In a band’s lifetime, what does the release of three albums signify? For many artists it represents the point at which they’re comfortable. Settled into their groove as performers, confident in the crafting of their sound, ever ready for the desired expansion of their audience and moving with determined force toward mainstream status. Not so for European electronic producers Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia and their project Walls, having reached three albums they are instead placing their soundscape synergy on permanent hiatus. When probed on the reasons for this decision, Willis revealed that even the choice to make a third album did not come easy.
“It was not really trepidation as such, more a concern about what exactly we wanted to say, and whether ultimately we’d feel happy about it enough to release it or not. By the time we got to the end we knew that this was something we should release but, equally, that it was probably time to end the project. It seemed an ideal point, after three albums…”
While definitely primed for qualified mainstream success why then are Walls doing what all good celebrity marriages apparently choose to and consciously uncoupling? How then with the road to success already somewhat paved do artistic collaborators know that the time is ripe to continue, or time to call it quits?
If you’re Willis and Natalizia, the answer to these questions lay not in their final destination, as they arrived at these decisions while still on the journey.
The pair embarked some five years ago on a creative partnership, joining forces in music production to create Walls. Now, with three albums credited to their minimalist electro moniker, the duo are continuing searching and exploring however their new terrains will now be beyond Walls.
It’s a somewhat ironic choice given that thanks to the release of their third album Urals, an unexpected helping hand of modern day influencers within their industry, they’ve received press and exposure to assist them achieve possible mainstream success.
For example, the genesis of the album came via their 2013 12″ release “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and impressively featured in the March 2015 release of BBC1’s Essential Mix, curated by Fourtet & Jamie XX. The track was chosen for inclusion in particular by Jamie XX, a man who is himself currently experiencing a meteoric rise in his solo career.
“Jamie XX has been very supportive of us recently actually, he put ‘Into Our Midst’ on his recent Mixmag cover CD mix, and has also invited us to play at Nuit Sonores festival in Lyon which he’s curating.” Willis mentions.
The somewhat unlikely couple Willis (UK) and Natalizia (Italy) have been tireless in the quest to produce their beautiful, nuanced and original sound. Releasing a self-titled debut in 2010 which was astutely followed up with 2011’s Coracle, a full length album that took from their debut and built further to create complex dream-like sequences of superb synthesized sound waves, all encased with a sepia-toned and solace-driven purpose.
There is no denying that the Walls’ sound has evolved with each album. The pair’s syncopated and enveloping waves of sound, enmeshed with Natalia’s live guitar instrumentation, enabled the duo’s inherent chemistry to grow organically between Walls.
It could be argued it’s the perfect juncture at which to end a project. Producing as they have their three albums, their triptych, their trilogy. A beginning, a middle and an end, or ends, often untold. Which leaves Willis and Natalizia busily narrating what comes next, be that together, or through their own individual pursuits.
For starters, as the two of them clearly share an ear for unearthing awesome electronica it makes sense that they continue their partnership away from the production suite as co-founders of the UK based Ecstatic record label.
“With Ecstatic, we have a label where we’re able to extend our personal taste out to other peoples music, and get to curate releases, artwork, etc,” Willis muses.
Almost a decade has passed since Willis commenced his community education classes, open to all those keen to learn, on the origins of music movements on which electronica is founded on today. The unearthing of gems within early minimalist landscapes was a favourite past time of his via his now defunct podcast Allez Allez, produced in partnership with Steve Nolan between 2006 and 2011.
Today he has retained the freedom to unearth the ripest of the ripe in terms of electronic musical artists, an ingrained element of his core being it seems, via the juggling of his many hats. Occupying his working week is his ‘day job’ for the record label, a logical spot for someone of his trend-spotting capabilities to find themselves and he continues to find joy from his A and R duties, all the while managing his reasonably new role as a father. Inspired now by more artists than he cares to name Willis is excited by what the creative industries as a whole are currently yielding.
“All of them play by their own rules, and create something really personal and unique to them – whether it’s music, cinema, literature. Yes, it’s a great time to be making music, the fact that it’s possible to make music in your home studio that can then be heard by people all over the world is really still pretty amazing to me.”
Willis is resolute that he and Natalizia maintain their own relevance in the industry too.
“Hopefully as an artist, both in Walls with Alessio, and with my own stuff, making music that we/I personally really believe in we’re having fun and not compromising or trying to do stuff that other people will like.”
And while the future is no doubt an exciting prospect for Willis, an artist clearly used to focusing his attention and energies forward instead of back, one has to wonder if there is a wistful side to Willis that is a little sad when it comes to saying his final farewells to Walls.
“Oh definitely… It’s been a huge part of my life, both from my friendship with Alessio, to the actual process of making the music itself, getting to travel and play shows, all of it has really given me the confidence in my own ability to do something worthwhile.”
The life of Willis is not all curation and discovery, his own music production he assures is still happening. Valuing his studio among all possessions in his arsenal required for the task, he’s already underway on a newish project – Primitive World, which is a little more Chicago House inspired than the dark brooding minimalist that he and Natalizia have grown so adept at producing, particularly in the curtain call for them via Urals.
“It is not a conscious choice, but we’d definitely agree that the record has a darker sound, I think it just reflected where our heads were at, as well as a desire to not repeat ourselves – for instance, there’s absolutely no way that we would have included a track like ‘Raw Umber’ on this record – in fact you could say that at times there was a sweetness and innocence to the sound of our first two records which is completely absent on Urals.”
Urals is available for pre-order now via Ecstatic Records.