Will Young is coming to Portsmouth Guildhall BIG INTERVIEW: ‘The new album really was like an unplanned pregnancy’

Will Young is at Portsmouth Guildhall on October 15, 2019. Picture by Steve Schofield
Will Young is at Portsmouth Guildhall on October 15, 2019. Picture by Steve Schofield
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Following his 2015 album, 85% Proof, Will Young felt as if he was done with album-making.

But in June this year he released his seventh album, Lexicon, which made it to number two in the charts, only falling behind the year’s chart juggernaut Lewis Capaldi. And he is now out on a nationwide tour, which comes to Portsmouth Guildhall on October 15.

‘I didn’t miss the process of making an album at all,’ Will tells The Guide. ‘I didn’t want to make an album at all, I just wanted to tour.

‘Then I wrote a song with a friend who I did the (2011) album Echoes with. That had a song called Jealousy on it, which was a game changer for me.

‘I’d always been talking about doing a part two of that album, but I didn’t want to write, so I thought I’d do a song with them because I love them, and then I got Richard X to produce it...’

Will had first worked with the acclaimed record producer on Echoes.

Will Young is at Portsmouth Guildhall, October 15, 2019. Picture by Steve Schofield

Will Young is at Portsmouth Guildhall, October 15, 2019. Picture by Steve Schofield

‘We all sort of sat down, and it was like, well, why don’t we do an album?

‘I thought, well, it was quite fun doing that song, so then I found a way to do it and still love it.’

Having written or co-written much of his own material on previous albums, Will felt he no longer had anything to prove himself as a songwriter.

‘I still wrote songs, but there are so many amazing songwriters out there who are artists – there’s Tom Walker on there, and a song guy called Boy Matthews, who’s a very cool artist, and Eg White. I just thought, why don’t I spread the net? I don’t have to prove myself as a songwriter now, and then as it turns out, the songs I did write myself are the first two singles, which really wasn’t planned, and from there I had an album.

‘It really was like an unplanned pregnancy.

‘At that point I didn’t have any management, so I didn’t feel pressured to deliver a record by a certain time, all I knew was that I wanted to tour in the album.’

Did he even have a record deal at this point?

‘Erm, yes,’ he laughs slightly sheepishly, ‘but I kind of forgot.’

It sounds like a liberating experience for him.

‘Oh yes, it was amazing, and then when I did remember that I had a record deal – which is hysterical –  they were brilliant. It’s with Cooking Vinyl, and they just left me alone to get on with it. ‘

This must be in contrast to the early years of his fame when every aspect of his career was micromanaged?

‘Yes, it was, but I have to say I have been very lucky with record companies. I haven’t actually had really bad experiences – I think I’ve been very lucky, probably because I was making them money!

‘There was the odd thing here and there, but nothing absolutely dreadful, so I have been very fortunate. 

‘But this has been a very relaxed process and therefore a lot more fun, and I think the music is better for it, which is the most important thing, isn’t it?’

While Will is currently in a good headspace, his ongoing struggle with mental health problems came to the fore when he abruptly quit Strictly Come Dancing in 2016, citing only ‘personal problems’ at the time.

It later emerged he was battling post-traumatic stress disorder, which Will believes was first sparked by being separated as a newborn from his twin brother, Rupert.

He now often gives talks and write about mental health.

‘When I’m spending time telling people what I think makes for a happier, calmer life, it’s a bit like how we’re always really good at telling other people what to do with their relationships, it’s like: “Oh, maybe I should take some of this advice”,’ he laughs. 

‘I think it has really helped to take a different approach. For example, it’s been busy over the last few weeks where I’ve been doing about six different projects, which for me is a lot, for others it might be fine.

‘For example, I can only do about four hours in the studio and then I’m exhausted, so then I leave and I go and do something else. Whereas others might be able to do 16 hours in the studio, and that’s fine, but it’s not for me. I do four hours and it’s really concentrated and I get the work done.

‘So last night I booked myself an Airbnb in Devon and I’m going away for four days. We often tell ourselves: “I should be able to do this because other people can do it”.

‘But what works for you? Don’t try and be someone else.

‘I’ve worked out how it works out for me, and I think that’s one of the most important things in life.’

How does he look back on that Strictly episode now?

‘I was just too ill, that’s why I left, it was as simple as that. If you’re too ill to do something, there’s no shame in saying so.

‘If it’s an illness that’s not readily accepted or understood, that doesn’t mean that we can’t go: “No, I can’t do this at the moment”. It was really important and a great example to myself to stop work - I didn’t try and carry on and literally break myself for the money.

‘All the fallout of it, the irony of it was that it was mental health week –  the reaction from some journalists was anything but pastoral.

‘We have to look after ourselves, we only have one life and we only have one body. 

‘It’s about maintenance, so when I do tour I do really enjoy it because I’m feeling fresh and healthy.’

Yes, the tour – when we talk it’s a couple of weeks before the 21-date UK tour kicks off, and Will is clearly excited about coming back to Portsmouth. He last played here in 2016 at Victorious Festival.

‘Victorious was really fun – it was quite rocky wasn’t it? I was the token pop act, but I’m used to that.

‘I’m enjoying things at the moment and the build-up to the tour, I find the creative side of that very exciting and fulfilling, really fun.

‘I quite like injecting a lot of creative humour into the shows - and it’s the same with my videos and my photo-shoots, it’s fun to be creative, but also not to take yourself too seriously

‘We’ve got a really good opening for the show which is really funny, but also quite surprising – it’s a little bit of a magic trick, I think it will work really well in the venue.’

Will Young is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Tuesday, October 15, doors 7pm. Tickets £40.80-£57.19. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.