Willie J Healey

Oxford Cowboy

Sep 27, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear
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One might assume that a young indie rocker with growing critical acclaim would be earnestly, intensely set on making the next big step in their career. But instead of imbuing such seriousness, Willie J Healey opted to don a red paisley, painfully out of fashion shirt and a black cowboy hat, all of which make him look like a failed 1970s Nashville troubadour.

The goofy getup was for his "Lazy Shade of Pink," videoa clip that promotes one of the best songs on his debut album, People and Their Dogs. The video was just as funny as the costumes, featuring Healey striking overly dramatic poses for a director that seemed too enthused with his camera's zoom function.

The 22-year-old Oxford, England rocker says he shot the clip with director Joseph Burt, a burgeoning filmmaker whose other videos he admires, and from the outset they both agreed to have fun with it. But Healey didn't know just how ridiculous the proceedings would get. "I didn't realize I'd be dressed like a cowboy until I got there," the soft-spoken and ever affable Healey says.

They shot the video in Nottingham, and in between takes Healey would pop over to the nearby gas station. "I got plenty of looksthere aren't exactly many cowboys around there," he recalls with a laugh.

Aside from that goofy clip, Healey has recorded several other amusing music videos such as "Would You Be," in which he tries to record inaudible sounds, and "Greys," where he makes out with an alien.

That cheeky sense of humor, along with some of the mellow elements in his guitar playing, have led several rock journalists to describe Healey as a slacker surf rocker in the vein of Mac DeMarco.

"It's not annoying, but I don't think it's the most accurate comparison," Healey says of being equated with the Canadian prankster. And many of Healey's songs on People and Their Dogs do rock much harder on their choruses, and feature punchier guitar solos, than the overall breezy tracks that DeMarco is known for.

The sense of humor that Healey conveys in his music videos and in interviews is also far more quirky and subtle than DeMarco's. Prime example: Healey described his music as a mix of The Beach Boys and Meat Loaf in a prior interview. "I was clearly joking when I said that," Healey explains with a chuckle, though the reporter never realized that and printed it as fact. He instead lists off Neil Young, T. Rex, and Talking Heads as his true influences.

Those muses helped set him apart from much of the rest of the music scene in Oxford. He recalls the city being overrun with folk rock acts when he first got his start there a few years ago, and though he admired their talent, Healey knew he wanted to play in a different style. Now that many critics are taking a liking to his work, and comparing him to other surf rockers, Healey can't help but feel a bit strange to be lumped into a genre after cutting his teeth in a scene as an outlier. Yet he feels no need to change that narrative with an aggressive PR push or a social media rant, instead employing the same quirky nonchalance that he uses in his music videos.

"I take those comparisons as a compliment, and I try not take any of it too seriously," he says, before adding wryly: "I don't think anyone takes me too seriously anyway."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now.This is its debut online.]

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