“If you know my story, then you’ll know the battle I’ve fought to get here, so as Friday creeps ever closer, I sort of find myself feeling a whole range of different emotions.” says Billy Lockett, who is thoughtfully contemplating the impending release of his long-awaited debut album ‘Abington Grove’. “This is a really big moment for me, this project has been 10 years in the making – I mean it’s my first ever studio album!.. and I’m really, really aware that you only ever get to say that once in your life, so I’ve had to invest a lot of myself, and my time into making sure I got it just right.”
Written on, and named after the street of his late father’s house where Lockett grew up in Northampton, the incredibly poignant, coming-of-age record presents itself as a truly considered and well thought out, cohesive body of work – layered with profound realisations, and deeply personal stories that not only tell of the singers arduous journey to this point, but also serve to greatly reflect the boy he once was, and the man he has since become.
“There was only ever one thing I could call this album…” Billy states with a sense of pride. “Abington Grove was my Dad’s house, it’s the house I was brought up in and where I lived for the majority of my life, it’s everything to me.”
Filled with purposeful lyrics, soothing melodies and reassuring messages of hope and self-love, ‘Abington Grove’ is an album born out of lived experience, its sentiment and emotional pull so pure and relatable, it’s sure to resonate with many a fragile heart…
“Crawling around all of the doubt in my head…”
“This album goes against everything, anyone has ever told me,” a positively defiant Billy reveals when beginning to explain the somewhat rebellious mindset he adopted in the early stages of creating what was to become his debut LP. “In every conversation, and almost every meeting I had at the start of my career, the general conscious was that I should only be making music that I could easily tour, and play live – which essentially meant me going off and writing and producing a load of ballads! I didn’t necessarily agree that that was the right direction for me to go in, but I understood what everyone was saying because that mellow, mid-tempo style of music appeals to a lot of people, it does really well on streaming, it is really easy to tour, and it’s… nice, it’s safe, and it’s unlikely to ever offend. So rightly or wrongly I followed the advice I was given, and for a while it was fine, it worked, but as a result of me doing that I was then labelled as being something I never really was, and put in a box and basically pigeoned holed as being this middle of the road singer-songwriter… which if I’m honest is not what I ever wanted to be. So my goal with this album was to break out of that space.”
Describing in greater detail the origins of the albums initial conception, Billy continues: “In order for me to be able to achieve that goal I had to go right back to the beginning, and revisit pretty much every song I’d ever made; which took me a while because I must have written between 500 – 600 songs over the years. Opening up my SoundCloud and listening to all of the old tracks was a bit like walking through a graveyard of memories… some good, some bad (laughs). But I had to go there in order to get to where I am now.”
Steeped in fountains of earnest emotion, there’s a feeling of catharsis runs throughout the entirety of ‘Abington Grove’, whereby listeners become privy to inner workings of Lockett’s mind – his penmanship at times so intimate, it’s almost like reading a page from his personal diary.
“There are a couple of tracks on there that are quite triggering for me to listen to,” Billy muses. “And unfortunately I do, at times, find myself going back to the moment I wrote them, which then opens up the floodgates a little, and some of the feelings I once felt start to feel familiar again. But music is supposed to make you feel something right? I don’t dwell on it though, I can’t allow myself to be too blinded by my own personal attachment to these songs because they don’t belong to me anymore, they’re out there for other people to connect with now.”
“For a long time I feel like I’ve been pigeoned holed, and labelled as being something I’m not, so my goal with this record was to make music that would help me to break out of that space.”Billy on the somewhat rebellious mindset he adopted whilst working on ‘Abington Grove’
Whilst the fact that Lockett is willing to be so vulnerable in song demonstrates his emotional maturity, the revelation that records final track-list features music created in both past, and present writing sessions, is indicative of the confidence and self-belief the ‘Who I Am’ singer has in his back catalogue… “Because I’ve always felt like an album should be a collection of your best material, I’m not fazed by having songs on ‘Abington Grove’ that are over a decade old! Their inclusion on there helps to create a better picture of what life has been like for me over the course of the last 10 years. I’m not a massive fan of the word ‘journey’ when it comes to describing peoples music, but that’s essentially what this album is.”
“Take a song like ‘We Used To’ for example, I wrote that when I was 20, and I’m now 31! But the message the lyric conveys is still just as relatable today, so I’m hoping it will resonate with anyone going through a break-up in the same way it did with me all those years ago. On the flip side there’s ‘Not OK’ and ‘Last Thing On Your Mind’ which we wrote and recorded pretty much as we wrapped everything up – so there’s a part of me on every song for sure. Overall I feel confident in the creative decisions I’ve made, but it’s still hard to know what to do for the best sometimes you know? There’s a lot of second guessing that goes on when making an album…”
Though clearly empowered by his decision to take back a considerable amount of control over both his career and artistic choices, we wonder, as a self-confessed over-thinker, does the inevitable push back that comes from going against the grain ever cause Billy to feel further pressure, on top of the already overwhelming weight of expectation placed upon the shoulders of emerging new pop stars…
“On some days it does!” Lockett says letting out a slightly anxious, yet knowing laugh. “Like I said, throughout my whole career I’ve always had someone in my ear telling me: ‘Billy, stick to what works!’ and for a long time that’s exactly what I did. But I soon learnt that going down that route of always playing it safe is not something that ‘works’ for me.”
“The biggest problem I had when working with my previous team was that because I was always so eager to please (them), I listened too much to their advice and made decisions based off of their instincts, instead of trusting my own. And so when things started to go wrong, it was almost like I was doubly frustrated because not only was I dealing with the disappointment of the music not resonating with people in the way I hoped it would, but on a personal level I was mad as hell with myself because I felt like I’d compromised my integrity, and not fought for what I believed in as an artist. That wasn’t a nice feeling, or a good head space for me to be in.”
Pausing for a moment so to be sure he makes his point correctly, Billy adds: “As musicians and entertainers, we’re allowed to be more than one thing, and managers, agents and record labels should understand that surely? Right now when I look at the industry as a whole, it almost feels like music has to be either ridiculously fun, or ridiculously sad, and it can’t be anywhere in the middle, which blows my mind! I don’t like how artists are expected to stick to doing the same thing over and over again. It’s like if a singer or a band has a big hit with a ballad, then that’s all they’re allowed to do for the rest of their career for fear that if they try to do something that’s even remotely different, it won’t be a success… but what’s considered a success in 2023?”
Billy Locket – Last Thing On Your Mind (Official Music Video)
In the late 90’s / early 00’s the measure of an artists commercial success was reflective of how their music faired in the charts. But in digital age, where success seems paramount to a singers impact online, and streaming seems to now trump sales, the lines of what’s now considered “successful” have become blurred…
“So much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is documented, edited and filtered to create the facade that our lives are perfect – it’s all about looking good on social media isn’t it?” Billy reflects. “I did the James Corden Show in America, and whilst it was an amazing experience, it didn’t really do all that much for me career-wise other than get me a bunch of new followers on Instagram and Twitter. Yet to the outside world, it was like ‘wow Billy’s out in America on this major, primetime talkshow, look at him, he’s flying!’ But the reality was, I did the show, came home and that was pretty much it! I was back to writing songs in the cellar at my Dads old house the next day like nothing had happened (laughs).”
“Success means different things to different people – for me, the fact that I get to make music for a living means I’m a successful! It’s not about becoming famous, or having a massive viral hit online – I’m never going to be a TikToker, I’m never going to a social media influencer, I’m rubbish at all that stuff (laughs). All I want is to be able to connect with people and for them to believe in me, so that I can do this for the rest of my life.”
“There ain’t no shame in you asking for help…”
With the release of his album just a mere three days away at the time of our conversation, by his own admission, Billy is feeling both gassed and apprehensive at the thought of this music finally making its way into the world.
“It’s interesting, because up until about a month ago there didn’t feel to be all that much of a buzz about the record coming out,” a candid Lockett admits. “I mean I know I was excited, but it didn’t feel like anybody else really knew about it or cared, which was a little dis-heartening to say the least! I had this constant lingering thought in my head of: ‘is this how it’s supposed to feel releasing your first album? Where’s the build up? Where’s the thrill of it all?’ I don’t mind telling you from there I did begin to spiral a little bit, and panic thinking it wasn’t going to do that well.”
Navigating his way through such conflicting, marked moments of utter elation, followed by episodes of negative self-talk and thoughts of possible failure and rejection, was a balance the ‘Wasting Time’ singer continued to battle until he realised the power of being unashamedly open and transparent with how he was feeling.
“It’s not lost on me how important this moment is, so I knew I had to find a way to snap myself out of how I was feeling so as not to ruin what has the potential to be a truly incredible chapter in my life and career. So I decided that I needed to be as open and honest as I could be online, and go direct to the people to tell them how much this album means to me, and how much I want it to be a success.” Catching himself, and the enormity of the occasion, Lockett adds: “I’d never forgive myself if I were to let all of this pass me by…”
“It’s not lost on me how important this moment is… I’d never forgive myself if I were to let it pass me by.”Billy on being present and focusing on the positive
“The reaction to the post I did, opening up about how I was feeling, was insane! It’s crazy how people will show up for you if you ask them to! My fans are incredible, they only need to be asked once and they’re behind me 1000%!” Almost trying to suppress his smile, Billy continues: “The momentum around the albums release has built since then, the videos are doing really on YouTube, streaming numbers are looking good, and we’re being played all over Radio 2 which… oh my God, I need to tell you this! So a few weeks ago I found this message on my phone that I’d sent to Jo Whiley back in 2016, asking if she’d play my song on her radio show, and then the other day… she played my song on her radio show!”
The song in question, “Miss Missing You”, currently sits on the B-List at BBC Radio 2, with the stations support giving the ‘Abington Grove’ promotional campaign a major boost. Having taken many forms over the years, the final incarnation of the song is a captivating and heartfelt ballad that delicately swirls melodies of soul and pop, with Billy’s lyrics once again channeling his real life experiences with a gentle tone maintaining a softness and fragility that is consistent across his discography.
Commenting on the single, Billy says: “It’s a good song, it’s almost… dare I say it… cool? I actually worked on it for a long time with one of my mates Danny Connors – who is a brilliant writer and also Tom Grennan’s guitar player – but we just couldn’t seem to get it right! We messed around with the composition of it, we switched up the tempo and the production, but nothing seemed to work. We actually ended up having a big argument one day over what direction it should take, and fell out, so I just thought ‘oh forget this, it’s not going on the album!’ and I let it go.”
“But every time I’d get in the studio with a new writer or producer, for some reason I’d feel the need to play it for them just to see if there was anything they could do to elevate it to where it needed to be. A couple of people tried and failed, then along came Barnaby Cox, who totally believed in the song and absolutely smashed it out of the park! I didn’t actually know Barnaby at the time, but as soon as I played it to him, he was like ‘yeah I like it, it just needs some more drums, bass and vocal adding to it!’ My jaw kind of hit the floor, and I was so happy because I always knew it had the potential to be something really special, it just needed someone to come in and put a fresh spin on it. To think that it’s now possibly going to be my ‘breakout’ hit is crazy… by the way, I must just tell you, Danny and I have now made up (laughs).”
Billy Locket – Miss Missing You (Official Music Video)
With the musical element of proceedings taken care of, and a massive radio hit finally in the bag, Billy is at no pains to admit his initial panic when conversations first began to take place surrounding the overall art direction for the album, and how best to present it, visually, to the masses… “I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle to know what style of imagery to create for this project. I knew I didn’t want it to be too focused on me, or for even the cover image to be a picture of just me because I’m really not into the whole thing of trying to be sexy and smouldering (laughs).”
“Thankfully, I’m really lucky that I have an incredible group of people around me, who help me out with this sort of thing! So credit goes to Gavin Wallis, who is an incredible photographer, and Cameron West who is a phenomenal graphic designer, because it’s the two of them who made all of this (artwork) happen. They collaborated on the album cover, and I genuinely love the idea they came up with.”
Relating the concept further, Billy says: “Because I’d said I wanted the sleeve to be a real reflection of the music I’d written, the guys thought it would be cool to create some sort of cartoon montage of everything going on inside my head. So I got my camera and walked around the house on Abington Grove and took photos of all the things I have lying around the place – I’m talking random ornaments, objects, pictures, posters, the snooker table, my dog Trevor… basically anything and everything I own (laughs).”
“I do understand how importance of the visual component that comes being an artist, but I honestly try to not think too much about it. Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi are perfect examples of singers who don’t fall into the trap of prioritising the look of something over the quality of their music. We place to much value on appearance nowadays – what a person is wearing, how their hair looks, what moisturiser they use… it’s all irrelevant to me, it’s about being a good person and making great music that brings people together. The words ‘famous’ and ‘inspiring’ used to mean the same thing when I was growing up, but I don’t think they do anymore…”
“I love being myself, and God you should too, so be proud of what you love because you’re the only you...”
Standing on the cusp of a new era, Billy Lockett admits he’s feeling optimistic about the future… “I can’t tell you how much I needed this, like I needed this moment so, so badly! I feel excited by all of the changes I see happening around me, and I feel grateful to all of the support I’ve had from my fans – I never want them to feel like all of the love, and loyalty they’ve shown me over the years has been a waste of their time. The relationship I have with them is very important to me, and I’m delighted to have them by my side as we enter this new chapter, together.”
Reflecting further, Billy adds: “Social media has changed the entire music industry, to the point where us newer artists can now choose how we navigate our way through things and make our own rules, so we don’t have to play some of the same games that those (artists) that came before us had to. But maybe it’s more than just social media? Maybe it’s a case of major record labels not being the B all, and end all anymore! And if that is what’s happening, then I’m kind of all for it, because in my opinion they’ve been in charge, and calling the shots for too long now. It’s about time artists had their say, and I love seeing so many of my contemporaries in the driving seat, steering their ship and being the masters of their own careers!”
“Just look at RAYE! Look at The Reytons – they just got a number one album with no label, no backing, nothing! I feel like all musicians coming into the industry need to study their story (laughs) because the way they were able to so brilliantly capitalise on the momentum they’d built up online, and use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to their advantage to really connect with their fans and followers, and get their music out there… they’ve absolutely smash it! And RAYE – what can I say? RAYE is an incredible talented, she was always going to make it, but the fact that she’s now doing it on her own makes her success even more special and remarkable – I’m so happy for her!”
As a musician who has continuously tried to rise against the tides of conformity throughout the course of his recording career, we wonder what part Billy sees himself playing in this somewhat rather awe-inspiring moment of industry rebellion… “I don’t know to be honest with you, I guess that’s not for me to decide,” a humble Lockett ponders with a shrug of his shoulders. “I know I’m excited to be actively participating in what’s happening right now, and for my album to be coming out at a time when the independent British music scene seems more alive than ever, makes the occasion feel even more special!”
Pausing for thought, Billy adds with a smile: “The underdogs are finally winning in an industry that’s been dominated by one thing forever, and I’m very happy to see it!”
‘Abington Grove’ is set to be released Friday, February 17th 2023 and is available for pre-order now.