The Duality Of WILLOW
After the success of lately I feel EVERYTHING, WILLOW is prepared to take her music to even heavier places
WILLOW is embracing her dark side. The release of her Travis Barker collaboration “Transparent Soul” last year launched her into the pop-punk resurgence. But the album which followed, lately I feel EVERYTHING, was more expansive, combining punk, grunge, and alt-rock with pop and hip-hop. “lately I feel EVERYTHING was, I would say, a little bit more all over the place… But that was also what I really, really loved about lately I feel EVERYTHING,” WILLOW said. “lately I feel EVERYTHING — like, it’s right there in the title.” It paid homage to the rock of the ‘90s and 2000s while recontextualizing those sounds for today’s Gen Z audiences. Since then, she’s collaborated with a range of artists, but the single that stands out is “PURGE” featuring Siiickbrain. On the industrial rock track, complete with chugging guitars and piercing screams, she indulged in a darker, heavier sound that’s indicative of what’s to come.
WILLOW’s gearing up to release her next album. Although details have not yet been announced, she says it’s more cohesive than lately. “I feel like this album, the writing and the themes and the sounds are a little bit more succinct,” she said. Specifically, it’s taking her in the direction of harder rock. She’s no stranger to heavy music – in fact, she’s grown up with it. Her mother, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, fronted the nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom in the 2000s.
But that darkness is allowing WILLOW to explore other sides of herself as well. “In order to truly see our light in its fullest, we have to know our shadow and become friends with our shadow and not be afraid of what that is,” WILLOW said. “I feel like this album is definitely some shadow work.” The result is music of contrasts. New single “<maybe> it’s my fault,” out today, marries the soft and the rough; the guitars switch between bright strums and jagged riffs, while the vocals go from gentle to aggressive, finally escalating into screams at the end of the song. “I’ve always loved music that has those juxtapositions,” she said. “Deftones has that feeling where it’s like, they give you the harmonies, they give you the emotion, but then they just smack you across the face with that guitar tone and that metal feeling.”
Over Zoom, WILLOW (joined by her dogs) explained the origins of the new single and how it took her down a darker path. Below, watch director Dana Trippe’s “<maybe> it’s my fault” performance video and read the interview.
How did the new song come together?
WILLOW: I had had a session with Yungblud for our song “Memories” that was put out not too long ago. Yungblud and his producer, Chris Greatti, were working in there, and their vibe was just so out of this world. I was like, “This is amazing.” Me and Greatti got together and started jamming on some stuff, and when “<maybe> it’s my fault” was written, I was like, this has to be the single… The riff just spoke to me, and I was just like, “I love this song, and I want to write an album around the idea of this song.”
What sort of experiences were you writing from for that song?
WILLOW: I know because of how I feel when I’m in really close friendships and really close relationships that sometimes when things go wrong, or there’s misunderstandings, or you feel like something has gone amiss between you and someone that you really, really love, it’s very common that as humans, we can try to blame it on the other person, and try to blame it on everyone else but ourselves. I feel like the song is me expressing that anger of it’s your fault, but then actually, wait, hold on, let me think about this from a more internal perspective and think about how I was an instrument in creating my own suffering. I think that that is something that’s really, really important to do when we are in a state of feeling like the victim, is to turn the lights inward and be like, “Hey, what was my place in this? How did I contribute to my suffering?”
And I guess that’s why you have the two opposing styles.
WILLOW: Oh, one hundred percent. Because you’re angry and you want to blame everyone else, but then you’re also soft and you’re hurt and you want to turn inward and ask those questions.
The chorus really captured, to me, rumination and overthinking.
WILLOW: Totally. I’m the kind of person that once I feel like I’m putting the blame too much on one person, or I’m putting too much negativity in one area of my life, I always like to think to myself, “Okay, this is imbalanced. How do I try to bring some balance back into my life?” But without judging yourself. I have a real hard time with self-judgment, and feeling like, no, I always have to be better and I always have to take the high road, and I always have to be the bigger person. You can allow all of those emotions to exist in the same place. You can be angry at this person, you can have all of those negative emotions, while also keeping your mind open to the fact that maybe it’s my fault. [Laughs] Maybe I did do something, or maybe I could have been a little bit more aware of how I was handling the situation at that time and maybe I hurt them. Maybe I’m the one that isn’t worthy of forgiveness. All of those emotions can exist at the same time. I feel like it’s very confusing, and it’s very chaotic, but that’s the human mind and the human heart when it feels hurt.
You mentioned the upcoming album, and you said that you built it around this song. So are the other songs in the same vein?
WILLOW: Yes, they are in the same vein, but each and every song is so unique to itself. I am so proud of this project. I’m so grateful that me and Greatti got to work together. He’s such a talented guitarist and musician and I feel like our minds just melded on this project… They’re all in the same world but they’re just different flavors.
What type of sound were you leaning more into this time?
WILLOW: I just feel like it’s giving a little bit more metal while also I was thinking a lot about the Strokes and thinking a lot about Radiohead and melding those sounds that I really, really love with those beautiful harmonies and those moody feelings while also bringing in that hard chugging guitar. That’s the sound that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m just super excited to explore that drop-D, seven-string, dark metal sound more.
What pulled you in that direction?
WILLOW: I’ve been listening to metal for a really, really long time. On my Instagram, I even have a couple seven-string videos, where I’m playing a System Of A Down song and then I’m also playing a Crowbar song. The Crowbar riff is the one that I’m really, really proud of. I was getting into playing the seven-string, and I just wanted to figure out a way to bridge that beautiful melodic sound that I really, really love with this dark, deep sound that I really, really love. Because that’s me. I feel like those two sides are such deep parts of me that I feel deserve to do a beautiful dance together.
You mentioned that the theme is more succinct this time around. What were you writing about?
WILLOW: I’ve always been the kind of person to be like, “No, heartbreak is played out. We need to write about loving ourselves and loving the earth and getting to know the divine,” and all of this stuff. I am so glad that I still have that mindset. But girl, when you go through some real, real heartbreak, [laughs] you’re like, “Oh, shit, I really need to analyze this and I really need to go deep into this. Because if I don’t, it’s literally not going to be good for me. Something bad is going to happen.” I put all of those feelings into these songs. I know that young Willow is just like, “Ah, man, don’t do the regular heartbreak thing.” But I feel like there’s so much to be learned about life and so much to be learned about the ultimate truth of what it means to actually love yourself and somebody else in those feelings. It’s not just about heartbreak for me, it’s about learning what it means to truly love and learning what that really is to you. I feel like it’s different for everybody, but I believe that there’s an underlying truth that’s trying to come through the pain if you just listen.
07/09 – Tulsa, OK @ Bok Center *
07/11 – Phoenix, AZ @ Phoenix Suns Arena (Footprint Center) *
07/13 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum *
07/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum *
07/15 – Las Vegas, NV @ T Mobile Arena *
07/16 – Anaheim, CA @ Honda Center *
07/19 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Arena *
07/21 – Portland, OR @ Moda Center *
07/22 – Seattle, WA @ Climate Pledge Arena *
07/23 – Vancouver, BC @ Pepsi Live at Rogers Arena *
07/25 – Spokane, WA @ Spokane Arena *
07/27 – Fargo, ND @ FargoDome *
07/28 – St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center *
07/30 – Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza Festival
08/02 – Pittsburgh, PA @ PPG Paints Arena *
08/04 – Omaha, NE @ CHI Health Center *
08/06 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Maverik Center *
08/07 – Denver, CO @ Ball Arena *
08/09 – Des Moines, IA @ Wells Fargo Arena *
08/10 – St. Louis, MO @ Enterprise Center *
08/11 – Indianapolis, IN @ Ruoff Music Center *
08/13 – Cleveland, OH @ First Energy Stadium *
08/26 – Leeds, UK – Leeds Festival @ Bramham Park
08/28 – Reading, UK – Reading Festival @ Richfield Avenue
* with Machine Gun Kelly