It’s only been just over a year since WILLOW released her critically acclaimed fourth album ‘Lately I Feel Everything’, which furthered the pop-punk renaissance with the likes of ‘Grow’ and ‘Gaslight’ and featured guest appearances from Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne. Not wanting to let the momentum dip, the 21-year-old has swiftly returned with the crushing brilliance of her new LP, ‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’ (out October 7).
Asked by NME if she feels like she’s on a creative roll, WILLOW replies: “I really do. After ‘Lately I Feel Everything’, I said to myself I wasn’t going to make another album for a while. Even when I got [in the studio] with Chris [Greatti, producer], I was still telling him that I wasn’t going to make an album. But, slowly but surely, it became a very strong project.”
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we caught up with WILLOW in London to discuss her new album, dream collaborators, her debut novel and more. Here’s what we learned.
The idea for ‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’ has been with WILLOW for some time
‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’ might arrive just 14 months after WILLOW’s last album, but its genesis goes back much further than the fast-paced follow-up suggests. “I was always looking back at some old notes in my phone, and I had a folder and it was called ‘Coping Mechanism’,” she explains. When the star looked at the date on the folder, which at the time contained just three songs, she realised she’d started it all the way back in 2018: “This idea has been with me for a long time.”
The inspiration to reignite the work in that folder, though, is more recent, and finds WILLOW doing something she thought she’d never do. “I hate to say it, because when I made music when I was younger I really wanted to stay away from the idea of heartbreak and romantic love,” she says with a wry smile. “I felt like it was so played out. I just felt like everyone talks about that, and it’s just boring. But then your girl got her heart broken. And you know what, I said, ‘Maybe this is the time for me to make that album’. This is that album.”
She’s finally getting to make the metal music she always wanted to do
WILLOW has often spoken about her love for metal and her desire to dabble with the genre. On ‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’, she finally gets her chance: the likes of ‘Perfectly Not Close To Me’ (feat. Yves Tumor) find her turning her vocals into a scream, while a host of abrasive, heavy guitar riffs fill the record. Stepping into that zone on this album made the most sense, she says, because of her producer, Chris Greatti.
“Greatti plays the guitar like a freaking titan,” WILLOW explains. “He just plays like he’s in the music. I feel like the music he likes to play the most is metal, and so that’s his forte. We just worked really well together. I wanted to do that and he was like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this – which direction should we take it?’”
Although WILLOW says she felt “so comfortable” working in that area with Greatti, she does note that metal is “not my forte”: “I can play some metal riffs, I can. But it’s not the thing that I do the best. I wish it was, and soon it might be.”
This album might not be the last time we hear the young artist experiment with metal sounds, either. “Oh, 100 per cent,” WILLOW replies when asked if she feels like she has more to explore in the genre. “I was actually playing a lot of seven-string [guitar] last year, I was super, super-obsessed. I need to get back on that because once you commit to something, you really do get better at it fairly quickly. So it just takes the commitment.”
There are plenty more music legends who WILLOW wants to work with
Take one look at WILLOW’s discography and you’ll notice an impressive list of bona fide musical legends within her collaborations. The aforementioned ‘Lately I Feel Everything’ featured Blink-182 drummer Barker and pop-punk queen Avril Lavigne, while over the years she’s also teamed up with Machine Gun Kelly, Nicki Minaj, Camila Cabello and more.
Impressive as that list may be, WILLOW isn’t done working with her heroes just yet. “Oh my goodness,” she begins as she flips through her bucket list of collaborators in her head. “I want to work with Les Claypool from Primus. I also want to work with the main singer of Hiatus Kaiyote, Nai Palm: she’s amazing. There’s so many people I want to work with, the list could be infinite.”
What, then, does WILLOW look for in a collaborator? “Someone [who] is open to being experimental, and to doing things that other people may not be into doing,” she says. “And I just look for a friend. Like, if I really love you and you inspire me as a person, I’m down. I love working with people who I love – that’s really the only criteria.”
After performing at Reading & Leeds, WILLOW now has her sights set on some other British festival milestones
WILLOW made her debut appearance at Reading & Leeds back in August, putting in an incendiary performance on the festivals’ main stage. “It was so crazy,” she says, looking back at the weekend. “There were so many people there. I was honestly like, ‘What is going on?!’ It was so much fun and I got to perform some new songs there – I felt like the reaction to them was better than I ever could have imagined, and I’m just really grateful.”
The history of R&L isn’t something that’s lost on the LA star, either. After all, WILLOW says that she always loves performing in Europe and the UK. “The way that people consume music in the UK is just different,” she explains. “I think people in the UK care a little bit more about the quality of the music and not just what it looks like [compared to the US].”
Playing on the main stage at Reading & Leeds is a major milestone for any artist, but WILLOW isn’t done with ticking off big achievements on this side of the pond yet. “I’d love to play Glastonbury,” she grins. “That would be amazing, that would mean the world. I love being a part of historical movements and music, that’s just so cool to me. To be able to be involved is just an honour.”
Her debut novel will “look into how people lived in the past”
WILLOW might be keeping herself busy with music, but she’s also found the time to work on a completely different creative venture – her debut book. Co-written with Jess Hendel, Black Shield Maiden will be published on October 4 and is the first book in a new fantasy series. The novel and those to come will “make visible the histories and mythologies of medieval African peoples, and women of the Viking Age, which have been erased by dominant Western narratives in media and education”.
“I’m just a nerd,” the musician explains of where the idea came from. “I love history and I love analysing how humans interacted. Realistically, I love prehistoric, egalitarian human societies and how they decided to gather, come in tribes and communicate with one another. That’s really, really interesting to me.”
Of the time period that Black Shield Maiden is set in, she notes that it isn’t “that far in history”: “But the bottom line is I just want this book to look into how people lived in the past in order to inform our future, and teach us something that our ancestors did that can make our lives feel a little bit less hollow in the 21st century.”
WILLOW’s new album ‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’ is out October 7