WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR
With a taste for good, old-fashioned roots, a myriad influences, William The Conqueror and their retro-infused energy will knock everyone out!
“I’ve always liked the ambiguity of William The Conqueror. William is kind of a character I guess – a younger me that doesn’t exist. It’s almost like a mythology.”
A character, a mythology, the flicker of a younger self, William the Conqueror is many things, but in simplest terms it is the name of a band put together by songwriter Ruarri Joseph, alongside his close musical conspirators Harry Harding (drums) and Naomi Holmes (bass) in the Winter of 2015.
Bleeding On the Soundtrack is the second in a trilogy of autobiographical albums which began with 2017’s Proud Disturber of the Peace — a sublime record that captured Joseph’s early life in rural Cornwall; the long, fearless days spent stirring the quiet hum of village life; the glory of bike rides, den-building, rope swings; the dappled half-light of memory and imagination. Joseph and his band playing with a similar musical impetus – joyful and boundless and bold.
Bleeding On the Soundtrack addresses a less idyllic period in Joseph’s life – the confusion of adolescence, addiction, divorce, upheaval. The time when life shadows and turns, when, as he puts it “you’re always at a crossroad, constant junctions where you have to make decisions”. It carries hope, humour, sorrow, honesty. It has an extraordinary musical diversity that somehow spans roots, folk, grunge, and boasts production by Ethan Johns. It is his finest collection of songs to date, amplified by quite stunning performances from Harding, Holmes and Joseph himself, as they recorded live over the course of twelve days at Real World Studios in Wiltshire.
Joseph is older and wiser now, his writing fuelled by a life that has taken him from Scotland to Cornwall to New Zealand, and back once more to the West Country to raise his own family. Along the way he pursued a music career that flirted with both major labels and independents, gathered a devoted live following, but never quite caught flame. “I’d had all this frustration playing as ‘Ruarri Joseph’ but feeling detached from who I was supposed to be,” he says. “I was somewhat lumped in as a folky singer songwriter, which helped pay the bills, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.”
William the Conqueror began as a temporary plan – not so much a band or a pseudonym – as a way to play live with new material in between Ruarri Joseph albums. And yet it unleashed his songwriting: separated from his own name and identity, Joseph found that the songs he wrote as William the Conqueror “were bizarrely more personal than anything I wrote as Ruarri Joseph.”
These are not straightforward songs. Rather they are intimate lacings of half-recollection and new revelation, episodes, images, music, not narratives. “I’m trying to decide what’s true, and what I’ve embellished for the sake of the story,” says Joseph. “My brain doesn’t operate in a linear fashion – especially when looking back on a youth I wasn’t paying attention to, that seems so distant. When I try to remember that time they’re kind of vignettes, pressed together, rather than being a structured tale.”
The idea of a trilogy came to him early. “I like working in threes,” Joseph explains. “Hermann Hesse has a book of essays called My Belief in which he talks about the three stages of life being innocence, disillusionment, and faith, and how the cycle of life brings you full circle back to the start. It seemed like a good model for a collection of albums about the same thing from three different perspectives.”
Bleeding On the Soundtrack, then, concerns itself with disillusionment. As life at home became more turbulent with his father’s alcoholism, the teenaged Joseph didn’t want to recognise his parents as human beings with flaws and contradictions. Rather than face it, he found escape through music, listening to Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan, playing the guitar, distracting himself with early romances.
It would take him years to confront the events of that time, and the songs on this album are the remarkable, unflinching result – misguided worship and romanticised visions of death pervade the title track itself, while Looking for the Cure deals with the cruel psychology of addiction.
“I’ve written about it my whole life but I don’t seem to have taken it head on,” he says. “I’ve always touched on things, or skirted around the issue. But that’s what Bleeding on the Soundtrack is — it’s not leaving anything out, digging deep to try and cleanse myself of it all.”
The album holds lighter moments too of course — the stumbling romance of Thank Me Later and Sensitive Side, the celebration of brotherhood on Be So Kind, the strangeness of life’s obstacles and re-routings on Path of the Crow. There is a kindness and a gentleness to many of the songs – The Burden, for instance, views those years and the father-son relationship with the warmth and wisdom of experience. It is a song so tender that there are even moments when it catches Joseph unawares – “it still sneaks up on me when I play it sometimes,” he says.
And with them a musical exploration of sound, too, roots rock meeting blues, Americana, at points a kind of warm soul. It is a reflection of the band’s desire to never be labelled as one thing, a refusal to fit into any genre, to always keep moving. To make music, perhaps, that is distinctly William the Conqueror: joyful and boundless and bold.
“leaving dusty trails and Neil Young solos in their mirror as they dig ever-deeper into collective influences… there are few more heartfelt and soul-baring writers in any medium today” ★★★★
“Family blues recalled with cool fire…. a touch of Jackson C Frank in his croon, and Dylan in his epigrammatic lyrics’ scalpel cuts” 8/10
“There are many Dylan epigones. Anyone who can hold the guitar and harmonica quickly sees himself in the tradition of the songwriter king, even if in the end it’s just better campfire music. Counterexample: William The Conqueror around creative head Ruarri Joseph.” 8/10
“this record will leave you firmly in dizzy heights of happiness and looking to the future with positive eyes. An inspired masterpiece in cleansing the soul.”
“Fantastic second album signals major talent’s arrival… Highly recommended – Loose have a(nother) major artist in their stable!” 9/10
“A new album that sounds absolutely brilliant, an intoxicating mix of country, blues, rock, a bit of everything.” 9/10
“warming, infused with melody and old fashioned soft rock grooves. Gets under your skin.”
-- HI-FI MAGAZINE
“Independent high-class Southern Rock, modernly staged with a pinch of knife edge Neo-Grunge or Dark-Americana – “Bleeding On The Soundtrack” channels the unconstructive phlegmatic of alternative rock of the 1990s with the wisdom of old masters like Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton to an incomparable piece of contemporary timeless music” 12/15
“Varying between grungey rockers and amiable jigs such as “Thank Me Later”, the one aspect that remains constant is sharpness of lyrics and an ability to drag the listener in.”
“if you’re not already a fan of William the Conqueror then now is the time to get on board with them if you know what’s good for you… Adolescence is so ripe with songwriting opportunities, but the mistake so often made is to write those songs during adolescence itself. The genius and power of this album comes in both the reflection as well as the ability to tap back in to those raw emotions of that potent time. If this isn’t on my album of the year shortlist at the end of 2019 then everyone else has played an absolute blinder and we may find that we are living in a golden age for music.”
“crooning bluesman leading a mighty trio… he retains his lacerating lyrical prowess”
-- SCOTTISH DAILY EXPRESS
“a great beginning and the quality rarely dips right through to the closing Within Your Spell” 9/10
-- PETERBOROUGH TELEGRAPH
“British outfit take their rolling Americana cues from Tom Petty for this high-energy indie-rock belter”https://www.mysticsons.com/article/new-music-discovery-150119
“this album is a sheer delight. Captivating, entertaining, catchy songs brilliantly delivered with Ruarri Joseph’s languid style, superbly backed by Naomi Holmes on bass and Harry Harding on drums.” ★★★★★
“this is world class”
“From bluesy melancholy to exuberant danceability to sober songwriting, the second album of the three Brits brings everything with it – an exciting experience between the worlds with a great depth and, despite all the temporary bulkiness, a surprising need for harmony” 4/5
“it doesn’t disappoint …brilliantly unique and full of character” 4/5
“it carries hope, humour, sorrow and honesty through rootsy rocking, folk and a bit of grunge.”
“Slightly fuller and more mature sounding than Proud… it’s still the sound of slacker simplicity on the surface. However, as always with Joseph, dig a little deeper, and the nuances and textures reveal themselves to be multi-layered, his voice an engaging, easy-to-understand vehicle, rich with soulful melancholy, whilst reaching out into areas of playfulness at times. A superb lyricist, who treads that fine line between pathos and humour, Joseph is the consummate storyteller.”
“A superb lyricist, who treads that fine line between pathos and humour, Joseph is the consummate storyteller… There is more musical diversity on offer here than ever before”
“Ethan Johns has managed to capture their live high-powered energy and faultlessly transfer it to the studio… Crank up the volume to max and enjoy!”
“this is world class”
“Oozing Americana, it carries Ruarri Joseph’s soft vocals – a tender blend of Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and Rob Goodwin of The Slow Show.”