Boy Willows Finds Spiritual and Physical Healing on 'BANGS' [Q&A]
A year ago, LA-based bedroom pop artist Boy Willows, also known as Landon Fleischman, captured our hearts and attention with their hazy and forebodingly whimsical single "Fila," featuring Wallows frontman Dylan Minnette. Now, after releasing a series of equally shimmery and sensitive singles, the artist has dropped their long-awaited six-track EP BANGS.
The record excellently blends experimental folk-pop, jazz, indie, and psych-pop sounds while dealing with feelings of loneliness and reflection. This journey begins by diving headfirst into introspection on the hazy and hushed "Tuff." The dreamy vocals and meticulous guitar looping weave together a story about seeking refuge and healing for the following five tracks.
BANGS is a testament to the artist’s DIY spirit and impacts the listener in subtle but striking ways, a prime example being the closing track "Yello House." With its meditative and minimalist palette, the track emphasizes the lyrical message Boy Willows is expressing, and this striking subtlety is what makes this EP so memorable. Featuring additional creative firepower from The Naked and Famous’ Alisa Xayalith on "Fila and Friends," Boy Willows is further cementing his place in the indie-pop sphere.
We had the opportunity to talk with Fleischman further about the record, its creation, and of course, about Bichons Frises.
It has been almost a year since we last spoke. At that time, we talked about your single "Fila," Desert Mike, and the pandemic. Can you catch us up on what you’ve been up to in the last year?
The past year has been dedicated to physically and spiritually healing my body. After "Fila" came out, I suffered some nerve damage to my neck, which fucked up everything in my body, including my voice. So the past year was a balancing act of trying to heal while tapping into that creative piece of myself. The creative piece happens to be the part of my body that’s damaged, so it was a pretty tricky thing to balance, but I’m at a point now where I’m the best I’ve ever been since the injury, so it’s super nice to have "Fila and Friends" come out and kind of mark that moment in time. It’s a celebration in a few ways because "Fila" is all about loneliness, and "Fila and Friends" is about people knowing that other people share your experience. So that coupled with my body healing, it’s generally a nice full-circle arc.
What sparked the idea to revisit "Fila" and transform elements of that song into "Fila and Friends?" What was it like working with Alisa Xayalith of The Naked and Famous?
I wanted to do some type of revisit with that song. I forget who did it, but this song came out in May of last year, and it featured 20 different rap artists on the same beat; and I just loved that idea of lots of people respecting each other and going in on the same thing. So the original idea was to have a huge group of people on it, and then I just kind of ended up refining that more down, and I asked myself what is the actual narrative here and how can I conclude this? So it became not necessarily about quantity but quality. I had known Alisa through friends of friends, and I’d met her, and I just thought she was one the nicest, kindest people ever. I felt good around her and thought, "Oh, she’s got to be on the track like it has to be her." I just felt so comfortable around her, and she’s just a really warm, inviting person. So having her on the track was a good marriage between the initial idea, which was about filling it out with more people, and the final idea, which was about making the narrative be less about being lonely and more about just sharing the same experience with other people that you love.
It really plays into the concept of how you really only need one good friend to pull you out of that in those lonely periods of life.
Exactly. I was also thinking about changing verses, which I could have done, but the point isn’t an "oh, everything’s better now, and we’re happy" point. It’s more like these parts of my life are still real, but the difference is that I have other people that I can share it with and I know are experiencing similar things. So that sentiment felt more genuine than having it be like, we’re all good.
It feels like all of the songs on the EP are pretty self-referential to each other, which adds to the record’s cohesiveness. Was that intentional or just happenstance?
This is something I do with a lot of my songs. Most songs that I produce are kind of like dominoes where I’ll be working on something, and then I’ll like accidentally solo a couple of tracks and loop it and then think, "Hold up. This is like a really sick loop. And it could be its song and like that ends up being its own song." So what happened was I was working on "Tuff" first, and then basically the backing, driving chunker synth sound thing is the intro to "Yello House." So yeah, I’m sure there’s some stuff chopped up in there. They definitely pull from each other.
Do you feel like the record is one story, or do you feel like it’s more of an anthology with each telling its own separate story?
All the songs are supposed to be part of one feeling about seeking refuge and self-protection. That’s what BANGS is all about. It’s supposed to be me looking at the world through my hair and making my vision softer so that it can feel safer. So yeah, all of these songs are supposed to be part of that one feeling. When I was making it, I didn’t think of it as a story until we started doing "Fila and Friends," and that was the first time I was like, "Oh, you know what, this gives it a conclusion I didn’t realize it needed or was like leading to." So it’s changed a little bit because initially, it was supposed to be about a feeling of seeking refuge, and these are the songs surrounding that feeling. But yeah, now I feel like it’s the first time it has some type of movement, where we were here, and now we’re here.
Were all of these songs written and recorded before your injury?
None of the songs were written after the injury, but I re-recorded my verse on "Fila and Friends" a few weeks ago. So it was a huge deal for me to have a permanent recording that I was proud of using the voice that I have post-injury. It makes me feel hopeful and good that I can make something that I like, and I can listen to it and be like, "Wow, I like this. I like the way my voice sounds better on this verse than the original, and it’s my new voice," or whatever, my voice post-injury. So that’s the only part of the EP with my new voice, and you know, it’s great that it’s that track because the whole song is supposed to be about movement in general and being in a new state of mind or a new place. So it’s literally using my new self in it, so it feels good, symbolically.
Speaking of symbolism, I noticed that there’s heavy usage of the colors red and yellow in the music videos for this record. Is color an essential component for you when it comes to visual storytelling, and what do these colors mean to you in the context of BANGS? Or is it as simple as the colors just look cool?
So it’s all about turning inward, so when I picture inside of myself, I just feel like red is always how I imagine my insides. I’m supposed to be looking inside of myself, so that’s why red is used on all the tracks. Yellow is the color of the inside of my house back home in Maryland. So yeah, these tracks are just about taking a look inside of me, and I’ve been using red as a motif in that, and I figured that with “Yello House,” it’s like either you’re either looking inside me or my house and I’m just using whatever color is inside. It’s all just the colors that are inside of the things that I’m talking about.
During the pandemic, you directed some of the music videos yourself. What was that process like and what kind of challenges did you run into? What kind of things did you learn about yourself while directing your music videos?
One thing I already knew, which is that I’m incredibly organizationally challenged. So that I just kind of got reaffirmed. That was something for me that I need to get better at and just push through, in general. I mean, that was fine. I grew up making dumb videos with my friends all the time, so I honestly feel comfortable doing it as far as the scope of it because I wouldn’t say that I feel intimidated necessarily by the task of making music videos. Definitely all the parts inside of it like logistically and communicating with DP’s and other people that are gonna be in it and set location and hair and makeup and just, you know, just all that stuff, that is the one piece that is still a huge challenge for me. In general, I feel like I still am not making the music videos that I know I can create. It’s hard to explain. I don’t think I’ve made my favorite music video yet, by far, and that’s something I can only be aware of after the fact. I’m super glad that I made these, and I don’t regret them at all, but I think moving forward, I’m going to I think I’m going to involve other creative partners more so. I like directing, but I think something essential comes from collaborating with the director that I think I missed out on, so I’m going to do that moving forward. But I mean, it fits for this EP. It’s all about kind of being alone and feeling alone, and the fact that I was the one directing these like, it makes perfect sense. So, for better or worse, it’s a very accurate representation.
I have to say I think my favorite of the music videos you directed was "Tuff." I need to know, what is the name of the Bichon Frise, and were they a good boy on set?
Hell yeah. So the Bichon’s name is Dexter. He’s such a good boy, holy crap. So sweet. He would sometimes get overwhelmed, and he’d need to be taken on a walk to regroup, which is just really cute. He was a real trooper. It was hot out, so we’d give him water, and we’d chill in the shade. His handler did a great job. It’s hilarious because the whole reason there’s a Bichon in the song is that when I was making it, I just kind of wanted a sample of someone saying "Bichon" because it’s like the least tough type of dog. Then fast forward like a year from making the song, I’m making music there with the Bichon, and it’s just because I had an idea to put the sample in that. I love it.
I will say the sample of Bichon was one of my favorite moments from the record.
That’s my friend Clemence. She speaks French, and I was like, “You gotta say Bichon.”
If you had to be stuck in a Boy Willows-universe music video, which one would it be?
Oh my God, that’s tricky! One hundred percent "Crool." It’s just great. I would say "Tuff" because it’s so fun, but it’d be exhausting.
You’d have to fight every day.
Yeah, to be getting the shit beaten out of me every day. It’d be awful. Yes, I guess I’m the hero, but it’s just exhausting. I’d much rather be in an outdoor living room with my friends, playing with different faders and buttons.
What are your plans for after the EP drops?
I have an EP release party. I’m inviting all my friends over and performing for the first time in a long time.
How do you feel about it?
As ready as I can be, you know? I’m nervous, and I still kind of feel like I was a runner who broke both their legs, and now I’m inviting all my friends to watch me run a race, so that is a little scary. At the same time, I don’t think anyone will hear the difference in my voice. It’s more of a "me" thing. So that’s happening, and then I’ll be putting out another project shortly after BANGS. It’s basically the second half of what BANGS would’ve been when I thought it would be an album but then decided that it didn’t make sense narratively because so much of it changed. So yes, if "Fila and Friends" is the conclusion to BANGS, this next project is the conclusion to the whole two-part series.
Which song are you most excited to perform live?
I’m excited for "I Love It When You Talk." That song is fun. I have this cheap little seven-inch Casio tiny keyboard that I have running through a delay pedal into an amp, and it’s really fun to play. And there’s a ripping solo at the end of "I Love It When You Talk." I’m going to look forward to playing. That’s the thing with live shows right now. I don’t have any tours scheduled, but I am slowly approaching a level of health singing-wise that I think I can sustain a tour. We’re getting there, and I think we’ll start to tackle the touring stuff once I’m there. I don’t even know if I have enough fans to do a tour; maybe I can do a support thing. There’s just a lot to figure out, but I would love to tour. So we will see.
If you could say anything to Landon from a year ago, what would you say?
Landon from a year ago would give anything to talk to Landon right now. I would tell him that you do get better, and your situation is not permanent. That would be huge for Landon a year ago to hear. It definitely would have saved me a lot of anxiety, and Landon from a year from now, I would love for him to come to me right now and tell me something good. So maybe we’ll do this interview a year from now, and I’ll be like, "Oh my God, if only."