Willy William Interview

Willy William Interview
Willy William Interview

Willy William Interview: what’s the story behind the song of this summer? Few are the drives along Ibiza’s sun-soaked coastline that don’t feature Willy William‘s Mi Gente. The French DJ’s song, a collaboration with J Balvin, is a joyous surprise hit of a busy season that has seen David Guetta party in supersize and Julian Jordan arrive on the Balearic island. Mi Gente has topped the charts in Spain; in addition, the song and its colourful video have charted from Australia to France, the UK and the US. We met Willy William one sunny afternoon, to talk about his career as a record producer, singer and DJ, playing live and collaborating with J Balvin on this summer’s anthem.

Tell me about your own musical background?

I’ve had a lot of experience in different types of music, different situations. I started music when I was 16. I’m a musician first and guitarist. I started in the ’90s with my little rock band, just trying to search for our own style. I was a guitarist, my neighbour was the drummer and we were just doing music – and learning about music. I was huge fan of Pixies, Greenday, Cranberries, Smashing Pumpkins.

There’s also a similar production sound to that era of music. Your drum sounds are obviously important to you!

Yeah I love – not really drums – a lot of percussion. I love to put some piece with a guitar in all my productions. But playing guitar, because I can, and I try it with software… it’s not really playing guitar. I love to play instruments and put a little piece on, even on electronic stuff, it’s pretty cool.

On your tracks, do you play all the instruments?

Yes – guitar, keys, drums if I can. But it’s a long process to record real drums, so I’ve got some friends who record some drums and I put it in as a drums loop; it’s still real drums. I think its sounds better, and as I told you, on electronic stuff you can fit something real. It’s a nice job because the success of different stuff allows me to experience some different things. And to see if those experiences work or not.

Do you have a classical training?

No, I learned by ear. Never been in a school for music, learning the cogs. When I’m playing, I’m just playing by ear. Sometimes it’s difficult when I’m with real musicians because they want me to lead, to give some direction. I just say “Okay, wait a minute, this, this this and this”. There’s some rules but if you don’t know the rules but you can do these things, you have to forget about the rules.

Isn’t it in jazz: if you make a mistake play it twice. That’s fantastic, so you were listening to all of this quite sophisticated production in term of the bands that you reference, they all have this particular, very precision orchestrated production. How did that influence you? Obviously you got your reggae influence and rhythms coming through. How did it feel, how did it come about – you creating your sound?

The process of creation depends on so many things. When I start something, I’ve got some ideas like a hook so I grab a piano or guitar to put the hook and after I say ‘whats the direction of this?’. I will add some reggae stuff, I will add some afrobeats on it. Most of the time I put some afro influence on my production. Brazilian and afro sometimes. But I love to focus on drums first. I like to make the drums sound like a hook. Every DJ is asking me the secret. I don’t know if it’s a secret, how I made this hook, it’s a mix of vocal, flute and sax.

What was it about the collaboration with J Balvin; was it that he had a natural voice that worked?

That collaboration started with common friends we had, between Scorpio Music and the label of J Balvin. This guy received the version, J Balvin heard it and at first he said, ‘We have go to do something with it’. He wanted to put this instrumental and make something for him for his summer stuff. He started posting some video on his Instagram, filming himself and freestyling on only the instrumental. I received all those videos because he made maybe three or four videos per day filming himself and singing, ‘Yeah something huge is coming’. I’m watching the video like – ‘Yeah, I know’. We went to the studio in Miami, we spent a night working on building the right stuff, to make it sound like a cross-over. He wanted to break these rules and make something original. That why there’s no vocals on the chorus and the chorus sounds like the drop. When we were in the studio, he always told me, ‘Don’t rush it, believe in me, believe in this project. This type of construction will break the rules and will add something new in the Latin market. It’s a beautiful song and we bring something new with different chords’. The first version I made is a French version, in French, 100% French. ‘Voodoo Song’, the French version was signed in 20 countries. Those countries like this french version because it’s something new and they also like the melody, the hook, the instrumental. I think they also like the vocals and the stuff, even if they don’t understand what I’m saying but the flow sounds like something cool.

Willy William Interview
Willy William Interview

Do you think the success of this is down to the remix, or the fact that it’s in Spanish, or a mix of everything?

I think it’s a mix of everything. I think the video helps too because we put a lot of energy into this video to make it look like the music, when you feel the music when a drop is coming, this is the drop, when you are watching the video drops coming, it’s like that. You can feel because everybody moves all around. The video helps.

I don’t think you’d realise you were French from the video, it does sound more South American.

That’s the way.

It sounds like the social media aspect of it has been huge as well. Obviously you have had the Shazam thing as well, Spotify, the Streaming, the way people are consuming music, and this whole Instagram story that is fantastic.

Yeah, since Mi Gente, a lot of good things [have happened]. I received congratulations from artists such as David Guetta. Yesterday I was with Kygo in the studio and he said, ‘Man, your songs are amazing’. It’s really new for me: I’m a French guy who does his own thing, my own stuff. Now, it’s like the world wants to make stuff with me and with my songs. When I build this instrumental it was a kind of an accident, you know, because I was focused on another project and I was looking for sounds. I was like, ‘This vocal sounds good, lets try this’. I opened a new session, I forgot the [other] project and I focus on this hook and I just built it like this. Not as a used to do, like focus on the drums first and after that the hook. It sounds better like this because the hook is the main.

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How did the unofficial remixes come about?

There’s maybe 1000 unofficial remixes, and everybody’s sending their stuff to me, they find my name on Facebook, they google my name and easily find my Facebook then they write me some stuff like, ‘I made a remix, but I need the vocal, I need a hook’. No, no, next, next.

Have you seen your social media increased massively?

So fast. I feel stress, because now I have to give something to those people because they expect me to. I got a lot of stuff to give, it’s not a problem. It’s a good situation, it’s what I have been waiting for a long time, but not as fast like this. Because now I have to prepare myself, to learn languages… They put me in the Spanish stuff, now I’m supposed to speak Spanish in the future, I’m supposed to sing in Spanish, it’s not a problem but I need to work on it, on the language, on English. But, it’s cool because I love to challenge myself.

Willy William Interview
Willy William Interview

What is next?

There are so many open doors, so I have the choice. I will focus on DJ sets, because I’m a DJ also and I think it’s the best way to discover the world. It’s easier for DJs to have some gigs everywhere and now there are so many festivals, it’s easier for a DJ to be on stage. My inspiration comes from the crowd. When you are a DJ, you can feel the crowd, you can feel the real construction of your own tracks.. After DJ sets, I’m so excited to be in the studio like, okay I have to change this, have to change this, that sound works.

Do you ever play live when you are DJing?

Yeah, yeah. I love to grab guitars to play the solo, sometimes it doesn’t work because the clubs and the technical set up is sometimes difficult, even sometimes the crowd, they don’t really realise you are playing for real. I love to play samples, some drums, some classical EDM, depends some hip-pop, maybe rock sometimes. I like to drop Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, only the guitars, and play the drums. It work’s because you are doing something special, not playing just the track. I love to add some original stuff on it. But now I have to focus on, thanks to what happened which direction.

There must be a long list of people wanting to collaborate with you?

I think it can be a kind of trap, they want me to use the same things, using the same vocals, using the same drops, but I am able to do whatever those artists want. They want some salsa, I can do some salsa. It’s hard to say to those big artists, this is cool but let’s try something new.

What was your purpose in coming to Ibiza?

Thing is, I’m living on islands since January this year and it’s a really different, like a holiday every day, because it’s a small island. I don’t know if you know Seychelles, my island Mauritius is close to the Seychelles. When I come here, it’s really different. The term ‘holiday’ changes when you live in a holiday place, it’s really different.

Presumably the Ibiza music scene is important, a lot of the biggest DJs in the world are all here playing your record, that must feel good?

Yeah, I’m good! I feel normal, nothing has changed in my mind about this. I just told myself, now I have to work a lot and now it makes sense because I have guys who keep their eyes on my work. So now, I have to focus on setting up things in the right place and give my best, not wasting time doing this, and I have to focus my energy on good things. The work starts now, before was the training.

Because everything is so instant, like you were saying, the social media follow has gone up, everyone wants something fast.

I know that I can give them some original stuff, because I come from a different world. I had the chance to grow in so many styles.

Could you play us something?

No I don’t have my guitar. Before I came here I had three or four shows per night, not as a DJ but as a singer on stage. In France, I make one or two hours shows and I am alone with the crowd singing my stuff, just me and my DJ. Sometimes I grab my guitar. I really love the stage experience, I can do whatever I want. If I am worried about the people, because they are too slow, just stop the music, say DJ ‘cut the music’ and I try to give some of my energy to them. It works like that for one hour. It’s a good experience. I love this experience.

Willy William Interview by Andy Dean

Photographer: Stevie Dean