Q&A: Willow Beats – On New Music, BIGSOUND Live & Advice for up-and-comers


Willow Beats are not your ordinary pair. Having released their debut self-titled EP in 2012, Narayana Johnson and Kalyani Ellis have  been going from strength to strength. With their second EP Alchemy amassing critical acclaim both nationally and internationally, the uncle and niece duo have now secured their place as one of the best Australian electronic acts. The calibre of acts playing at BIGSOUND Live is astounding; check out the program here. Willow Beats will be playing on the inthemix @ The Rev stage, Thursday the 12th, at 8.50pm. Better get your ticket before they sell out!

Q: There are several sibling music groups but uncle/niece are a bit harder to come across. What are the origins of Willow Beats?

I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. After school I continued my music at university majoring in performance but in my second year I broke my wrist. This forced me to find another creative outlet and that’s when I started making beats. I bought a microphone and got Kalyani to lay some vocals just messing around. We both really loved the way it turned out so we just kept making music. We released some songs online and to our surprise and delight people liked it. That’s kind of how it was born. Me and Kalyani would always jam and make songs way before Willow was a thing. The electronic beats came about by accident.

1000413_611833835501416_1644734549_nQ: When I think of Willow Beats music I think psychedelic and experimental. What was it that first sparked your interest in exploring the conventional boundaries of electronic music?

The first group that really got us into electronic music were The Knife. They made us realise that electronica didn’t have to be just dance music, it can be a real form of expression. We’re never trying to make dance beats although our music can be dancy. We like to tell tales of ethereal worlds and beings. Our songs are almost always about fantasy stories Kalyani has weaved into words and I’ve programmed into synths. I think this angle is why we explore unconventional approaches to electronic music.

Q: In the past year your popularity has grown exponentially. What do you say to the wannabe producer who’s driving force is success or popularity?

I don’t think popularity or success should be anyone’s soul driving force. If you don’t love producing songs then there’s just no way you’ll last. Far too many hours are spent finessing and perfecting each individual part. Also I think that approach is flawed in that you’ll always be trying to make music for other people. You’ll be trying to emulate the current sound and by the time you get it right, trends will have moved on! I think it’s so important to take influence from electronic music around you but not to be ruled by it. Make music for you. That’s probably the best advice I can give.

Q: Following on from the previous point, it seems that now days anyone who owns a computer can make music. What do you think is more valuable when it comes to making electronic music – musicality and background knowledge or good equipment and a formula to make ‘bangers’?

I think both are important. I come from a musical background which I think gives me a good idea of harmony and melody but there are dudes that have never played an instrument in their life and somehow make amazing music! I will say that people get way too caught up on equipment and plug-ins. Any software and plug-ins can make incredible music if you learn how to use them. Learn every aspect of a synth and it’ll be more valuable then having 1000 synths you know a bit about.

429738_574084589276341_365200858_nQ: Some exciting things have happened in the past year, what’s in the pipeline at the moment for Willow Beats? I’m looking forward to some more great music!

Thanks! We’re working hard on new material. I’m actually swapping in and out of writing this interview and making a new track right now. We have some festivals coming up we’re really excited about. Some remixes coming out soon! We’re about to head off on tour with Owl Eyes. Of course Big Sound is coming up! Very excited for that! The rest of the year is pretty flat out with shows. The challenge will be writing new material while on the road.

Q: Finally, which acts are you most excited to see at BIGSOUND Live and what makes them so special?

There are so many incredible artists playing BIGSOUND this year. I’d like to check out some other electronic artist’s, as I always find how they translate their music live really interesting. Jonti, Elizabeth Rose, Mitzi, Lanterns etc.
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/willowbeats
Bandcamp: willowbeats.bandcamp.com/
Twitter: twitter.com/Willow_Beats

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