INTERVIEW: Will Stratton

You may not know
Will Stratton, but you totally should. He's only 21 years old, yet last year he quietly released What the Night Said (Stunning Models on Display), which, in Evcat's eyes, was the single best album of 2007. Then, in a surprising act of humility and connection, he released For No Onean album filled with outtakes and demosfor free on his homepage (download it here). He writes with an acoustic in the vein of Nick Drake and Sufjan Stevens, yet sidesteps easy comparisons by writing songs that are unabashedly modern andas on "Katydid"actually feature Sufjan Stevens. Globecat couldn't have found a better first interviewee, and Stratton was more than happy to oblige our questions.


>>How did you first get introduced to the world of making music? Did you ever see yourself going as far as you have?

A couple years ago I saw an old home video of me and my aunt playing piano together. I think she was playing a Chopin mazurka or something like that, and I was sitting next to her on the bench in my diaper playing this strange baby music, very slow and delicate and not entirely in the wrong key. I must have been two years old in that particular video, so I don't think I can remember far back enough to answer the first part of the question completely honestly. But my parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was four, I started playing guitar when I was twelve, and I started composing with serious intentions probably a year or two after that.

I have always wanted to make music that moved people, and I think in that sense I have succeeded so far. But now that I have one record out there is so much more that I want to do, and that I feel capable of, and that feeling is a lot more powerful than any lingering feelings of accomplishment. The reception that What the Night Said got was definitely fun for me to see, and hopefully the second album won't fall short of anyone's expectations. I guess in that sense I'm glad that What the Night Said wasn't one of those huge, overhyped records like Vampire Weekend's or somethingit would have been just like, "yeah, okay, I get it, it's cool to like my music right now." It also would have been completely undeserved, I think, because it was such an easy, quick record to make, and it certainly wasn't as good as a lot of people have been saying. So instead it was really cool, because it felt like some people really stuck their necks out for me. Anyway, I'd rather have one that really takes a lot out of me be the one to completely blow people's minds. But that doesn't really answer your question either! No, I never thought I would be a musician that people looked up to or anything like that when I was growing up. I always wanted to change the world just like most people do when they're little.

>>You have, of course, the strange challenge of balancing releasing music while also studying for your college degree (heretofore known as "Rivers Cuomo Syndrome"). Especially with your getting a degree in Music Composition, do you find it easy to integrate these two career paths? Do you wish you could do one thing exclusively?

I don't know if I would call either one a career path quite yet, but I really wish I could make a living doing both, and exploring the ways in which they intersect. I want to write music for films, and I want to do arrangements for other people's music. It is weird being in school at this point in my life, though, when all that I really want to do is make records and tour. I try not to play too many shows at school because it's a really small place and I don't want to be that guy with a guitar who always plays the same songs. I only have one year left now, though, so I won't have that problem too much longer, hopefully. I don't think I will ever be able to do music exclusively, to be honest. I think I'll probably teach English or History somewhere and tour in the summer, Bob Pollard style.

I think that the chamber music that I have written has mostly been about transcendent, elemental forces in nature, and my pop music has been about very specific places, and very specific moments in time. Sometimes in the instrumental sections of my pop music I try to make the two overlap.

>>What do you hope a listener will take out of a Will Stratton song?

That's a tough one. Mostly it depends on the song, but mainly I just want to make music that makes people feel more connected to each other and to life in general. It's easier to explain in negative termsI'd definitely be lying I said if there was no artifice in my music, but I hate certain types of affectation in music, the kinds that create distance between people. So I hope that my songs will make people genuinely happy, or genuinely something. Visceral reactions in music are underrated these days. It's like people are afraid to be caught being sincere. Which is the worst kind of disease that a culture can have, I think.

>>What has been the most surprising thing to happen to you in the wake of What the Night Said?

Just making that album was kind of surrealI had just gotten out of high school, and was commuting that summer because some guy in New York had heard my songs on the internet and wanted to help me make an album and release itand best of all, it wasn't a scam!

Other than that, just the response in general has been surprising, and really gratifying. When I played at Cakeshop in New York, there were a lot of strangers there to see me. Bearded dudes and beautiful girls coming up to me and saying they love my music. But other that, I don't know if anything really surprising has happened. My life is not very exciting. It's not like I get recognized on the street or anything crazy like that.

>>You recently released For No Onea selection of demos and outtakesfor free on your website. Why not hoard them for yourself or for album/iPod commercial consideration?

I just don't think any of them are good enough for an album of mine, and so I don't want to charge people for them. If someone wants to use one in a commercial, though, as long as it's not for Walmart or Halliburton or something, believe me, I'm all earsI have a lot of college debt to pay off! There are a bunch more outtakes on the way, because I keep writing songs that I don't want to save for a third album, but I'm not sure if I will release them before or after the next album comes out. Probably a little bit before.

>>What can we most look forward to in Will Stratton's immediate future?

Well, I'm in New York right now finishing this album. I'm excited to see what people think. In my mind, it's definitely an improvement over the last one. I don't know when it will be out, though. Before that, like I said, I'll probably put up another collection of songs that have been abandoned and versions of songs that didn't make the cut. There's a little tour coming up where I'm going to be going to god knows where. I wish I could be more specific about both things but I don't want to give anything more away about the album and I actually don't know anything about this little tour. I can't wait to finish this album so I can get on to making the next one. It's definitely an addictive process. I'm not an obsessive person, and I don't think I'm usually all that meticulous about details, but the artistic form of the album brings out both of those things in me, and those are hard tendencies to shake when you're doing something that you love doing.


What the Night Said is out now.
Visit the artist's webpage.