Lockdown has been a productive time for Northampton singer-songwriter Billy Lockett, culminating with the release of his superb EP Reflections.
He chatted to Pulse’s Sammy Jones about the release, his upcoming tour, and the night he found himself at Harry Styles’ house party.
The day after lockdown ends Billy is getting back in the saddle and hitting the road for an intimate, socially distanced tour of UK venues.
“Before, I used to have to hope that people would sit down, chill and enjoy the music, whereas now they are forced, legally!” he laughs, “I feel like I don’t tour that much, but looking at these dates and how much I actually do, I am going to be a lot of people’s last gig (pre-lockdown) and first gig (after).”
He takes the same busy approach with his songwriting – and aims to write a song a day: “That doesn’t mean it will be any good,” he clarifies, “But I like to get an idea out…”
Six of his best were recently issued on the Reflections EP, which was put together in the cellar of his Northampton home. It hit the top spot in the iTunes singer/songwriter chart, and made it to No5 in the UK Album chart.
The music made is the result of some challenging, emotive times, beginning with the death of his father eight years ago: “…Before that, the career was going pretty wild and I’d been on tour for a long time. Once he died, I didn’t stop making music, but I stopped touring and promoting.”
Later, Billy inked a deal with Warner music and resumed life on the road, before things turned sour.
“The label wasn’t really working out for various reasons,” he recalled, “I don’t think it’s labels as such, I think it’s people and I really struggled with the A&R guys I had. We just weren’t on the same page. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and what I wanted to sound like and I was working with different writers every day.
“When I was signed it felt like a factory production. It was like, ‘we’ll put you with this random guy who has had loads of hits’ and that means I’ll have a hit with him, and it doesn’t work like that.
“The whole concept is wrong, but at the time it helped me because I just wanted to be creative and keep meeting people.”
There was a parting of ways between the artist and label, but that has only served to make Reflections all the more important: “Everything has boiled down to this EP. These six songs are the results of 100s of songs that were written when I was signed that never got released, so it’s even more special.”
In an industry where nothing is assured, all you can do is be true to yourself, something the self-professed ‘piano man’ has an easy time with.
“Because music is subjective and there is no right or wrong and the whole thing is a giant gamble, the only thing I can control is whether I like what I am doing. So I focus on that.
“If I like it, it’s a problem solved. It sounds obvious – people aren’t going to make music they don’t like, but a lot of people do! They make music because they think that it’ll give them the life that they want, so they end up making this rubbish music that is contrived by a label.”
Through his years of touring, and some tasty support slots, Billy has been able to get a ringside view of life in the spotlight – he toured with ELO (‘watching Jeff Lynne, a guy who is a legend and a hero, just running on his legacy’) before hitting the road with Lewis Capaldi who at the time was still on his climb to the top: “During the tour he released Someone You Loved, so it was interesting to watch what happens when you get that hit that just goes, and the excitement through that.
“I’ve learned a lot really. Interestingly, I’ve never fallen in the category of either of those two – I’ve never had this big buzz of being the one to watch, and I’ve never really had that huge hit. I’ve kind of just always bumbled along. It feels like a kind of job where you start in a company and work your way up slowly, which I kinda like – I’ve not had too much craziness to get used to.”
Billy has also talked publicly about his struggle with drug addiction – a battle which he won nine months ago.
“My dad dying was tough and everyone blamed the fact that I was a drug addict on that, and I don’t,” he says, emphasising the point, “It awful and upsetting, but it’s life and for some reason I managed to accept it better than I thought I would.
“For me when things were starting to go well was when I would enjoy myself. When things were going badly I would think,’I need to focus and sort my life out.’
“Because of taking the drugs I could see my life falling apart a little bit; my relationship had broken down; my management wasn’t working out at the time, the label thing was going wrong, my dad passed away…
“Everything played a part and I realised ‘I’m not happy.’ To be honest, the Reflections EP is that world – I wrote all the songs while I was in a dark place.
“Now, I’ve been clean for nine months, I’m back with my girlfriend and I have new management and everything is great again. I feel happy, and I’ve realised that just because I’m happy it hasn’t affected my music.
“I almost thought the only way you could write a good song is if it is depressing!”
Talking with Billy, you quickly learn that he doesn’t suit the showbiz world. He is happy at work in the cellar of his home, accompanied by feline fan Barney, or buzzing in the live environment where he excels.
But that’s not to say that he hasn’t stuck a toe in on the odd occasion – like the night Billy went to Harry Styles’ house party in L.A.
“When I got there I instantly knew it wasn’t for me,” he says, “It was in the penthouse of the most ridiculous hotel you have ever seen, and there were press everywhere. I thought ‘even if I was huge, I don’t want to be this.’
“I met Harry and had a chat for a bit. I kinda talked to him so that I could get it done,” Billy admits, “So I could tell my manager, ‘Yes, I talked to him. Can I go now?’
“I don’t care about any showbiz things…it doesn’t make me happy thinking I’m better than anyone else. There was definitely the sense that ‘we’re famous and we’re superstars and everyone else is the rest.’ I still definitely feel like the rest.”
Unsurprisingly then, it’s not his appearance on James Corden’s The Late Late Show, or rubbing showbiz shoulders that excites him. There is still lots to be said for local success.
“I really enjoyed growing up in Northampton, and my main dream was to sell-out the Roadmender. That’s where I saw bands all the time when I was a kid. I looked at it and went ‘one day I’m gonna be up there on that stage.’
“In the last two or three years I am appreciating that to make it in music is to be able to call it your job and not have to do any other job.”
And with a few dozen tracks being devoured on Spotify, he is able to enjoy a ‘great career and a great life,’ while not being so famous that he gets recognised in Tesco.
Oh, hold on, that’s not quite true. He was spotted in the aisles just the day before our chat.
“Because it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s nice when someone does know me, because the chances are that if you have heard of me, you know every song backwards.”
And there is little chance of the ego getting out of control here – remembering the rough, means he appreciates the smooth: “I did a tour of venues six or seven years ago, and nobody came, it was a total disaster – my mum had to really help me out because there was about 20 grand worth of debt, and my sound man had to get a credit card just to pay his rent because I couldn’t afford to pay him. It was a nightmare…”
But just prior to lockdown, Billy returned to those same venues that had haunted him.
“We sold them all out, every single show, and every time I played that first chord and they all sang that first line, it was everything that I wanted.
“Every night there were 400 people screaming the words. Thank god that happened just before lockdown, because that’s kept me going for a year and a half …”