Ainslie Wills is still falling in love with music. The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter has been in the music industry for over 10 years, she studied music at university, but no matter what is going on in her life or career, the one constant is her love of music. “I have this fear that it’ll get to this point where I won’t fall in love with music anymore, or I won’t have the capacity to do it. But I still find myself falling so hard for certain artists and that fuels me to keep going,” she says.
I’m speaking to Ainslie on a rainy Wednesday morning. Her thoughts are insightful and reflective. For those of you who are fans of her music, she is just as introspective in real life as she is in her music. She does not disappoint.
Growing up on a “very quiet and isolated” farm in rural Victoria, Ainslie had a lot of time on her hands. “When I wasn’t hanging out friends, I was just playing music and absorbing so much music”, she says. “I miss that feeling of having so much time to absorb and get closer to the things that make you feel good.”
Ainslie’s aunt, a piano player and musician, taught her how to play piano. Ainslie would spend her days listening to music, then using her ear and skills to figure out how to play it herself. “I feel really thankful that I had that space to spend hours and hours exploring music”, she explains.
The real catalyst for Ainslie’s music exploration came in her teenage years, when her brother gave her Jeff Buckley’s Grace record. “I hadn’t heard music that was quite as eclectic and moody as that. It really resonated with me and inspired me to try to write songs on my own.”
At around 14 years old she started writing her own songs. “Of course, there were terrible, terrible songs at first”, she admits. “Like, what do you write about? I had a pretty great upbringing, nothing was really wrong, and I didn’t have any serious heartbreaks or anything.” She explains, “I was just trying to forge this connection to writing.” And forge it she has.
Ainslie is set to release her second album, All You Have Is All You Need, next year. She’s released several singles and EP’s since 2010, with her first album debuting in 2013. All her music has been self-released.
I’m excited to talk to her about her upcoming album. Her latest single, ‘Society’, is a gut-punching reflection on the expectations heaped on women. It features lyrical gems such as “I just want someone to love me quietly, for who I am, for real, and not for who I try to be” and “I feel I want to make it known I might disappoint you, and I’m sorry if I do”. I thank her for writing those lyrics and that song, because it is important; it made me feel less alone and I know it did that for so many other people too. If ‘Society’ is anything to go by, her latest musical endeavour will be a revelation.
She describes All You Have Is All You Need as “a real mixed bag”. “It’s a documentation of me straddling the musical side and stepping more into the lyrical side”, she says.
“I don’t usually go straight to the lyrics, I go for the feeling in my gut and my soul” – Ainslie Wills
Whilst she does explore lyrics more in her latest endeavour, she assures me that she didn’t write whole album of songs like Society, “but it definitely has that open, lyrical communication style of writing with sonic and dense layers of music”, she describes.
Ainslie collaborated with a diverse group of people on All You Have Is All You Need. She wrote a couple of songs with Matt Redlich, who she collaborated with on her Oh The Gold EP and a couple with Jono Steer, who she worked with on her first record. The rest of the songs were made at home with her partner. “It’s a documentation of this time of my life”, she says. “Hopefully there is something on there for everyone.”
On Monday 19th November, Ainslie performed some new songs from her upcoming album at a gig with Gretta Ray and Angie McMahon. The trio performed a similar show in London last month. The format was 15 minute sets, with a “songwriters in the round kind of vibe” according to Ainslie. The format was the idea of Charlotte Abroms, the manager of Ainslie, Gretta and Angie. The show is part of Melbourne Music Week. “I feel so lucky to be included on a line-up like this, because you don’t really have that happening a lot where you are sharing the same bill”, she says.
“My focus above anything is the music and working with good people.” – Ainslie Wills
Ainslie didn’t get to having a show as part of Melbourne Music Week overnight. She’s been in the industry for over 10 years, “but I’m still finding my feet”, she says. She perfected her musical craft at university, but she had a steep learning curve when she entered the industry; “I felt like I didn’t know the business side of things. I still feel like that. Most musicians feel like they are not super business savvy. We just want to make good music and work with kind-hearted people.” The biggest thing she has had to learn was how to build a sustainable creative practice, “you have to think business in some sense, because you want to keep going and keep creating, you have to know how to do that”.
Ainslie describes herself as a “slow burn artist”. She’s shaken off the expectations placed on her by the music industry and chosen to work with people with integrity.
“I think if I was working with someone who was super business savvy and didn’t have that same moral and ethical standpoint it would possible yield different results” – Ainslie Wills
She’s grown a fanbase in a beautiful way; sticking to her guns, following her gut and focusing on the music and good people. The results are people who genuinely love her music. People will come up to her after a live performance and say, “I’ve not felt that emotion before at a gig”. “When that happens that makes me feel really proud of what I’m doing”, Ainslie says. She always wants to give people the same feeling she gets when listening to music or falling in love with new music.
She fell in love with music all over again last month when she toured the UK and Europe. On her days off, she saw Chilly Gonzales perform a show for his new classical record, Solo Piano III. “I just lost it”, Ainslie explains. “I felt this deep connection to what he was doing.” She also fell in love with La Force, who she saw perform as Feist’s opening act in Paris. “I’ve been listening to her non-stop since”, she says.
As someone with first hand experience of the struggles faced by up and coming musicians, Ainslie has a lot of advice. “You get thrown around a lot, so it’s super important to trust your gut and trust yourself”, she explains. “You know your music and you know yourself better than anyone else. Be open to collaboration, but don’t let anything steer you off your vision of what you want to be.” She emphasizes the importance of good intentions. “If you have good intentions it can only grow into something good. If your motivation is not pure, then you may run into some difficult times.”
“None of us really know what is going to land and what is not. Everyone is just trying to make something happen.” – Ainslie Wills
Some of the musicians who are trying to make things happen are the 250+ artists performing at Melbourne Music Week. “It’s so cool that there are that many artists playing!”, Ainslie exclaims. She has travelled the world, seeing many different music scenes, but she assures me that we are very spoilt in Melbourne. “How lucky are we to live in a place like Melbourne that offers such diversity and support for music?”
To support the diversity of the Melbourne music scene, check out Melbourne Music Week! The full line-up of Melbourne Music Week is here.
Speaker TV will be covering MMW 2018. Keep an eye out for our live reviews and interviews with Melbourne artists.