Tonedeaf is arguing about Jeff Buckley with the Melbourne raised singer/songwriter Ainslie Wills. You see, the down-to-earth, humourous lass has named Mr Buckley and his girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend obviously!) Joan Wasser as two of her biggest influences, but when asked who her equivalent male muse is, she protests why she can’t have Jeff as well, “well if I can’t have him, my next choice would be Rufus Wainwright. No. Wait. I can’t have him either can I? Dammit, when I saw him in that video clip in the lederhosen I was shattered, what a bubble burst that was. I guess it’d have to be (Grizzy Bear’s) Daniel Rossen, I’d have his babies any day.”
As she laughs at the ridiculous hypothetical, you can tell that this is the sort of woman who finds the comparisons of her to Cat Power, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey and Stevie Nicks just as incredulous. “It doesn’t worry me but it’s just that gritty female thing isn’t it? But at least I’m getting compared to amazing artists I guess, it would be worse if I was getting compared to someone terrible.”
She laughs again, stopping herself from any anti-diplomatic faux pas, she hurries to tell me that she has just finished the final touches of her debut album, You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine, and prompted about the obvious Bob Dylan reference, it is clearly a red herring, “Oh no! I’m not really a Dylan fan to be honest. It comes from somewhere a lot less cool. My mum and I used to watch the Barbara Streisand film Hello Dolly when I was young and there is this scene when she is talking to Walter Matthau and she points to the distance telling him, ‘you go your way, I’ll go mine’, but she’s pointing in the same direction. I thought that was very similar to how this album has come together, two people with completely different methods, but on the same path.”
This other person Ainslie speaks of is her long-time collaborator and guitarist, Lawrence Folvig. Together they won the 15/15 Best Soundtrack in 2010 for their work on the short film Perforation and have co-written six songs for Ainslie’s debut. “On my EP, I wrote and demoed all the tracks by myself and just handed them to the band, but Lawrence and I built most of these new songs together, we had really open conversations about ideas for the sounds we wanted and I think it’s brought a lot more breadth to the tracks.”
The album itself is led by a single that flaunts her raspy, souled out voice, ‘Fighting Kind’ is a hand-clapped indie-pop anthem that makes it perfectly understandable for indie-girl Bible Frankie to name her as their ‘musical saviour.’ But this is no over-night sensation we are witnessing, with two EPs to her name, Ainslie graduated from the school of Triple J Unearthed, and since supporting Missy Higgins at The Palais in 2007 she has not forgotten who helped her to where she is, “the Unearthed program is an incredible tool for artists, to build their profile, be accessible to the masses and to help them get commercial airplay. I was so fortunate that ‘Wide Load’ got picked up and everyone at Triple J has been nothing but supportive, it has helped me tremendously.”
But the Zan Rowe and Dom Alessio led ship hasn’t been the only key to Miss Wills’s success, a lot of it has to do with Beverly. “Beverly is my 1977 Rhodes keyboard. I grew up playing on my auntie’s one, learning piano at a very young age, and then I saw Beverly in the Trading Post, and even though it was in Central NSW, I knew I had to have her, so I drove the 7 hours to pick her up and now she’s mine.” It will be with this “old broad” that Ainslie will be gracing the stage of The Worker’s Club on Saturday 12th May along with Gold Bloom and Lisa Salvo.
“Lisa is a beautiful singer/songwriter and she has a similar aesthetic to me in the sense that we both steal jazz harmonies and melodies, borrowing notes here and there and seeing what we can do with them; kind of like what Washington did before you know, she became Washington. But Gold Bloom is completely different and Naomi Keyte is just extraordinary in how she puts her music together, it is progressive art-rock and she is able to create a real mood and atmosphere in her live shows. In a way the polar opposition of the two is indicative of what I listen to and what I love in music, vocal harmonies and strange interludes.” This notion of creating darker atmospheres and changing moods in live shows leads the chat into a fifteen minute digression/lovefest on Texan five-piece Midlake.
Ainslie swoons, “there’s just something about those dreary boys, ‘Roscoe’ is so moody, it’s beautiful, I will never get sick of hearing that song.” And the conversation continues until the debate about whether St Vincent was influenced by Midlake is cut short by a knock on Ainslie’s door. It’s just as well; Ainslie Wills seems like the type of woman who can talk about music for hours and she still has an album to master, so Tonedeaf leaves her, anxious to hear what becomes of an artist on the verge of arriving.