**TW: This piece discusses highly sensitive topics, including Tourette’s and addiction. **
“This is Billy Lockett, a UK artist who sings sad songs. He is the new Lewis Capaldi.”
That is a major selling point of the pitch for UK-based singer-songwriter, Billy Lockett. An instant comparison to Lewis Capaldi, an artist who took the world by storm with somber, gritty singles such as “Someone You Loved” and “Before You Go.” The dirt and crackle of Capaldi’s voice is instantly recognizable, and the world has fallen in love with him for both his talent and self-deprecating sense of humor. Billy Lockett, whose debut album Abington Grove is out now, while most certainly a balladeer, is not a copycat. Far from it.
Lockett, who grew up in a small English town called Northampton, has curated a diverse gear-shifting soundscape for his debut album. Influences on the project, led by the breakout single, “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself,” come from many different facets of music, allowing the near-40 minute runtime to fly by quickly but efficiently. Lockett has tasted success in the music industry prior to this, with scattered singles making noise and serving as the opening act for a litany of well-known performers such as Lana Del Rey, Birdy, and KT Tunstall. However, he is now experiencing a major moment in the sun, one that he has worked his whole life for.
“I’ve primarily released ballads my whole career, but this album is not that,” said Lockett, who, as he professes on social media, wrote hundreds of songs, was dropped by his label, and “went off the rails” multiple times before landing on the music that caught fire. “Is it just a mess? I don’t even know sometimes, but people seem to like it… it seems to be doing really well. Even if it is a mess, I wrote it from my total heart and honesty. The way those songs are, it would feel weird if someone else covered them, because they’re so me. That’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole life… it takes some people a long time to work it out, so I guess for me, it took a while to work out what I was.”
Abington Grove, as stated earlier, is a varied mixture of a project. He does the Ed Sheeran rap-sung thing on “Not Okay,” channels an early 2000’s Black Eyed Peas sound on “Last Night,” and taps Goldlink for the contemporary R&B sound on “Hard Act To Follow,” among other tracks. While it sounds all well and good now, it wasn’t always that easy for the 31-year-old star. “You’re being told what to do by people who have had huge hits and have a lot of money and a lot of success, and you haven’t had any,” he said. “So when they say, ‘Hey, this song sounds great. It’s going to do really well, trust us,’ even though you hate it, what do you do? Then, obviously, you’d put it out and it wouldn’t do well because it wasn’t honest, and you didn’t like it and the fans could feel that and see it. You couldn’t sell it ’cause you didn’t like it, and then it all falls apart.” A merry-go-round of industry politicking that usually goes nowhere, or results in a song, or a few, being removed from the tour setlist and never spoken of again. Now, at this stage, Lockett wants all of his songs to mean something.
He talks of his ups and downs, having lived with years of uncertainty and struggle, with a massive smile on his face. He’s also perfectly fine poking fine at himself, openly discussing his history with addiction, and being candid about living with Tourette syndrome. “When it starts to get better, it makes it easier for it to get even better than that,” he said about his Tourette’s, which, according to mayoclinic.com, “involves repetitive movements or unwanted sounds that cannot be easily controlled.” “Then when it’s bad, it very easily topples into being unbearable. I think doing creative things, and communication, just talking to other human beings, is so good for you. You have to train your brain to find shortcuts out of it. So, instead of me doing a certain noise, I’ll channel it into different things with my hands, my toes, my wrists, and things. Something that is slightly less obvious. It’s almost like a little ridge… you just need to get past the ridge, and you’re off.”
As colorful and varied as Abington Grove is, the track that has connected the most is the heartfelt ballad, “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.” Following in the footsteps of other contemporary Brit-pop male acts such as James Arthur, Calum Scott, and Dermot Kennedy, Lockett cracked the formula by simply being vulnerable enough to tell his story in a way that is healing and relatable: “Don’t be so hard on yourself, and love every part of yourself / There ain’t no shame in you asking for help, so don’t be so hard…” “Everything about that song was just all the things I think all the time,” he said, on the sweet, uplifting sentiment set to music. “It was so easy because I was just writing down what I’ve always known.”
The song is now out for the world to digest and hold close to them, and Lockett is aware of that responsibility. “I’ve made a song that is helping people,” he said. “I’m getting hundreds of messages a day now from people about something awful that has happened in their life, and how much the song is helping. But, that awful thing has happened whether the song existed or not. Now the song exists, and it’s bigger than music now. Isn’t it brilliant that, as human beings, sometimes we can just create something that didn’t exist, but can just help someone? I only see good in that.”
Lockett is set to embark on a tour of the UK starting next month and is basking in the glow of the success of Abington Grove, which debuted at No. 15 on the Official UK Album charts upon its release. You can stream the album, and all of Lockett’s past work, on Spotify.