Worldly indie-folk singer-songwriter Will Fox joins us at beloved Highland Park coffeeshop Kindness & Mischief to discuss his debut album Which Way, the ever-changing local music scene landscape, and the constant balancing act that independent artists must endure.
You’ve recently released your debut album Which Way, wanted to say congratulations!
Will Fox: Thank you!
For those who have yet to discover its amazingness, what lyrical themes and experiences, as well as instrumental elements, do we get to be exposed to?
Will: The title in and of itself says a lot, Which Way without a question mark. I chose to leave the question mark out because recording the album was kind of a way for me to answer that question for myself. With this being my debut record, I was running into the crossroads of ‘Do I wanna do this for real? If I do, I’ve gotta jump in and be really really into it.’ Throughout the whole recording process, which took a couple years, I kept running into the same themes of ‘crossroads,’ like, emotional crossroads, professional crossroads…
The crossroads of life…
Will: Yeah! The crossroads of life, exactly! And everybody can relate to that in whatever capacity, you know? I just happened to be running into a lot of big ones at once, so that’s why I named the Which Way. One of the big ones was when my dad got cancer five years ago. He’s doing great now, but it was a shock at the time. I had just moved to L.A., my parents were in Brazil at the time because my dad worked for an oil company, but five days before he was about to retire, he did a physical and took a blood test, and a couple of days later they told them he had leukemia. They didn’t tell us that day though, they waited a day, called me and my brother, we actually still live together, and they were like, ‘Hey, we have some good news. We wanna Skype with you.’ We were both like, ‘Huh? If they had good news they would just tell us.’ So we got on Skype with them, and they said, ‘So, dad has cancer, but luckily it’s not the bad kind of cancer, it’s the highly survivable form of leukemia. It’s going to be hard for a little while, but it’s going to be okay.’ It was definitely a funny way of getting ’good’ news.
You’re just like, are you sure this is ‘good’ news?
Will: *laughs* Right?!? Don’t get me wrong, it was tough for a little while, but we’ve all come to terms with it. I ended up writing a song about being far away from my dad while he was going through all of called “Morning in LA.” Luckily he’s doing really well and there weren’t any bad side effects.
That’s really good to hear!
Will: Thank you. It’s life, it’s going to happen, and you just have to accept that you have no control over it, you know? I think that was my first loss of innocence in the sense of a family member getting sick. I’ve had friends that had this kind of thing happened to them back in high school, and it’s like, you don’t ever think that it’s going to happen to you. You think you’re invincible and that your parents are invincible to some extent too. That was kind of a reality check for me and what really started my process of finding my voice. I was trying to figure out how I was supposed to sing, but once I started dealing with that kind of stuff, I realized that it’s not about trying to sound like somebody else, but about trying to get my point across and have it be me.That was one of the big crossroads, but I also hit the relationship crossroads as well. I ended a two and a half year relationship right before I started recording all of these songs, and that was really hard to deal with because I was in love, but I didn’t think I was ready to be in that kind of relationship with all of my music passions not having been realized yet. I wanted to do the music thing before it was too late, and it’s been a huge sacrifice in and of itself. That’s another aspect of Which Way that I tried to include, the idea that life is all about tradeoffs. A big tradeoff for me was giving up the comfort of my first real relationship to do what I think I’m supposed to do, and I don’t regret it because it was the right decision in the end. Wow, this is such a long-winded answer for the first question. *laughs*
Oh no worries! We’re learning a lot about you as an artist and what went into the album process. It’s very clear that there were a lot of emotional experiences rooted into it, so it’s great to hear it straight from the source.
Will: And that’s very true. It’s one of those records where I just needed to get everything out. There was so much going on in my head, and I was the only one that was going to be able to make clear of those feelings. That’s how I make clear of anything really, by writing songs about it. Although, it did force me to ruminate over negative or sad feelings a lot, which I think as a singer-songwriter is just a part of the game, unfortunately. But I think it also helps you get through everything and give meaning to things so you can figure everything out.
Will: Literally! It is!
And then which song would you say was your favorite to write and then to record, if they’re two separate ones?
Will: I really do care for every song equally, which is why I think that it’s special that there weren’t any throwaway songs in there. It wasn’t like I just wrote a song because we needed a ninth or tenth song, we actually had to whittle them down and line them all up to figure out the track order. With “Waiting,” which is the first song on the record and the first single, it wasn’t the first song that we recorded, but it was the first song that we took into the studio and completely changed how I thought the song was going to sound. It originally had all these weird dissonant chords in it, and it had so many cool turns that I’m just really proud of. That was a fun song to write, and I love that it was so ‘big’ sounding on the record because I had never thought that it could become what it ended up being. It’s intimate, but yet the snare is huge, so it’s kind of dreamy and otherworldly in a way, and I really didn’t expect it to sound like that. The beautiful part about collaborating is that you can take a song that you’re working on, and it can become something wonderfully different when it strays away from what you were imagining it to be. Obviously, you’re always picking from your inspirations, but in failing to do that, you end up having your own sound, which in a way is a good kind of failure. *laughs* So yeah, “Waiting” I would say was the most fun to write and record.
And that’s so interesting to hear when you had mentioned that you actually took the time to formulate the song arrangement for the album. That’s something that you don’t normally hear about.
Will: Yeah definitely.
Do you feel that there’s a formula to how a full-length album is structured?
Will: I think so. I mean, I grew up in a time where people were still listening to CDs, and I would often be like, ‘Song three is my favorite. They put the best song at number three,’ or something like that. But I think closing with a ballad or a slower song gives it a way to end gently. Not that people these days care about that in particular, but I still do, and the people that I’m surrounded by still do.
I definitely still do as well. There’s been a few albums where I was like, ‘Mmm, they shouldn’t have ended with ‘this’ song instead.’
Will: Yeah, we thought about it a lot before we released the album. My friend Tyler Karmen engineered and helped produce my entire record for me. He’s so brilliant and passionate, and he actually helped me in making a lot of the production and engineering decisions. I couldn’t have done it without him. He was as vocal about the track order as I was, so he and my mixer, my roommate Brian Rosemeyer, they were this awesome team that helped me figure out all of the technical portions for the album. We know we wanted to start with “Waiting” because it hits hard, in a good way, of course, at the beginning of the album. And then since we did a vinyl, we wanted to make sure that the second side started with a faster song. There’s a lot of slow jams on the record, so we really needed to figure out how to pace those out and not put too many of them in a row. I mean, sometimes even I get bored listening to it because I’ve heard them so many times. *laughs* But once we found the right order for everything, there ended up being a nice dip when you needed it to be, and then it would pick back up again. It’s an art in itself to make all of the songs meaningful together, even though they were written over a time-span of three or four years.
And you would never guess that they were within that long of a time frame because they just flow so well!
Will: Thank you! I’m definitely very happy with how it turned out.
So with the way that modern music listening has been focused on the streaming aspect, why do you think that singles based and shorter EP style releases are what modern consumers are looking for nowadays?
Will: I think it’s because the environment now is just so eclectic, and not only with the different styles of music that are out, but with all the different ways to listen in general. It’s so easy to change a song and find a different vibe, and I know I’ve fallen victim to that too on Spotify and YouTube where I can be halfway through one of my favorite songs of all time, and I’ll think of another one of my favorite songs of all time, and then I’ll go listen to it. It really all depends on your mood too. Sometimes I sit down and take the time to listen to records all the way through, you know? I do think that we have shorter attention spans, and that’s a bummer, but it is what it is and you kind of just have to learn to work with it. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s some cool things about streaming as well, like, I think playlisting is cool because you’re able to put a bunch of artists together who have a similar vibe. But I guess to answer the question simply, I think it’s because we have shorter attention spans, at least the younger generation does, and streaming is a result and a cause of that. It’s the easiest way to listen to music ever, so of course people are going to hop on that train.
Oh definitely. It’s been a long time coming since the Napster days.
Will: Exactly! You don’t have to walk down to a CD store, buy a CD, and have it get all scratched up anymore, everything is just in the Cloud. And then you think about your computer crashing and there goes all your music.
Oh God! It would be a travesty if that ever happened!
Will: Absolutely! *laughs*
You’ve gotten to play at many venues in L.A. and Southern California in general. Have you noticed any differences in regards to how artists are supported or how the show itself is run between the different areas you’ve performed?
Will: L.A. is funny because there’s so much competition here. There’s so many bands and artists here, but there isn’t much of a DIY scene anymore. There definitely used to be, but all of those places have been kind of dying out. I had a residency at Lot 1 Cafe in Echo Park, which was amazing! I Facebook-ed the owner and was like, ‘Hey! Can I put on a residency with you guys every Wednesday?’ and I actually did that for about six months. I curated the whole night myself, got other people to play, and kind of built this little music thing with a bunch of artists. But when I checked on Lot 1 recently, I found out that it was closed. That place was like the last man standing for those types of spots in L.A., and especially in that area since it’s just changing so fast.
I was actually surprised to hear that it was closed. I was literally there watching some bands a year ago at Echo Park Rising.
Will: It’s a bummer, because that’s where I pretty much started my live career when I was just starting to play solo shows. It definitely has a special place in my heart. But the nice thing about being a very intimate musician is I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of shows where you could hear a pin drop because people are so engaged. My friends would be in the crowd, and they had been waiting so long to finally hear me perform because I had just been writing songs for the longest time before going out on my own. Overall, I’ve had a really good experience in Los Angeles. Sometimes I’ll go to other people’s shows and it’s so loud, and I get a little pissed off because I think generally, audiences in L.A. can be a bit rude, or disrespectful, or even ignorant about the whole thing.
Especially when alcohol is involved.
Will: Especially when alcohol is involved! I mean, I always say that it’s the artist’s job to captivate the audience, but because with so many shows in L.A. every single night, oftentimes when you’re playing at a bar you’re just playing to the people at the bar. People can’t always come out to see you, so you’ve just gotta pay your dues and play your shows. Just take it as a way to practice.
Yeah! And you never know, you could make a new fan!
Will: Absolutely! And you also get to test out your setlist to an audience that’s not really paying attention. You could play a song, and if you get a head turn it’s like, ‘Ok, this is a good live song. I’ll make sure to play that song first from now on.’ I’ve also played up in Central California at some really small venues, and people were super appreciative up there. I think it’s because they don’t have that many guys and gals coming through there, so when they do, they appreciate it. I played a show at this little bar down in San Diego, and it was the Game Of Thrones finale night so there were only a few people there, but they enjoyed it and we all had a good time. Obviously San Diego is more chill, so it’s a bit different playing down there. I played a couple of shows in San Francisco with my old band, and those were really fun vibes out there. But honestly, I think it just really really depends on where you’re playing and what type of music you’re playing too. I played with a band for my album release show at Gold Diggers, and I was very unaware of how loud the crowd was because we were loud, but if I was playing acoustic it would have been a different experience. It’s a constant challenge as a singer-songwriter playing in bar venues to figure how to ignore a bad crowd and captivate a good crowd.
Yeah, we always forget that especially here, a lot of music venues now are just bars that happen to have a stage. There’s just not really a standard ‘music venue’ anymore, which is a shame because you would think there would be music places on every corner.
And speaking of performing with a band, you were also in a band before you started doing your solo stuff called Los Angeles Police Department. What inspired you to move forward into a solo venture for your music?
Will: I was in the band for awhile, and it was a much needed exercise in music at the time where I didn’t have any. I played guitar and did backup vocals and all that, but I think it inspired me to be like, ‘Hey, I can do this too!’ It was the first time I ever experienced the business aspect of the music industry, and as tough as I saw that it clearly was, I still wanted to do this. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do both at the same time, and I needed to choose to focus on one thing at a time. I was writing songs while we were in the band and shared them with my friends and the other guys in the band, and they were really excited about it. They never said, ‘Hey, you should just go off and do your own solo thing,’ and I know that a lot of other people do the solo thing while playing in other bands, but I just couldn’t do that. I needed to fully focus on myself, and I think I would have been distracted if I was in another band. I also didn’t want to be flake-y while being in the band, and I felt like it was better for me to leave so they can find a replacement that can be there for them. They’re all still some of my best friends, and we still do a lot of shows together and record together, but I think leaving was the right decision for me. Again, that was another crossroads that I had to deal with. Walking away from that was really hard, and it definitely wasn’t fun, but it needed to happen.
Yeah. But it’s awesome to hear that you guys are still close and that they’re really supportive of your solo work. That just shows how strong our music community is here.
Will: Oh yeah, definitely!
So going into a few questions about social media. Do you think it makes it easier for independent artists to make a name for themselves, or do you think it makes it harder?
Will: That’s such a good question that I don’t think anybody has the answer to just yet, but I think there’s two sides to that coin. There’s a lot more pressure on you to figure things out with how to do your own promotion. I was lucky enough to work with an amazing PR company for promoting this record, and clearly they did a good job because I’m doing this interview with you right now, so I haven’t had to do too much of my own promotion on social media. Honestly, I’m terrible at it, it’s not really my thing, and I think one of the negative aspects of it is that for people who are not naturally inclined to be ‘good’ PR people all of a sudden have to be. That’s just wrong, not everybody should be forced to do that because being an artist or a musician could very much mean that you have the opposite qualities of that. The other side of it is that even though it’s very much an every man for themselves kind of concept, the fact that you can do it yourself is amazing. We’re living in a world where you make your success. So ‘yes,’ I think it’s cool that you have the option of putting yourself out there on social media. It’s really the sky’s the limit on how far you wanna go to be your own marketing person. If you’re really good at it, you might kick ass at it and create success. I’m not good at it, but I’m going to try to learn how to do it, or at least find other people who can do it for me so I can focus on the stuff that I am good at.
Do you feel that it also adds on pressures to constantly have something to promote? Like, shows or new music or even just to portray yourself in a certain way to your audience?
Will: I think so. My label has been kind of relaxed with me for all that stuff, which is really nice. They know that I’m not the type of guy who wants to be posting something every day. Obviously they care to a reasonable degree, like, ‘Hey, you’ve got a show in two weeks. You should probably post about it.’ I enjoy that a lot actually, because it gets me into the habit of doing it. I mean, I’m more inclined to promote a show or my music than the other stuff stuff people post. I don’t feel the need to record a video of myself walking to the cafe in the morning. *both laugh* But yeah, I do feel the pressure of it sometimes purely because it’s there, and we’re living in this society where people are putting so much value on having a digital presence. Occasionally, if I haven’t posted something in like a month or something I’ll be like, ‘Am I just falling off the face of the Earth?’ and then I try to calm down and force myself to remember that social media isn’t really my thing. This is a small tool for me, maybe it’ll be a bigger tool in the future, but who knows where it’s going to be and where it’s going to go.
It’s always changing.
Will: Exactly. Right now it’s just this little tool that’s just a part of what I have going on right now.
And how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Will: It’s tough man. I work in a restaurant four nights a week, and even though I love it and the people that I work with, it’s tough when you’re on your feet for eight hours and it’s busy every single night. It’s hard to make a living in this city, you know? I try to just work on music on my days off, and really try to separate my two lives. I’m not good at juggling things in general, and I have this constant need to be thinking about music. Sometimes I can be easily distracted because I’ll be thinking about a song that I’m working on. Right now I have fifteen half written songs, and a lot of times I’ll start thinking about how nice it would be to be working on one of them. *laughs* In terms of social stuff, I’ve got great friends, but I’ve definitely gotten more introverted during this whole process of working on my own stuff. But I think I’m getting better at balancing everything, and separating myself from one thing if I need to. Hopefully in a couple of years it will be music all the time, that’s my goal. If I could just be doing that all the time, not only would I be more productive, but I would be so much happier.
Absolutely. So if you could give to your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far in music, or in life in general, what advice would you give him?
Will: Hmm, what would I tell little Will? *laughs* The one thing that I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that you can’t keep searching for this plateau of happiness. You set these goals for yourself, and as soon as you achieve these goals, whatever it may be, you think that you’re just going to be instantly happy and that life is going to click into place. That’s what I thought would happen after putting out the record because this was my dream album. I actually had a moment on the drive after recording the last song on the record where it was like this weird realization of my dream coming true, but also a realization that this feeling was not going to last any longer than the normal blissful moment does. The thing about kids is that they already appreciate life in the moment, and appreciate the happy moments much more because they don’t worry about mundane things that adults have to worry about. There’s an innocence there that I think is really special, and living in the moment is just something that’s very hard for adults these days. We’re always worrying about something that’s in the past or something that’s in the future. But in terms of music, I’d probably tell him, ‘When mom tells you to play the cello, that’s probably the best decision that you will make in your fucking life.’ *both laugh* That was what opened my mind to music, and what eventually led me to guitar and then songwriting. It would be funny to be able to plant that in the head of my eleven year old self because I was not at all interested or super down for the cello at first. *laughs* If I could be like, ‘Hey man, mom is making you take cello lessons right now because you’re going to be a musician when you’re older. But you’re not going to be stuck with it forever, because you’re going to be playing the guitar instead of the cello, and you’re going to write songs that you love. This is the beginning.’ Listen to your mom, she’s always right!
Moral of the story! *both laugh*
Will: Absolutely! But to put it simply, I’d tell him to ‘Live in the moment. Happiness is just a moment, and when you experience it, respect it. ’
What do you hope your audience away from your music?
Will: Everybody comes to these crossroads, and the answer to which way you should go is to simply keep moving forward. That’s just life. You’re going to get curveballs every day, but the more that you believe that you can get through it and move forward, it’s ok that they’re happening. They’re not there to define you in any way, they’re just obstacles for you to overcome. That’s what I wanted these songs to show, all the different aspects of that type of thing. Whether it’s feeling depressed about a breakup, or a family member getting sick, or hating your job and not knowing what to do because you need to make enough money to live, I hope that it helps make you stronger, makes you grow, and maybe give you a little wisdom.
And apart from riding the highs of Which Way, what other big plans should we be looking forward to from you in the near future?
Will: I’m looking to put together a tour, so that might be a next year venture, but I’m actually working on my next record already. I’ve been recording a bunch of demos at home, and that’s been fun. I’m really excited about them. That’s what I’ve been really thinking about these days. I want to record about fifteen of them as demos and then figure out how to bring them into the studio for next year. I’ll probably choose eleven or twelve of the best ones, and then I’ll release all the tape demos. So that’s what I’m thinking about all day every day.
All music all the time!
Will: *laughs* Yeah! And then I’m also going to be doing more band shows. Playing with a band has made it extra fun playing live, and it’s starting to sound really good. And that’s that!
About Kindness & Mischief:
Don’t let adorably compact storefronts fool you, because in the case of Kindness & Mischief, you really won’t understand why it’s one of Highland Park’s beloved coffeeshops until you take the chance to step inside. In an instant, you will be enveloped in the warmth of the fresh scent of roasted coffee as well as an obvious sense of community that spans from the ‘Mischief Library’ at the store’s entrance its patrons to its staff. Barstool-style tables give visitors a chance to meet someone new in their neighborhood, while bistro sets line its brick walls provide an intimate experience for duos and busy bees alike. A fun addition to the shop comes in the form is a dainty reading nook-like perch at the front of the store, in which its windows peer out to the two tables outside as well as being able to engage in a fun people watching session.
In terms of their menu, Kindness & Mischief does their best to provide a menu that’s comprised of classic coffee favorites, choices for tea-lovers, seasonal and house specials (such as the Kindness Latte), and options for those who *gasp* might not want a caffeinated beverage. They also strive to introduce customers to yummy pastries provided by local bakeries like Creme Caramel LA and The Caffeinated Kitchen, which include vegan options so everyone can enjoy something scrumptious. A menu highlight for me, and anyone who may need or prefer milk alternatives, is the fact that they do not charge extra for a substitute, which normally costs at least $1 everywhere else. Its attention to menu options really shows the shop’s dedication to fulfill every type of customer’s needs, and as a coffee lover, entices me to want to come back again and again.