„Music for the people“ heißt die Tour, die den Wahl-Berliner, der eigentlich aus Santa Curz in Kalifornien stammt, mal wieder um die Welt schickt. Dabei ist uns William „Billy“ McCarthy aber vor allem als die herzschmerzgeladene, charismatische Wall of Feels bekannt, die die Konzerte seiner legendären Band Augustines in wenigen Jahren zu einem der ganz großen Indie-Live-Events avancieren ließ.
McCarthy ist in der Welt zu Hause, versteht sich nicht nur als schnöder Singer/Songwriter, sondern geht gerade in der Rolle des Geschichtenerzählers richtig auf. Er ist ein Vollblutkünstler durch und durch, der nicht müde wird, selbst lange nach Showschluss die Fans mit ausgedehnten Zugaben vor der Halle oder im Pub ums Eck mit ewig lodernder Leidenschaft anzustecken. Immer und immer wieder. Show für Show. Tour für Tour.
Die Augustines mögen seit Herbst letzten Jahres Geschichte sein, doch mit seinem bald erscheinenden Solo-Album „Shelter“ und weiteren Herzensangelegenheiten im Jackenärmel schlägt Billy nun das nächste Kapitel seiner Geschichte auf. Und Geschichten hat er zuhauf. Gesungen, geschrieben oder einfach ganz sympathisch mit Dia-Projektor und einem ganz großen Zwinkern im Auge vorgetragen.
Am Vorabend seines mittlerweile zweiten Solo-Konzerts im Feierwerk plauderte der Globetrotter mit dem großen Herzen ein wenig aus dem Nähkästchen.
Your first solo tour brought us “journals, maps and stories” where you let your fans take a peek behind the scenes of your work, mindset and personal history. In a sense you are a true citizen of the world, you toured for months at a time not only with your musical projects but also on your own. Would you say that you are indeed more at home in the world than a certain place? And what effect has traveling had on your work?
It absolutely has! People interest me, they’re an art in themselves – we are an art in ourselves. We can look different, sound different, be surrounded by different colors, scents, sights and sounds yet ultimately experience the same things in life, like love and loss.
In terms of the effect travelling has had on me, I guess it’s just opened my eyes (and ears!); there’s this statistic that around half of the American population has never left the country, and I find that really sad. I love America (despite feeling pretty let down by what’s happened there), but people c’mon, there’s a world out there! I’d have never have written so many of the songs I’ve written if I hadn’t have hopped on a train (literally!) and just left – I met the people that inspired the songs, saw the places that inspired the songs and lived the life that inspired the songs.
In a relatively short time you and your former band managed to be known as absolutely fan-focused and passionate live musicians playing for hours even after the initial curfew. What keeps you so hungry about music? Is your rather minimalistic approach (voice, guitar, crowd) a decision you made consciously or was it born out of the circumstances?
It’s where I started, man! I was and probably still am a busker. I’ve played on the streets; I’d not have met Eric Sanderson if I couldn’t just stand there with my guitar and my voice. Being a solo artist right now wasn’t the ‘plan’, but it’s where I am and it’s what I’m doing. And it’s what I’ll keep doing as long as I can.
You are about to release a couple of personal projects. One of them is even a book which I think a lot of people have been waiting to be released especially by you. Do you differ between storytelling by song and storytelling by book, and do you see both as a different kind of art?
The book itself is a way off release and the project is still in its infancy but it will be based on my travels in my early twenties, ending back in NYC on 9/11. It isn’t all written word, for anyone that has seen excerpts of my journals, they’ve captured experiences; I don’t do diaries per se, but I’ll make a note or I’ll write a poem, illustrate and texturize what I felt in a moment – that’s what this book will open people up to.
Art is an expression whether through song, writing, dance, painting, sculpture, so for me there isn’t a fundamental difference in the art itself but it will be expressed and probably received differently I guess.
Which projects do you want to see realized in the future that you might not have had the chance to or the resources yet? Is there anything else you are truly passionate about to be released?
My album, Shelter, will be out this summer so all resources have been focused on that and that’s where my energy will largely be these next few months. But, the book we talked about, that isn’t far away either – it will mean so much to me to get that out.
You are very honest and outspoken about your situation as an artist, facing obstacles, burdens and struggling here and then. Finally, you chose patreon as a supporting tool to reach out to people and get a certain degree of funding. Do you already see results from that campaign and what would you do differently when first starting out to record and market music professionally?
You’ve chosen really interesting words like ‘results’ and ‘campaign’ and I had never thought of it like that or seen this as something very transactional. What has come together is this amazing community that I’m part of – you’re right I was honest about my situation (or our situation as Augustines) and threw this idea and platform out there not knowing if it’d take off or not and it really has!
All I’ve ever wanted to do was to survive as an artist; we’ve headlined festivals, we’ve sold out the Roundhouse in London but it still wasn’t enough, and something is really off with that. Over the years we have built a really solid fan base from which this smaller but oh so powerful community has grown, the gap between me as artist and the community as ‘fans’ has all but diminished and I love the connection that’s there. I don’t think there’s much I could have done differently, we got our music out there and played to tens of thousands of people along the way – there is a lot to be grateful for.
We already talked about your first solo record “Shelter” which is about to be unleashed soon and you are amidst touring through Europe not long after Augustines disbanded. What are the lessons learned from the “breakup” and how did it prepare you for the future? Do you have any personal goals or expectations from this tour?
Break-up seems really weird but you’re not wrong, the band isn’t together as a band right now but we’ll always be friends, bandmates and yeah, we’ll always be Augustines but in our own way. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, including I’m more vulnerable yet more resilient than I realized and that there are a lot of good, great people out there. People really are willing to support others and to give their time and expertise over to making good things happen – you got to be open to asking and removing that often literal barrier between fan and artist.
I’m playing Music For The People – and if I can make people smile, dance, sing and just ‘be’ for the night, that’s all I want. I know I’ve done my bit if the audience leave with smiles knowing they’ve stepped out of themselves for a few hours. And so far they have!
And finally, what’s with the hat? I just love how it keeps falling off during your performances yet you put it on meticulously again and again.
I’d love to tell you some really exciting and hilarious story about how I got into hats but there really isn’t one! I still got a decent head of hair – which may I add a lovely hairdryer recently blow-dried straight like a 1997 Mary J Blige, great look for Mary but not for me – so I’m not hiding anything!
Foto: Alexander Kellner