Willy Moon onstage in Seattle [photo: Lydo Le]Natty New Zealand crooner Willy Moon is one of 2013's new artists to watch, but the 23-year-old's music incorporates so many pre-2000s elements from before his time: '50s rockabilly, '60s soul, old-school blues. Plus, he sort of looks like the immaculately conceived lovechild of Berlin-era Bowie and Stranded-era Bryan Ferry. In many ways, what Willy Moon is doing right now is timeless.
Willy recently performed at the Yahoo! On the Road tour's Seattle show on an epic bill with Gossip, Capital Cities, and Twenty One Pilots, but before he hit the stage, he caught up with Yahoo! Music in his dressing room to talk about his surprising musical influences, his voracious musical appetite and "Frankenstein music," his troubled childhood, his impeccable sense of style, and why he'd never, ever be a fashion model (even though, contrary to his claims, he'd probably be a great one).
Check out what Willy had to say, and watch his awesome Yahoo! On the Road performance of his hit iPod commercial song "Yeah Yeah" as well!
YAHOO! OTR: You're a young guy, but your sound borrows so many elements from the past. Where does that come from? How did you discover that stuff?
WILLY: I don't think I would have found a lot of those records without the Internet — YouTube, really. I do a lot of research about artists; I find them fascinating. I find their lives fascinating, how they grew up and how they started making music and how they lived their lives. I'm just an obsessive about music. It's mostly what I think about.
YAHOO! OTR: Did that obsession start at a young age?
WILLY: I always loved music since I was a child. But as a child, I had other things to think about, like how to grow up as a sane individual, which was sometimes difficult. But I've played guitar since I was little, and I always loved it. I stopped when I was a teenager. For a few years, I completely stopped playing music.
YAHOO! OTR: Why?
WILLY: When I was little, I was really close to my mother, and she always used to sit with me when I practiced guitar. And then she died when I was 12. So I just stopped. I just couldn't do it. So my guitar just sat there for four or five years, until a friend of mine said we should start a band. He forced me into it, really. And I fell I love with it again. I realized it was sort of what I'd been missing, and partly maybe that was why I was so lost when I was a teenager, because I didn't have that to anchor me as a human being.
YAHOO! OTR: It's interesting, because older music fans seem to think "kids today" know nothing about older music, yet young people today have instant access to all kinds of music that no previous generation ever had.
WILLY: Yeah, that's bulls*** for people to say that. We have everything at our disposal. But that's kind of a sad thing, because there's no defining youth movement, because we have access to the entire history of music. So everyone is on their own little trip. You don't get into one genre of music and get to know all the bands in a very finite, controlled way, which I think is how it used to be. Now we have access to anything and everything, which means it's all splintered. Which is sad, in a way, because it means that there's no sense of togetherness, no sense of us against them.
YAHOO! OTR: But the plus side is, there's huge potential to mix genres in new ways. Kind of like what you do, mixing '50s rock with modern hip-hop sounds.
WILLY: Yeah, it's like Frankenstein music. That's what's everything has turned into. That’s what I try to do: an unholy combination of things that shouldn't make sense, but make sense to me.
YAHOO! OTR: Is your fashion sense also influenced by past artists? You have a distinct, kind of retro look.
WILLY: Yeah, I just always thought presenting yourself was an important thing, especially if you were going to be a performer. I think it's very important to make an effort and represent something that's outside of people's daily lives and normal existence. Isn't that the whole point? Music is escapism, a way of escaping the mundanity of your life. You want to go see people who look and sound and behave in a way that's refreshing to the mind and body and soul, and give you something that you take back and sort of find a way to enrich your life with. That's how I always approached music. I'd listen to someone's music and then look at pictures of them and go, "F***, I wanna look like them. They're so damn cool!" When I was a teenager, I tried to dress like all my musical heroes. David Bowie and the Ramones and those kinds of people.
YAHOO! OTR: You've been featured in GQ, Elle, and Vogue. Do you enjoy the attention from the fashion press?
WILLY: I enjoy it, but it's not the be-all, end-all for me. I wouldn't want to be a fashion model or anything like that. I don't think I'd be a good model; I'm a little too weird-looking. And I couldn't magine anything worse, really. It would be quite soul-destroying. But I love clothes, and maybe one day I'd like to be involved in that.
YAHOO! OTR: That's something female pop stars usually do. They come out with their own clothing lines, makeup lines, perfumes…
WILLY: Well, they've got to make money somehow, because they're not writing their own songs and they're not getting any of the publishing; all the money is going to other people! They've got to make money, so they have a perfume. They're selling their image and their brand. I'd do the same thing if I were them.
YAHOO! OTR: Justin Bieber actually has a nail polish line.
WILLY: Well, if was going to wear nail polish, I'd wear Justin Bieber nail polish.
YAHOO! OTR: On a more serious note, on your album you cover "Shakin'," which was also covered by your old tourmate and Third Man Records boss, Jack White, on his recent solo album. Was it a coincidence that you both recorded that song?
WILLY: It was. I just always loved that record. When we went on tour together, I figured I'd better ask him if it was okay if I played it!
YAHOO! OTR: You two should do a "Shakin'"-off, where you both play it in a duel onstage and see who wins.
WILLY: I would absolutely love to do that. It would be very interesting. But it wouldn't be about who wins. That's what I like about music. It's not about winning and losing.
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