Don’t ever think that Bobby Wills will back off of a dare. He’ll even jump off of a ledge into a creek, as evidenced in the title track and hit single from his latest album Crazy Enough. Wills is up for any challenge and he’s not about to use stunt doubles.
“That song is definitely autobiographical,” laughs the affable Albertan on the phone from his Calgary home. “It’s as close as I’ve ever come to writing something directly about me, even if it is tongue in cheek. Things have changed in my life, however, since my three kids came along and a lot of that behaviour is gone in my mind. I have a teenage son and I’m starting to see him go through it; it’s like looking into a mirror sometimes”.
Wills co-authored all of the songs on the album with writing partners Walt Aldridge and Mike Pyle, with exception of Undressed which he penned with fellow country crooner Patricia Conroy. In what has become a ritual for Wills, he secluded himself on Galiano Island in lower British Columbia to do the writing and the oceanfront view proved to be inspirational. The opening song Still Something There comes sweeping across like a strong Pacific breeze.
“That’s one of my favourite songs on the album, both lyrically and energy wise,” he says. “We were typically more country than a lot of what you hear on radio. We really stretched on this record and tried to be a little edgier and have some fun. This track sets the tone of where we’re headed to and I wanted it to be the first thing that people heard.”
[quote]Country lyrics require an emotional tie so that’s what we work toward. [/quote]
On the tune Still Something There, Wills sings about a past love and the fact that he will always have feelings for that person. On That’s Where You Come In he also waxes nostalgic and reflects upon the sights and sounds that bring back fond memories. “I find that there are certain things that trigger feelings and thoughts for people. A fragrance can make you think of someone or if you step off of a plane and smell the salt water air you think of a vacation that you took.“ The singer quickly shifts gears, however, on All Kinds Of Wrong, a number which relates the perils of smoking and drinking to the perils of losing your girl; a hurtin’ country song with a great vocal if there ever was one.
“You know, legendary country singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall once said that he didn’t listen to the production of a song to determine if it was country. He listened to the lyrics. That’s the same philosophy I’ve always taken. Country lyrics require an emotional tie so that’s what we work toward. Nobody had an impact on me quite like the late, great Keith Whitley. What I love about a great country vocal like his is that don’t really hear it, you feel it. I think my influences helped create my vocal delivery. Some of it is natural but at the end of the day I think you’re influenced by what you grew up listening to.”
If it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Wills speak with familiarity about Hall and Whitley, his country music knowledge goes back a lot further than that. We’re talking the 1930’s and 40’s when his namesake Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing, ruled the airwaves and American ballrooms. Bobby’s grandfather played his records around the house and the younger Wills was soon smitten by the sound. While Bobby is appreciate of classic country, Crazy Enough has a contemporary feel to it whether it’s the soaring guitar on Undressed or the hard acoustic sound of Never Didn’t Love You. The latter track is the second single from the album and it would appear to have a lot of crossover potential as its rootsy quality recalls Phillip Phillips or Mumford & Sons.
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“For that song we just had a groove in mind and it’s funny that you mention Mumford & Sons because that was one of the names that came up when we were goofing around with the melody” he says. “I just wanted to write something that was fun. I’ve always said that when you’re going to cut a track, honour the song. That’s a pop song so when we cut it we honoured it. I think it sounds cool.”
With song references to booze, cigarettes and old flames, Bobby comes across as a free-wheeling kind of guy but there’s certainly another side to him as demonstrated on the touching That’s Why I Pray. Not only does the song reveal Wills’ personal beliefs, it also provides insight into why he’s so passionate about charitable causes, particularly those that are Human Rights related.
“I grew up in a Christian home with strong faith,“ he begins. “Like a lot of kids I got away from it, but it’s come back to me over the last few years so it influences a lot of what we do musically. I try very hard not to be preachy and tell people what to believe, but I want to be clear on what I stand for. I see my kids every day and that’s why I pray. When you’re grounded in a faith it lets you see something a little clearer like the importance of humanitarian efforts. You see what’s going on in the world and you try and have a small impact if you can.”
Wills won the Rising Star award at the 2013 Canadian Country Music Awards and Male Artist of the Year at the 2013 Alberta Country Music Association Awards. With two trophies on his mantel, a hot new album on his hands and a planned fall tour as headliner or co-headliner, Wills is living out the title of one of his new songs, So Much For Taking It Slow. With his career in turbo mode one wonders how he stays grounded.
“It’s a weird thing,” he begins. “I just get up in the morning and do my thing and every once in a while I’ll hear one of my songs on the radio. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot of impact. My kids still think I’m a dork. I really haven’t changed a lot in my life other than the fact that I’m really busy.”
Crazy Enough may be about taking risks but perhaps Wills’ biggest challenge has been to tough it out through three albums and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a difficult way to earn a living and the singer has had to hang tough in order to reach this point in his career.
“If you ask most musicians they’ll tell you it’s such a hard gig to get through and you have to take a leap of faith at times just to stay at it. I’m not sure if that makes me smart or not. We laugh at it sometimes…we’re just too dumb to quit. It’s a little crazy to follow dreams like that, but I also think that in order to be successful in life you have to have faith in what you ‘re doing.”