There’s no right or wrong place to craft words and music together - just the one that works for you. That comfort zone might be bang in the middle of a sandbox in an ocean facing front room or it might be around the fire in a cut off cottage on the edge of Wales’ green desert. Or it might be right there in your childhood bedroom in your mum’s house in West Kirby. For Bill Ryder-Jones, that room acted as a retreat; a place to make everything make sense. It was where his immaculate new LP was conceived and recorded.
“I used the term ‘bedroom boys’ a lot when I’m talking about my music. I make music in a bedroom for people to listen in their bedrooms. I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed about. I love the sound I get in that room; I think the place helps me create a different kind of intimacy in the music. And I always think lyrically, you’re going to be much more confident walking round naked in your bedroom than you are walking round your mate’s living room.”
Whatever went down in that bedroom (naked or not), it shaped West Kirby County Primary - Bill Ryder-Jones’ third solo record. Lyrically, the ten songs are made up of pin sharp, thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest observations. Sonically, it veers from shared-sofa closeness to overdriven, chaotic, speaker-blowing hugeness – a sound so full it’s scarcely believable it was achieved in the upstairs room of a family semi.
While Bill previously described his last record (2013’s A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart) as having been inspired by the feeling of being between “the ages of eight and fourteen and that couple of hours after school before you’ve been called in”, West Kirby County Primary finds the writer in a very different place. Here, lovers are caught in tempestuous, doomed voyeuristic relationships where “desperate times call for desperate pleasures” (Two To Birkenhead) and “a lasting glance is turned missed chance as fortune favours everyone but me” (Wild Roses); street life is dreamily observed from a perch somewhere in the city centre (Catherine and Huskisson) and tragedy and loss is forensically raked over (Daniel). The intensely private nature of some of the songs on West Kirby County Primary came from periods of harsh self-analysis.
“I’d find myself sat on my sofa at home with a headful of regret the day after a big piss up or some mad party or other. A lot of the lyrics for the record came from times like that; they tend to push a lot of emotion up and set off a lot of questioning at the front of my mind. I end up thinking ‘what is my life about, what do I even do?’ From there, things just seem to flow out.”
That flow would come long after a set of songs written and demoed in the wake of the critical success of A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart were culled - victims of that same maddening streak of self-criticism.
“I shelved a load of songs that I wrote immediately after the last record. I didn’t know what to do with them; I just didn’t think they were good enough. In January, I went back and found two songs - Daniel and Satellites – that I thought were worth trying again. From there the bulk of the album was written and recorded in a month. The newer songs dealt with situations that have happened in the last couple of years - they’re not nostalgic in the way that some of the songs on A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart are. The songs deal with what I’m preoccupied with at the time of writing. They end up documenting feelings that aren’t always admirable. It’s a bit like a photo album – in some pictures you’ve got a shit haircut, others you’ve got a fat chin. Then there’s a few where you might look fantastic. At the end of the day though, they’re all you...”
Of all of the songs on the record, it’s the rescued song Satellites that best documents the writer’s sometimes-troubled inner-monologue. Dealing with a medical condition Bill has dealt with throughout adult life, the song sets a deeply personal situation to music that goes from gorgeously reflective to a coruscating coda that shimmers and explodes like space debris burning up on re-entry.
“Satellites is my favourite thing I’ve ever written. It describes a genuine situation. The lyric - ‘My satellite’s took rust/I’m stranded in the dark’ - is me writing about a condition I’ve got, a dissociative disorder where I switch off completely and can’t believe things are real. It’s about my ex-girlfriend trying to reason with me (‘You saved me with the thought that something somewhere must be happening’). That song is a set of feelings I was having and the reaction of someone who I loved dearly trying to help.”
In different hands or in different times, the comfort of the bedroom and the deep analytical thought process behind the songs could combine to create an impenetrable and doomy record. But West Kirby County Primary – recorded and produced almost entirely solo, mixed with James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals) and given finishing touches at Liverpool’s Parr Street studio - is very far from that. Here, the music provides a crucial, often-forceful counterbalance to the soul-searching lyrics. For Bill, it was about bucking ingrained songwriting wisdom.
“When you first start out learning music at school, you’re taught that major chords are uplifting and minor ones will always signify sadness. I think when people use major chords combined with sad lyrics, it produces something incredible. Bands like the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, the Bunnymen, Pavement, people like Euros Childs and Gorky’s, Gruff Rhys and the Super Furries… none of them have been afraid to mix things up; they’ve all ended up being inspirational on my songwriting in their own ways.”
If it takes influence from some of those artists, West Kirby County Primary rarely shows it. The whole thing feels like an invitation to a private world; one where the songwriter has gone through a process of painstakingly detailing his thoughts, his failings, his hopes and fears and allowed the listener to eavesdrop. And it’s a record that should see Bill Ryder-Jones taking his rightful place alongside that long and distinguished list of the great songwriters of the North West. One last thing – with an album born from a place of almost forensic scrutiny, what’s the significance of the title?
“I just liked the way those four words sounded together. Nothing more really.”
At the end of the day, maybe it’s best not to overthink things. Whatever works for you.