It’s a familiar story: a young band, dedicated to breaking through in an unforgiving music industry, plough all their resources – financial and physical – into recording, releasing and promoting their music, all the while slogging away at ultimately unfulfilling day jobs. Such has been the fate for Glaswegian alt-rock trio Donnie Willow, who drove themselves into significant debt with the self-release of 2016’s Inhale. Exhale.
However, Donnie Willow have taken those lemons and turned them into musical lemonade with the release of new EP Exhibition – specifically new single Toys, where they channel their experience into meaty, riff-driven alt-rock. “Toys is a song about money: the endless cycle of working a job you don’t want to work so that you can afford to take another step closer to what it is you actually want to do, and then feeling like you’re back at square one,” explains frontman Arthur Piddington. “Personally, it was about the three of us maxing out overdrafts so that we could record and release the last record, Inhale. Exhale. A worthy investment in our opinion, but we are still repaying some of those debts. At the time of writing the song I was also very conscious of the fact I needed to replace broken gear, but couldn’t really afford to do so. Eventually, one day I just thought, ‘Fuck it’ and bought a new guitar. Totally worth every penny, but financially it was a terrible idea. That decision inspired the lyrics of the track.”
Below, we catch up with the band to find out more about the single, the new EP and what they have planned for next.
Can you introduce yourselves – where are you from, who does what and what are your roles in the band?
“We’re Arthur Piddington (Vocals, Guitar), Peter Bunting (Drums) and Sam Peppiette (Bass, Vocals). We’re all from Edinburgh originally but spent the majority of the band’s life in Glasgow before moving back through recently.”
What’s the story behind the name?
Arthur: “I’ve always liked the anonymity of a [person’s] name for a band. It takes influence away from what you think the band might sound like. As a kid, I liked the name Willow and used to scribble it in random places. When we had our first opportunity to play to people we needed a name, so pieced Willow with the first name I saw which happened to be Donnie. We thought it was quite different to what other bands were calling themselves so decided to stick with it.”
How did you guys meet and start making music together?
Pete: “We all met in school when we were around 15. Myself and Arthur decided to start jamming after playing Guitar Hero together, so I guess we owe the creators of that game some thanks! We started playing music with Sam a few months later after becoming mates on a school trip, and quickly began to learn some covers, eventually writing our own music.”
What were your key influences/inspirations in getting the band together?
Sam: “Reading music magazines, going to see bands live and wanting to do it ourselves, and just sharing music we were into with each other. Big early influences included bands like Biffy Clyro, Reuben, and Glassjaw, and they definitely still provide inspiration for us when we’re writing, but we tend to listen to music that doesn’t sound like us so that it gives us a fresh perspective.”
How would you describe your sound in three words for people who’ve never heard you?
“Loud, riffs, loud.”
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What’s the story behind the new single Toys?
Arthur: “It came about from the frustration of having a lack of money, in particular, to be able to fix broken gear and pay off the debt from self-releasing Inhale. Exhale. Lyrically, it’s inspired by the vicious cycle of working a job you don’t want to, so you can take a step closer to what it is you really want to be doing. But then being financially back at square one.”
What drew you to the themes you cover in the song?
Arthur: “They usually come from personal experiences as a form of therapy, but I feel it’s also important to make a song somewhat relatable to the listener. If you look around; you can always find inspiration in the people and places around you.”
Nutty professors and weird science – what’s going on in the video, and how did you come up with the concept?
Pete: “The music video was directed and filmed by my older brother, Matthew Bunting, under his film company Moon Unit Productions. It’s basically a short film about us three guys getting kidnapped by a crazy scientist (played by Sam’s older brother Andy Peppiette) who takes us back to his ‘lab’ and straps us into these headsets in an attempt to move our consciousness into three toys – a fox, a clown and an action man type doll. I don’t know what the real inspiration behind it is but we were all just up for doing a fun video. Matthew’s done nearly all of our music videos so far, we normally just send him the song and let him come up with whatever he wants. It’s great fun working with him, he has loads of great ideas both script-wise and in editing as seen in this video, including the stop-motion section at the end which we were really happy with!”
What’s your favourite story/anecdote from filming the video?
Sam: “Basically the whole shoot from our perspective. We were sat with our eyes closed for almost all of the filming pretending to be knocked out, only able to listen to what was happening, which was basically Andy (the mad scientist) running around acting as a fictional mad scientist does. Pretty weird.”
Is there any other new music to look forward to?
Pete: “Yeah we’ve also just released our new EP Exhibition so there’s three more brand new tracks on there to check out as well as Toys.”
What do you hope people will take away from the single, and your music in general?
Pete: “A sore neck.”
What’s been the highlight of your time in the band so far?
Sam: “We had a sold-out hometown headline show in Glasgow at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut at the end of 2015, that was definitely one of our highlights as a band. The place was packed and everyone was going nuts, it’s a great venue too, a lot of massive bands have played there over the years. Also getting our music played on BBC Radio 1 was pretty surreal each time it happened!”
You’re heading out on tour soon – what are you most looking forward to about that?
Arthur: “Really looking forward to playing some shows with our friends in Rory Indiana, it’s always fun doing a tour with another band. We’re excited to play in a few new places, as well as go back to some that we’ve really enjoyed in the past, like our label’s venue, Sunbird Records in Darwen. It’s always a busy show and the Sunbird team are always up for a wee party.”
What do you have planned for next?
Pete: “We’re going to be doing a lot of writing this summer, working on our debut album. Hopefully that will be coming out next year. Apart from that, we’re planning another tour for later this year, just want to play as many shows as possible!”