Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow, the debut release from Bingham Willoughby, on Hurry Up Comfort Records, introduces us to a singer-songwriter at the height of his craft. His songs offer us intimate glimpses into a world of hushed confidences, strived for goals, loss, and then hard-won redemption. Confessional raw emotions, intersecting with wry humor--sometimes in the same song--it's no wonder that Bing's lyrics have been described as "cinematic."
Bing's music has drawn comparisons to the Smiths, Roy Orbison, Lloyd Cole, Neil Young and the Byrds. Once being boldly proclaimed as: "Belle & Sebastian, meets Dylan."
"The mere fact that people have compared me, to artists who I consider to be rock-poets--I just find humbling. Being told your guitar playing reminds someone of Johnny Marr or your lyrics make them think of Dylan--that makes all the hard work you put into the writing and recording, really worthwhile. The goal of every single person who makes a record is, for it to hit people on an emotional level, and when you're presented with evidence that you've succeeded--it's just very gratifying."
The story of Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow, is a bit like one of Bingham's songs, in that it definitely was a discernible journey; from his tenure as a rock player, to the discovery of the challenges and rewards of acoustic performance. When he started singing his songs, whilst self-accompanying, it opened the door to a process that was finally, fully realized in Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow. And after several beginnings, Bing finally ended up making it truly a solo enterprise. He produced, engineered, arranged, and played all the instruments on the album. This was not so much a plan as the aforementioned evolution. He knew that, for the full distillation of this particular vision his only avenue was to do everything himself.
"It might sound a little strange, but I felt that every aspect of this recor, had to be my responsibility. That's not to say that I don't respect the playing of other people, because I do, but for some reason, on an emotional level--I needed to say: everything you hear--I did. It made for a more complicated process, but I knew that when I was done, I could stand back and say: at this particular time, this is the mark I have chosen to leave."
Bing's personal stamp is evident, in every aspect of Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow, from the chiming guitars, to the subtle brushwork and the atmospheric keys. You can tell it's the undiluted vision of one very creative person.
Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow evokes memories of musical sounds from the past from the warm, enveloping bass guitar to the otherworldly, bell-like tones of the Rhodes piano. When combined with the sound of his finger style acoustic, the production echoes a lot of great retro touchstones while reworking them all into what can only be described as a modern sensibility. When all this is fused to Bingham's at times literate, lyrical preoccupations, the end result provides the listener with a thought-provoking and evocative musical experience. Some have equated listening to Bing's songs as feeling like they are being told secrets.
"I strive in my lyric writing, to achieve a 'conversational' tone, because I think what's valuable and meaningful comes from what happens between people in these, their unguarded moments. I think of my songs as a dialogue between myself and the listener; I'm trying to present some of my unguarded moments and communicate through them. I place the utmost value in what the listener interprets the songs to mean. I don't feel that anything poetic ever has an absolute concrete meaning. I really feel that people's impressions can, and often will, alter over time, and if something resonates, it will transform. I want the listener to arrive at their own conclusions, and I place the greatest value on what people evoke for themselves. I get a thrill from finding out what people take from my songs. At times I've been so surprised and delighted at what someone has taken from a song; it transforms me a little. I'm just telling some stories. Not every story needs a ending."
How do you describe your music to people?
When people ask me to describe my music, I usually just say that I'm a solo, acoustic, singer/songwriter. My music is acoustic based and incorporates some slightly retro, but also what I feel are, contemporary sensibilities. I don't spend a lot of time defining it for myself. I get a lot of comments about its “unique” style. I made an acoustic album, the way I felt it should sound. I wasn't thinking about genre or what musical designation it should have. Thankfully, I've had a very positive response, so many of my creative decisions have been validated. At the time, it felt like I was taking a chance, but it seemed important to keep a few of my idiosyncrasies intact. As for the all important “genre thing” that's happening now, I guess I'm straddling a few genres, and I actually like it that way! I've been told by people, that I remind them of artists as wide ranging as Belle & Sebastian, Bob Dylan, The Smiths, Lloyd Cole and Lou Reed. Someone even told me that I reminded them of early Joni Mitchell. I don't spend a lot of time figuring out who I sound like, as people are happy to share their opinion and I've been surprised more than once. I get a kick out of it. Lyrically, I try to tell stories that make you feel like you've dropped in, in the middle of a moment. I'm happiest when I feel I've been able to evoke a moment or an impression, as if you've been privy to a stray piece of conversation.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft, Bing.
I can't remember precisely why I wanted to play an instrument, but there was something about the guitar that appealed to me then, and still does now. This is mildly deconstructionist, but I began writing songs because I wasn't great at figuring out other people's tunes. So as a young player, with limited abilities, I took a slight short cut and just tried doing it myself. I assure you, it wasn't a grand scheme. I remember it as being rather light hearted. It sort of became a part of my daily guitar practice. Needless to say, I've spent a great deal of time exploring the song writing process, since then. I'm still exploring.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
I possess varied interests so I've decided to narrow it down and share with you, one of my favorite things in the musical domain. It is a decidedly simple pleasure—and one that is a little slanted towards guitar players and their rituals. In a much repeated and therefore practiced show of industry, a brand new set of strings has been installed. After a requisite amount of adjustment and tuning, the moment is at hand. You play that first chord on those pristine strings. The acoustic chimes out so crisply and cleanly—to my ear, few things sound better. The moment destined to be short lived, because that "fresh string sound" lasts for a matter of minutes. In those minutes, you can remember when you did the exact same thing as a kid, and there's a chance to experience the exact same feeling you had. A sonic connection—your past, your present. Whatever is going on—paused—and you're right there. Mercifully, it's easy to recreate. I get a big kick out of it. Still.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
I think the biggest challenge for me (and all independent musicians) is getting your music heard. With the way the business is changing, the biggest challenge for musicians, is also the most exciting and interesting challenge. Get online; sign up with twitter, Facebook, ReverbNation, Soundcloud and itunes—and you're on an equal playing field with everyone else marketing their music online. And while you're at it, I guarantee that you'll meet a lot of really great people and hear more amazing music, than you could have ever imagined.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Like most children, I anticipated a future radically further advanced technologically, than where we've ended up, thus far. When I was a kid, I imagined that flying cars, laser beams and food in pill form, would be common place! Being a musician is probably the equivalent, somehow, of whatever task I would have performed—had the future turned out the way I had envisioned it. Secret Space Agent. Laser Pilot. Mayor of Cloud City. I've come to view making music as an amalgam of all my future jobs, distilled into the present. Accompanying the distillation, there's another layer of time appropriate translation, that is the primary delivery method of the process. I thought I'd end up doing something like this. (Dramatic pause) Yes—I thought I'd end up being a musician.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
I'm answering this question in two parts. First of all, I'm not entirely sure my locale has much influence on my music, because I listen to music from all over the place. However, an argument could also be made that my environment helped shape my song writing sensibility. I'm sure some of those long Canadian winters have made their way into the music—sonically. Snowy days, are great days for practicing guitar too. That question might be in the process of being answered, as I'm definitely going to be exploring some winter imagery for some of the songs I'm planning videos for. “The North Light,” is a winter song, for one.
Second of all, my musical community impacted my recording—through their absence. I don't mean to be dramatic, but when I finally got down to recording what would become "Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow," I decided I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to make a singular statement of where I was (musically) at the time, and it seemed the only thing that ended up making sense, was doing it 100% solo. I played all the instruments and produced and engineered it myself. For good or for bad, I needed to feel that I was responsible for every aspect. I didn't want to be second guessing things and when the dust settled, I just wanted to be able to say “I wanted this song to sound like this”. This is not to say that I don't value collaborations or working with others—just that in this situation, and for these songs I wanted to go it alone. It was the right decision for these songs.
What other artists out there do you love?
Like all musicians, I'm also a huge fan of music. The volume of music I've been influenced by, is simply too long a list to share. My main influences might be somewhat surprising. When I was recording "Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow," I was listening to a lot of classic American folk—primarily Pete Seeger. I wasn't, however, trying to recreate that sound, but more borrowing from that energy/sensibility. I'm a fancier of lyrics, so I tend to seek out those types of artists that have lyrics that appeal to me. I am greatly influenced by Lloyd Cole, Lou Reed and The Smiths (to name a few). I've gone through periods of listening to the Standards, and I am a fan of Rockabilly, Jazz and Punk. I've always got an ear open to catch that new phrase or melody that fascinates me. Since releasing this record I've had the opportunity to be introduced to the work of many musicians, who I've connected with online. I've been blown away by the number of great songs that people from all over the world are producing. It's truly a great time for music. If you can produce your own music, the options for releasing it to the listening public are limitless. I'm not entirely sure what phase of the "musical revolution" we're in now, but there's a lot of amazing independent artists out there, making compelling music.
What does your future hold?
As one truly never can tell what the future will bring, I tend to concern myself with shorter term situations. Currently, I'm booking some shows to support the release of "Maybe Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow." I am really looking forward to performing these songs for people. When the work for this record is quieting, I plan to make a second album. That is in the "notion" stage, at the moment. New songs have a habit of creeping up, so sometimes it's best to let them plan their own arrivals. That's one of the best things about making music, you can feel like you're being surprised on a regular basis.