Editor Méabh Lonergan interviews Billy Winn, a Billboard-charting artist who is celebrating the success of his second EP, Dreamland II: an emotionally-charged EDM record telling the story of a young gay kid of colour who had his heart broken.
Dreamland was your first EP. How does Dreamland II compare to it?
Dreamland was originally recorded as a full-length album. I split it into two EPs because, as an indie artist, it can be difficult to promote one song, let alone twelve songs, and I thought the best thing to do was to split it into two. In that process, Dreamland I became its own thing, and Dreamland II became its own thing because I was able to live with those songs in private for a lot longer, to develop them more, and to think about the stories that I was living in real time. Now, I think they are related, as opposed to being exactly the same. Dreamland II sort of sees the other side of a lot of what Dreamland I was talking about.
Were there any life experiences in particular that influenced these EPs?
I write from a very personal place, even though I try to, lyrically, make it very broad and easy for a lot of people to relate to. But both EPs are definitely reflective of the last six years of my life, like turning 21, turning 25, trying to figure out life from the perspective of being black and gay, and trying to understand what this thing called “love” is… so that’s really what the projects are about; that experience as a person. We’re all, at the end of the day, pretty much looking for the same thing, the same kind of acceptance, the same kind of warm feeling that you get when you really care about someone.
The EP has quite a 90s feel. Were you listening to many artists from that time when you were writing it?
When I started Dreamland II, I was listening to specific artists and specific sounds that then would’ve changed, or shifted when I was working on Dreamland II… I was listening to a lot of 90s, so a lot of TLC, a lot of girl groups from the 90s, a lot of Janet Jackson. That was just what I wanted to hear, not realising that it was ultimately having an influence over what I was doing with my own music. So you get a lot of 90s vibes in the music.
Do you have any personal favourite songs or lyrics from your work?
The one song that has been a favourite of mine since I wrote it, and it continues to be, is actually the last song on Dreamland II, and it pretty much sums up the entire sentiment of Dreamland as a whole. The name of the song is “Long For This Love,” and the title and the idea takes from that old-timey saying “he’s not long for this world,” as if someone is about to die, or pass, and I changed it to “Long For This Love,” basically saying that this situation is killing me emotionally. For me personally, and for people that I know who told me very personal situations about themselves, that is such a real feeling – to be involved with someone, or in a situation which you know is bad for you, but not being able to pull yourself away from it. In a lot of ways it completely sums up Dreamland as a whole and the whole idea of the story I was telling.
A lot of your music videos are very dance-orientated. What is the process behind creating these videos?
Dance music, in a lot of ways, is where it first started for us. At the time I was just trying to figure out what I wanted my sound to be, and what I want to be known for, and I hadn’t considered dance music in the way that I ended up making. But one of the producers I was working with at the time took it literally when I said that I wanted to make people dance… I just sort of ran with it. So, when I do records like “Seal It With A Kiss,” and “Another Broken Heart,” I feel like I’m in my element the most.
How the videos come out just depends on where I’m feeling the most creative visually. With “Seal It With A Kiss,” I didn’t do it as a dance video because it was a timing issue. Then we decided to bring it back around for “Another Broken Heart,” where it had been a little while since people had seen me dance, and with that being a bigger dance record, in terms of the way that it feels, than “Seal It With A Kiss,” we wanted to definitely do a dance video just to emphasise that.
Have you had many “pinch me I’m dreaming” moments?
What’s been happening lately, which is still a riot, is people coming up to me, and introducing themselves to me, and telling me how much they love my work. It started in April, in LA, I was at a party, and someone came up to me from behind and gave me a tap on the shoulder. I turned around, and he was like “oh my God, I thought that was you, I recognised your hair, I really love-” and he started singing the melody from one of my records. I was standing there, trying to reconcile, like “I have to know this person, because this isn’t something that happens to me, he must just be someone that I know.” I was in shock after that happened for a week.
At the end of the day, I consider myself to be a songwriter above most things, just because, like as a person more than as an artist, I’m a very solitary type of guy, and writing is my expression to the world, as a solitary person. So when people recognise what I’ve written, that means so much to me.
What do you hope to be doing in 20 years’ time?
Hopefully just doing this, you know what I mean? This is what I would love to do for the rest of my life, obviously on a much larger scale. In five years, I would hope to be a huge name around the world, so that in twenty years, or fifteen years after that, everybody knows who I am, and it’s just sort of common to hear my name in the media and to see me doing something spectacular… As long as I’m still performing, and still acting, and still making music, that’s what’s important to me.
Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure you now have a few more fans in Cork!
Yeah, hopefully! Thank you!