Doyle admits he found lockdown a useful period creatively. “Everything stopped moving enough so I could actually sit down and do some work without distractions for the first time in ages, it felt like,” he says. “Also because everything else was quiet as well, it felt like I could focus a bit more because life was just coming to a standstill.”
Alternate Lands is, he feels, a bridge between Great Spans... and its successor, which he is currently working on. “It’s a lot more vocal-led,” he explains. “There was a lot more instrumental passages or just experiments that happened on Great Spans. The next record is much more upfront, the melodies and song structure, still sonically adventurous but it feels like it’s moved that way.
“The songs on Alternate Lands have got the vocal front and centre and the songs are quite standardly structured compared to some of the stuff that happened on Spans.
“But I’m making it sound like these things were planned,” he adds, “and it wasn’t.”
Great Spans was actually “never meant to be an album...it was a nice surprise”, he says. “It’s been good for the next record for me because I was trying to plough head-first into that one, but I think getting Spans finished and put out and just focusing on that for a while meant I could take my head out of these other songs that I’d been working on. I think that time off has been really beneficial to those songs.
“Also, I moved to Manchester since it came out, so there’s been a bit of upheaval in a positive way. Having a different room to work in that changes you. If you change your surroundings, I think your output will change one way or another.”
The new EP includes a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s Autumn Is Your Last Chance. Doyle believes Hitchcock’s maverick spirit has encouraged him to pursue his own musical path over the past decade. “I got into I Often Dream of Trains, which that song is from, when I was in my late teens and that was before I had some sense of sonic identity or I hadn’t found my voice, I was still working on it,” he says. “I feel like I’ve found it now and I think one of the things I found influential about that record is it does move in a lot of different places. The elements he uses are basically the same but you can listen to that record and think ‘is this the same artist?’
“I think that eccentricity has found its way into what I’m doing. I’m grappling with that with these new songs. I’m working on them out of sequence to how they will appear on the record, but sometimes I’m like, ‘how’s this going to fit with the other ones?’ But that hasn’t stopped me in the past. I’ve made records that seem to have that restless spirit. Maybe some people find that annoying to listen to, but it feels like the natural thing to do to me. I like a varied experience.”
In the past year, Doyle also produced Anna B Savage’s debut album A Common Turn, a process he found refreshing. “She came with the songs fully written but just her guitar and voice and she wanted to make a bit more of a sonically adventurous record and she came to the right place,” he says. “I played a lot of instruments on that record but I left her songs as intact as possible, I didn’t want to interfere with them, they’re beautiful songs and she has an amazing voice and she’s a great performer. I thought if we kept that intact the details could just be the icing on the cake.”
Doyle has also been collaborating with Brian Eno. He seems to have learned much from the legend of ambient music. “I think there’s probably an Oblique Strategies card that says ‘Honour thy errors’ hidden intentions’,” he says. “I’ve definitely shone a light on the error aspect of the process, I suppose, just being able to embrace when something has gone wrong. Because there is no right answer anyway. You get very much drawn into thinking there is one, but there isn’t, there’s a multitude of possible routes. just being able to listen to your intuition seems to be at the core of his philosophy and I think it’s rubbed off on me, but also the rate at which he’s making things. Every day there’s a new piece.
“There’s no grand plan involved, that comes later on, the context for the thing happens later when he’s gone ‘I’ve worked on all these pieces and it all fits with this idea’ and that’s sort of what’s happened to me.
“The ones I’m working on now are a bit opposite in the sense that I wrote a finite amount of songs and it took me a while to do that...but I do try to keep a bank of things going and being produced at all times because you never know when that thing’s going to come around. It might not necessarily be my record; someone might want to collaborate or something and rather than starting from scratch entirely you’ve got a bank of stuff to call upon.”
William Doyle plays at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds on November 27. www.william-doyle.co.uk