Framing a Unique Style

William Doyle, more commonly known as East India Youth, speaks to Patrick Kelleher about his Mercury Prize nomination and his unique musical and visual style. [br]When talking to William Doyle, better known as East India Youth, it’s easy to forget that the English singer, songwriter and musician is only 24 years old. In the last few years, he has managed to achieve a rare feat for someone so young, having produced two critically acclaimed albums, the former of which was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Combining melodic pop with pulsing electronic beats seems like a fairly simple formula, but Doyle brings something entirely different to the table. His blend of dark, often fatalistic lyrics with his unshakably tight sound combine to create something truly unique. It’s not hard to figure out why. Despite his successes, Doyle doesn’t take himself too seriously, but does concede that the critical acclaim has had its effects.“More than anything it’s been a morale boost for me,” he says. “The album [Total Strife Forever] was being received well anyway, and I was having a really good year and really enjoying the recognition I was getting from it… I guess a lot of people are quite modest about their expectations, but when you’ve made something in such a lo-fi context… I didn’t go to a studio to do that album or anything like that, it was very much a DIY home grown thing, and for it to be nominated for the Mercury Prize alongside Damon Albarn or FKA twigs… feels weird. It felt really nice to have that recognition, and that inspired me a lot. I really enjoyed the whole process actually. A lot of people would ask if there was any kind of… ‘do you feel pressure from it’, or ‘was it hard to do the next record given that you’ve set the standard with that nomination?’ but I kind of knew I wasn’t going to win anyway, so I just enjoyed the whole process and felt encouraged by it.”Before setting off on his own to forge a career in electronic pop music, Doyle was in his own band, which never exactly took off. This may have been to do with the fact that, underneath it all, his loyalty rested with pop music. Critics have attempted to categorise his music since the release of his debut LP, and still nobody has managed to classify it as belonging to a distinct genre. It seems that Doyle himself hasn’t particularly felt the need to do so.“Pop music really is whatever you project from it, I’d say,” he explains. “My musical ideal for it is, it’s got a surface layer that’s very strong, a melody or a hook, something that can hook you in instantly and captivate you, or transports you instantly. But then underneath that is bubbling a lot of wider contexts, a lot of different influences coming from different areas. So with Culture of Volume, the idea was to do a lot of surface level, more immediate hooks than the first album, and everything was propping those things up, which were coming from more varied, deeper and interesting places. And that’s what I admire about any great pop artists.”A major feature of this brand of pop that Doyle is working on is image-based, and he is eager to explain the visual elements behind his music. Usually seen onstage in tailored suits, and appearing in music videos in the same fashion, he has clearly created a specific image which he wants to maintain. It is evident that this aesthetic is completely rooted in the music itself, however. Reinforcing this visual idea is crucial for him, particularly in the music videos.
“It was all about how the visual plays alongside the music, and that was really important to me.”
“It was all about how the visual plays alongside the music, and that was really important to me,” he says. “After we did [the first music video], it set the standard for where I saw them going from there on, so they’re all framed in a similar way. I thought it was important to keep a very strong visual, aesthetic identity throughout all of the stuff. So even when it comes down to press shots and photographs and even the covers we’ve chosen for things, they’ve all been framed in a very similar way because [we’re] creating this world for people to enter into. The more you can reinforce those visual ideas, the better.”One of Doyle’s most emotional – and successful – tracks, ‘Carousel’, also has a particularly striking music video, following in this central style. The idea behind this video came from a surprising place. “Bizarrely it was my manager’s idea and he had never directed a video before! So he ended up taking on that job, which actually now that I think about it – it was a while ago – was so crazy that it ended up being that. I thought it came out really well though.”The small-scale but inspired style behind Doyle’s music videos makes sense when you consider the low-key way in which he rose to prominence. His story has taken on a folkloric quality. Doyle gave some of his recordings to John Doran, the founder of UK Music website The Quietus, in 2012 when he met him at a gig. The result was astonishing. Doran loved the demos so much that The Quietus subsequently founded a record company especially to release Doyle’s music. Since this particularly unusual beginning, Doyle has been signed with XL Recordings.“Before my first album came out, I’d started a relationship with [XL Recordings], so it was kind of a slow, natural thing that happened really. They’re very accommodating and have good resources for their artists… so I felt very at home and welcome… I’ve really enjoyed being part of that family and everyone who works there at XL. There are some brilliant artists on [the label]. It’s crazy, I never thought that my music would end up in that space.”There is a tone of surprise still hanging somewhere in Doyle’s voice that he has gotten to where he has, and perhaps even a hint of disbelief. Understandably so – the last two years have been an astonishing whirlwind for the electronic pop artist – and it’s still only the beginning. Whatever comes after Culture of Volume, we can be sure that it will continue to develop the unique style and sound of East India Youth.