quite a fine line. I actually really love simple lyrics that purify a sentiment in a really simple way so that it comes across without too much analysis. But then, on the other hand, I love quite dense storytelling. I like a combination of both really. I think you can usually tell in a song if someone means it or not, and I think that’s the most important thing.

Clementine: Was there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue music as a career?
Jack: There have been a few moments, but I think it’s been more of a slow-burning thing… I kind of go through different spells. A big moment was when I was about fifteen or sixteen and Funeral by Arcade Fire came out: there was just something so special about that record, I remember seeing the video of this huge band, there was like ten of them and they were from a completely different world, it really stuck with me. I think that Win Butler brilliantly writes lyrics which are fairly simple but loaded with so much weight. It’s all very cliché to be honest, it’s the same songs that have moved a lot of people, and I think they have for a reason, like when I heard Pictures of You by The Cure I was blow away, and the same with Love Will Tear Us Apart [Joy Division]. A big moment was seeing Bruce Springsteen, that was the first show I ever went to.

Clementine: That’s a pretty epic first gig.
Jack: I was quite spoilt in that sense. It’s kind of pretty hard to top a performer like that, I was lucky. It wasn’t like the first gig, but it was the first ever big show I went to see at Wembley and it had a big impact on me. I definitely see it as something I want to do with everything I’ve got. I’m not interested in doing it by halves. I find it really hard to articulate or explain, but it’s kind of like a need, and I think I would be doing it anyway.  

JW Ridley. Photo by Sean Carpenter

“Sometimes a melody will provoke the words. I don’t really have a formula. I think that you have to make yourself do it sometimes. I’m not a believer in sitting around and waiting for something to come…”

Clementine: Your single Everything (Deathless) has been released through Speedy Wunderground. Tell me about that.
Jack: Dan heard some recordings I did and he really wanted to do it on Speedy Wunderground. I was initially very apprehensive, actually. I read the rules of the Speedy Wunderground process and it sounded like my worst nightmare because I work alone a lot of the time and I like to go over things and work through things. So the idea of handing something over was really going against what I was used to, but at the same time, it enticed me in the sense of stepping out of my comfort zone. And with someone like Dan, I think you have to trust his judgment. I was intrigued to see how he would take the song. I didn’t even hear the song until it was mastered, so that was surreal.

Clementine: Was it nerve wracking?
Jack: I thought it would be more nerve wracking than it was. At the end of the day when we’d finished recording, I kind of felt at peace with it all because the process had felt right and it was quite liberating to hand it over and quite exciting in the end.

Clementine: Everything (Deathless) is spread over two-tracks. What made you decide on this way of presenting the song?
Jack: We knew it was going to be put on vinyl, so when we were playing the songs live – because it’s a live recording – we just kept playing, really. We just kept going and that quite naturally became the b-side. That was more on the day, I know that Dan’s previously done remixes of the single as B-sides, but not that much thought went into the outro and it just kind of happened in the studio, which is cool.

JW Ridley. Photo by Sean Carpenter

Clementine: You mentioned before that lyrics are important to you. Is that how you approach a song yourself?
Jack: It changes and depends on the song. Sometimes a melody will provoke the words. I don’t really have a formula. I think that you have to make yourself do it sometimes. I’m not a believer in sitting around and waiting for something to come…

Clementine: What is the song about?
Jack: I guess that’s up to other people really, it’s all there… I suppose that’s a cop out, really. I do think that once something comes out it stops being yours, so I wouldn’t want to force something on someone. I think that’s a really great thing about any art.

Clementine: And you’re hitting the road with Ten Fé soon…
Jack: In March, yeah. They’re really nice guys. I’m really looking forward to playing, and I haven’t been to a lot of places that we’re touring, so I’m really excited. 

Follow JW Ridley on Facebook and Soundcloud.