I’m sat in Heartbreakers talking to vocalist Ruarri Joseph and bassist Naomi Holmes of Cornish Americana trio William The Conqueror a couple of hours before their headline show. Joseph is sorting his guitar while I make myself at home on the sofa, Holmes offering me a drink. This isn’t their first live show this month, having played Bristol and Manchester a few days prior. I broach the tour, asking how it’s all been going.
“Good, yeah.” Joseph starts. “New venues for us – we’ve been on the club circuit for three years or something – it’s nice to move up to the slightly bigger venues, more people.” As well as Heartbreakers, they had played Thekla and The Deaf Institute, and are looking forward to the likes of Newport’s Le Pub and Nottingham’s Bodega in May.
William The Conqueror is Joseph’s newest project, having had a rich and varied career in music up until now.
“You’ve been in the business for a while” I say.
“You make me sound like an old man!” Joseph laughs, before explaining how the band came about. Referring to Holmes and drummer Harry Harding, he says: “We’d already kind of joined up as forces under my solo name – we worked together in that band.”
He expands on why he decided to form William The Conqueror. “It was more a kind of existential crisis in terms of who I was or what I was writing about; mostly around the writing side of it. I was kind of lost, I didn’t really know who Ruarri Joseph was, so as an exercise I started writing songs pretending my name was William The Conqueror to start off, just to see if it made a difference. It really did, got rid of any insecurities or any inhibitions. Then we just kind of clubbed together and started playing live for fun, it just went from there really.”
Choosing the name ‘William The Conqueror’ sounds like a clear statement of intent. But what does it represent for Joseph?
“The persona of Ruarri Joseph was this family-friendly afternoon festival, kind of folky, guy, and it didn’t feel like who I was. I thought, you know, if you’re gonna change your name you might as well have a really arrogant name just to see if it makes you write differently. If you’ve got a ballsy name, what does that mean for the way you write? It started out as that, and then found other meanings as we went along – it’s to do with being a kid and giving yourself the nickname ‘William The Conqueror’ without knowing anything about history, it’s just a cool phonetic-sounding name.”
Changing the subject slightly, I ask what – and who – inspires their sound. “We’re all from different backgrounds, we’ve all got different tastes and stuff, but I like to think we don’t really sound like anyone. We’re a three-piece – guitar, bass and drums – but we’ve all got different styles. You know, a bit like The Doors had a jazz drummer, a classical organ player, a blues guitarist; a sort of mash-up of a few different styles that come together and make their own thing – so I don’t know what you would say.”
“No-one, and yet…” Interjects Holmes.
“A bunch of people,” finishes Joseph, “There’s bound to be a bunch of things that stick out – Stones, Pearl Jam – that kind of grungy sound.” He says that if they could go on tour with anybody in music history, he’d go with Tom Waits, whereas Holmes would Tom Petty. Aside from the big names, Joseph chooses The Felice Brothers and Cordovas.
And what’s in the pipeline for the future?
“Well, we’ve been putting the third part of the trilogy together, and just carrying on really. We wanna get the story out there.”
William The Conqueror‘s second album Bleeding on the Soundtrack is out now.
Words by Adam England