NOTHING GOOD COMES FROM WAR
On his new album, Empire, William Crighton widens his sound and the subject matter of his songs. He talks with Chris Familton about his creative process, Astral Weeks and parlour guitars.
The best songwriters are the ones who treat their craft like a journey where life experiences, awareness and self-education all feed into the the processes they use to create their art. William Crighton first came to the attention of most people as the bearded troubadour singing the ear-catching song A Woman Like You. There was something there; something raw and sensitive in that deep voice and the heavy emotion of the song. His debut album was mostly an inward looking affair but now, on Empire, he’s taken a widescreen look at the world around him, through the lens of travel and experience.
“For this one I was on the road a lot travelling and visiting different places. I love travelling, we’re world citizens these days, we’re all thinking about the same things and this album was bit of a reflection of that. It’s an interesting time we’re living in. From practical choices in day to day life to internal questions about how we evolve our mindset and the problems we have to overcome – there’s a lot of stuff going on and that provides inspiration if you’re open to it. It definitely filters into the songs and Empire was more of a process of reacting to what’s going on right now and not just what’s going on in my life,” explains Crighton, from his home in the Hunter Valley of NSW.
“I don’t set out to do anything differently though I consciously set out to be open to things.” It’s an approach that seems to have defined his career to date. From meeting and working with his producer Matt Sherrod (Crowded House drummer), to the places he’s visited and the wider palette of sounds he’s introduced on Empire. It starts with the songwriting though and as he explains, Crighton has no set formula. “Songs can come out of nowhere. You might not write anything for a long time and then you write a bunch very quickly. You’ll be trying to write a lot and then only one will come. It just depends on different situations for me. It also depends on what instrument is laying around which will determine how I write a song. The song Someone has a parlour guitar on it which I’d never played and that inspired a lot of things that I hadn’t thought of before. I have no real set process, it’s a real mixed bag.”
Crighton’s debut was steeped in alt-country and dark folk music and there are still strong strains of those styles at the core of Empire but now the colours are wilder and dynamics more exploratory. “It’s been three or four years since I recorded the first one. My observations have changed and I’ve learnt new things and that’s the same for my music too,” he says, before revealing some of the music he’s been listening to in the lead up to recording Empire. “Astral Weeks was a big one, I’ve been listening to that a lot over the last few years. Tinariwen is another band I’ve been listening to. There’s so much music out there to discover and I wear my influences on my sleeve so I’m always trying to listen to inspiring stuff.”
From fervent, wild-eyed rock tinged with post-punk rhythms to heartfelt paeans to his wife, Crighton covers plenty of musical bases on Empire but one song at the end of the record ties together its themes of the personal and the universal and specifically the futility of war and its toll on the human body and spirit – Eric Bogle’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. “ I first heard that song in primary school. We had to learn the words and our teacher used to say that the ANZAC day memorial was becoming too nationalistic and it felt really truthful. It’s anti-war and there’s no nationalism in it. It talks about how nothing good comes from war. People say that friendships come from war but those friendships come with attrition too. It’s not a preachy song, it’s just telling a really horrific story which is the power of that song.