Interview: Gavin Williams of Life On Standby

Interview: Gavin Williams of Life On Standby

A series of interviews with musicians talking about their favourite instruments and how those instruments influence their song-writing accompanied by some nice photos. Hopefully an enlightening insight into what inspires players in 2014. Or at least some cool photos.

“Should I talk about my guitar or the iPad ?” isn’t a dilemma that most people come across, but for Gavin Williams of Life On Standby that dangerous line between guitar player and Apple product enthusiast has become increasingly blurred. “I tend to write the main tune for our songs on the iPad these days. I mean, one of our new tunes is based mostly on strings so I have to use the iPad to do that. It’s great to be able to do that at home, it makes me excited to hear what the full thing will sound like the rest of the guys.” 

With the band’s  newest material now taking shape in an electronic format with multiple programmed instruments I find myself asking Williams whether he sees himself as a rock guitar player at all any more : “No. When I write a song I see myself as a composer, but once Gia, Liam and Erin have their grip on the song I see myself as more of a guitarist. Once I program all these different layers into the iPad all I need to do is press play and that’s when I become a guitar player.” 

Gavin Williams of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan
Gavin Williams of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan

“Originally I’d write all the songs on guitar, so everything started with a wee riff. Then I started to add more to more sound by recording stuff on a loop station and then essentially that’d become a backing track.” Williams explains. Modern technology is used by a lot of musicians as crutch. But it can also be a tool and an inspiration. To Williams the ability to play about with a variety of instruments on something as simple as GarageBand has almost entirely changed his approach as a song-writer and a musician : “Now it’s a case of doing it in reverse. I’ll program all the pianos, keyboards, rough drums and bass and then write a guitar part to the song rather than writing a song to the guitar part y’know?”

Having known the man for over a decade at this point I can easily see just how much GarageBand and having the freedom the iPad brings has changed how he writes. These days his song-writing is less like a photograph with the pin-up riff strutting centre of the frame and more like a painting where the original sketch is lost beneath layers of colour and experimentation.

Gavin Williams of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan
Gavin Williams of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan

It’s fascinating to watch Williams essentially conduct the band as they work on new material shortly after we completed this interview. He’s welcoming of ideas, remarkably disciplined in his own playing and spots mistakes, or happy accidents, immediately. It’s almost like there’s a grand master plan that only he can see in front of his face. As if he’s the only one with the full version of the artistic map. Following the previously used photograph and painting metaphors the ‘artistic journey’ cliché was inevitable. Sorry about that. Imagination isn’t my strong point.

The same can’t be said of Williams. And what feeds that imagination? The desire to be his heroes?  Apparently not: “There wasn’t one guy who I looked at that made me want to play, it was more Gia getting a drum kit at the same time as I got a guitar and just getting into music in general made me want to play with people. So it’s more just playing with people that inspires me.”  In an age of  musicians who are perfectly content to just ape their idols, there’s something endearing about the idea of playing music just because you enjoy playing it and not because you want to ‘be’ something or somebody.

Gavin Williams of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan
Gavin Williams & Erin Donnachie of Life On Standby // photograph by Calum McMillan

Such a genuine and instinctive approach seems almost at odds with someone who so obviously knows what he wants out of his song-writing and someone with such a singular and focused vision. Then again, maybe without those preconceptions about how his art ‘should be’ is exactly what allows him to be freely creative.

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Life On Standby recently played Download Festival 2014 after winning a place in the final 8 of the Redbull Download competition. Their current single “Do It Again” is available now on iTunes and you can find the band being all sociable on Facebook and Twitter.  Their latest video “Shadows” is also out now and handily embedded for you below because after all this reading who wouldn’t like some moving pictures?

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