Photography - Emelia Peet
Sad King Billy opens up over eggs, coffee and tea in a cosy cafe about the story of his music journey and his debut self titled album. The man behind the moniker, Julian Peet has set out to create something remarkably different from his previous projects, something that would resonate with personal depth and honesty.
With a solid background in the West Australian original music scene for over a decade, Julian's experiences performing, touring, and recording with various bands like The Southern River Band and Old Blood have honed his craft and established him as a prominent figure in the industry. However, it is with his debut solo venture, Sad King Billy, that he embarks on a journey that delves into a more authentic expression of his artistry.
The self-titled album, produced in collaboration with esteemed local producer and engineer Dan Carroll, showcases Julian's expertise as an accomplished instrumentalist and innovative songwriter. Comprising ten tracks, the album weaves a diverse tapestry of influences, drawing inspiration from folk, rock, and country traditions while embracing modern production as a dynamic pair.
You've been an active participant in the West Coast original music scene for quite some time. How's your journey as an artist and your experiences with your various bands shapes the direction of Sad King Billy's album?
Well, I think there's all those things that sort of have subconsciously seeped their way into my guitar playing, but I think with Sad King Billy, I wanted to do something that was pretty different to what I've previously done. Hence why I didn't put my name on it, I wanted to be less connected to Old Blood and Southern River Band (SRB) in terms of the Rock and Blues thing. There will always be some elements of that in there, but I think inherently the songwriting is more introspective and honest and personal and not really writing into any mode or any particular character. It’s a summation of a lot of stories and experiences I have from the last seven to eight years or so. It's also just a start, so it's a step in the right direction of how I want to continue to write. I think even if I was to do that, with other people, I would probably try and do it more in this honest way. My previous experiences helped me make the decision about how I want to move forward as a writer rather than directly affecting too much of it. People will draw correlations from listening to it, and sort of be like, Oh, this sounds a bit like what he did here.
Totally. It's going to influence you in some way, just with your style and playing style, but when it comes to your writing styles, did you write much with Old Blood and Southern River Band?
Yeah, I did. Not really anymore, mostly with Old Blood which has drifted into mostly putting on good live shows. When I wrote with Cal it was a little bit more like writing into his character in his mode. So it was more of a support role in that sense.
In Old Blood, it was kind of helping Shepherd five different perspectives and ideas. Maybe one or two tunes that were my tunes, but you'd always ask yourself; Is this Blues enough? Where with Sad King Billy, I didn't have to ask myself those questions because ultimately I only had to answer to myself. And if it feels good, or I like it, or I feel like the story is honest then it ticks all those boxes.
I guess you got a bit more creative control with Sad King Billy than if you bring a song to Old Blood, and everyone else is putting their flavour into it.
Absolutely, it's almost like the less people you have involved, the more possibilities there are.
Well, that leads me into my next question. Collaborating with Dan Carroll must have fed into that idea a lot. Can you tell us more about that creative process and how that influenced the final sound of you guys playing most of the instruments and producing it yourselves?
Yeah. So after I left SRB and I wasn't doing a whole lot with Old Blood either, I had a lot of time to write on my own and basically approached Dan and said; “I'm going for a grant, so I'll be trying to get X amount of funding. I really want to make a record and I want to do it with you. Can you help me get started with a few things that I need to start the demoing process?” A big part of that was getting a half decent mic and an interface and getting a copy of Ableton. This was all during Covid as well so I had a lot of time to lock myself away and basically learn how to record. There were songs that were written in a more traditional sense where it was literally just an iPhone recording of me playing acoustic guitar and singing and then there were other ones that I decided to take into Ableton and basically write a little bit more from the box using drum samples and effects. It was kind of like a learning process and writing process at the same time. Because of that, I had 25 demos going in that we listened to and chiselled down to 10 songs that we would keep. What it also meant was, because Dan sort of helped set me up with the right way of doing things, we had a lot of content that we could actually use in the final recordings from the demos, which is a really good way to keep some of that initial magic. We were able to take the seeds and some of the core inspiration of ideas and bring them into the final recording, which was something I'd never done before but something I think I will include in the creative process going forward.
Do you find that is something that happens because you're not thinking too much about the demo process, so you're capturing things that are a little bit more raw and natural?
Certainly. And I think because a good portion of my demo process was writing, it wasn't really like, Oh, I've got the song down on acoustic and vocals, now I'm gonna go demo and then I'm gonna record, it was kind of all happening at once. So there was plenty of crazy shit I tried that just didn't fly, but plenty of stuff that I was like, I wouldn't have done that in a studio in front of somebody. So you get more room to try the embarrassing stuff, because it's only in doing that you're gonna find something really interesting. A big part of what I was really uncomfortable with was just singing. Because I've mostly sung BVs on stage in sort of rock band settings with this high energy live sound, where you can get away with a lot more. But when you're doing more exposed, vulnerable, singer songwriter stuff, you really start to hear your voice over and over and over again, and really pick it apart. But it's pretty full on bringing 25 demos to somebody being like, Okay, so here's the weird shit I've been doing in my room for the last 12 months.
Was it hard to separate yourself from the performer and the producer role?
Yeah, I think with anybody else, it would have been a bit of a struggle. With Dan, it did just become like hanging out in his living room, it was great. It was such a creative, open and low ego process, compared to all my other studio experiences which had been, high expectations, ego, lack of sleep, too much booze, all that kind of shit adds up. That's kind of what you think it's supposed to be like, and then you sort of get in this environment, and it’s more about how you can foster creativity in the best way. Ultimately, I felt confident that we would have enough time to experiment and I was okay with going down a particular path for too long and getting to a particular part of the road and being like, no, we can’t use it. I got good at learning to do that and being okay with that, whereas previously you're like, wow, should I take this turn here? Or should I commit to this? What if something goes wrong? There's a little bit more of being okay with doing that and letting go, which is the great thing about recording, you have to be okay with that to make a good recording. It’s very different to a performance brain where it has to be at a particular level of pressure and standard the whole time in your mind and that also forces you to become conservative with your choices.
I think it's worth mentioning about having no time pressure, because most people can't afford to spend a whole week in a studio leisurely and that stress can affect your creativity and your process. So that's cool that you kind of just flowed into it.
That is the benefit of Sad King Billy not being anything up until that point. There was no pressure of surrounding shows or audience expectations or any of those things. The beautiful thing is I wasn't beholden to any timeline, because in my mind, the idea of Sad King Billy wouldn't have started until that first song was released. So I could take as long as I wanted up until that point, which was a nice position to be in.
‘Every Part of Us’, which is the focus song of the Album, sounds like a deeply emotional and personal song. Could you share with us the story behind the song? And what inspired you to write it?
Yeah, there are some songs on the record that are about a previous long term relationship that had ended and maybe a year or so after I'd started writing this song. This is from this perspective of being in a relationship and being there to support the person that you're with, even though you're helping them weather out a storm that they're going through themselves. But in that process, you're taking all of that on at the same time. It's moving between really holding a relationship in a higher regard and it being really important to you, and seeing that the other person maybe doesn’t hold it as high in the wake of what they're going through. Then trying to try and to highlight to them all the good things that are happening in the relationship and in their life, but then feeling like you kind of have to be the rock in the centre of that storm. Even when you love every part of the relationship, you know that there is hard stuff that you have to go through. It was a hard song to write for somebody, when you play it for them, they don't really want to hear it because there's a lot of honesty to it. It is a message of love, but it's also a message of pain. So it's quite a difficult one for me to talk about because I do still feel now that I can't really wrap my head around it because in the time that you write it, you feel so strongly in your love for somebody but at the same time you're really questioning why they're picking apart parts of the relationship, I really can't understand that. It's painful, for sure. This is quite hard to explain. That's the whole thing with songwriting, right? The reason you write the song is probably because the emotion is hard to explain. So you always want to ask the other person well, how did it make you feel? Because then often you get a better answer. What do you think of the song?
I think it's really beautiful. I like what you said that “it's a message of love, but it's also a message of pain”. It has that hauntingly beautiful element to it, which I think is really hard to write to be honest. A lot of my favourite songs, I've always respected because they can write in that way. It's a song you can listen to and get a feeling of love or happiness, or it's a song you can listen to when you're feeling really sad.
Yeah, I'm yet to write a happy song, I’lll write something deeply vulnerable and sad and maybe reflective. Or I'll write something that's maybe driven a bit more by defyance or frustration, but put in a package that is more upbeat. So it feels like an upbeat song. But it's actually about something pretty dark.
We've talked about going deeper into your songwriting and embracing more expression of your artistry and, and your emotions. But when did you realise that you wanted to explore that personal introspective side of music?
I think music has always represented lots of different aspects of who I am, a big part of it was being able to have a community and share things with other people. A big part of it was being able to have something that you're good at, that you identify with. A big part of it was exploration play, being able to try new things. Now it's a little bit more like therapy. I always wanted to be better at writing songs. Because I would listen to records and I was listening to them in depth over and over again, but they weren’t always songs, instrumental music was a big part of my life when I was in the academic side of things, and you sort of study your instrument in that you retreated it more like a performance based activity. That never gave me quite the same feeling and experiences, as I would get listening to great records, there were songs and other stories, and there were voices. And I think I just want to do that thing that got me into music and I need to get a bit more confident with my voice, I need to get a bit more confident with lyric writing, I need to obsess less over guitar playing sort of like make that secondary to doing this other thing and then bring it all together. That's what it is for me now, once I felt like that was a more readily available mode for expression now it's just something that feels more honest to me, I don't think I'd ever make an instrumental guitar album now. Doing a solo on a song is only worthwhile for me now if I feel like the message of the song is already done so everything just comes back to what the story and the emotion is and I feel I can better create that thing that I was searching for that I fell in love with music in the first place for by doing this. It just feels like a more authentic version of who I am in music.
For any aspiring artists at the beginning of their career, what’s some advice you would give yourself if you could go back to when you were starting your music journey?
I wish I'd done more of this earlier on, it’s not that I regret spending so much time on guitar playing, but I think I was sort of putting this stuff to the side because I knew it wasn't as well appreciated as my guitar playing. I think because I was getting a lot of validation and opportunities through being proficient on guitar, I leant into that, but I don't think it was as strong in emotive expressions as this is for me. I think I was a little bit apprehensive about taking risks with doing more of this. I'd started it and then I got sucked into playing bands and touring and that kind of thing, which is great. Then trying to interject my own writing into other places where I really should have always had my own thing going. So I would just say to everybody, it’s a bit cheesy but just be courageous, because at the end of the day if you don't have creative expression, it really is one of the most authentic ways to live your life. So, as close as you can get to grabbing onto the source of whatever that might be in your life, you will just have a way better experience of living, particularly in the arts.