William The Conqueror
The release of Maverick Thinker marks an exhilarating new beginning for UK roots-rock trio William the Conqueror, one that casts a bittersweet glance back while thrilling at the possibilities of a wide-open future. The album, due out March 5, 2021 via Chrysalis Records, is the final chapter in a semi-autobiographical trilogy that opened with the band’s 2018 debut, Proud Disturber of the Peace, and continued with 2019’s acclaimed Bleeding on the Soundtrack. But as Cornwall-based songwriter Ruarri Joseph charts the shifts in perspective accompanying the transition from adolescence to adulthood, he discovers electrifying new hope at the prospect of coming “alive at last.”
Deeply personal yet vibrantly evocative, Joseph’s songs dig deep into his own past to retrieve quiet moments and vivid images to sketch an intimate self-portrait – one that nonetheless holds the power to reflect every listener to themselves. That he does this in songs that are at once lyrical and swaggering, blues-drenched and stark, swampy and ethereal, is a testament to the sound forged on the road by Joseph and his bandmates, bassist/keyboardist Naomi Holmes and drummer/percussionist Harry Harding.
Maverick Thinker was produced by the band and Grammy nominee Joseph Lorge at Los Angeles’ storied Sound City Studios. Chronicled by Dave Grohl in his documentary Sound City, the studio has played host to legendary sessions by such giants as Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Metallica, Elton John, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless others. That history can’t help but seep into the trio’s music, which brims with the sinew and grit of their rock n’ roll forebears.
The title of Maverick Thinker is in part a winking tribute to Joseph’s mother, who he’s referred to as “Maverick” since childhood. The iconoclastic notion is also a reference to the album’s theme of conviction. The trilogy of William the Conqueror albums was inspired by the poet Herman Hesse, who wrote in My Belief that life could be divided into three stages: innocence, disillusionment, and faith. The latter, the songwriter insists, can only come with the shedding of illusions, a theme threaded throughout the songs on Maverick Thinker.
“When I was young, I confused religion with faith,” Joseph explains. “So I rejected it all for many reasons. Then as you go through experiences and wise up a bit, you start to realize that there might be something to those stories, that there might be something deeper to faith than just religion.”
William the Conqueror was founded to explore just such deeper truths. Under his own name, Ruarri Joseph enjoyed a successful career on the UK folk scene, but found the nakedly confessional nature of folk music to be dauntingly restrictive. William the Conqueror was initially a side project to blow off steam with his backing band, but Joseph soon found the band to be his most fruitful outlet, the doppelgänger allowing him to reveal more under the guise of abstract imagery and grungy guitar – electric Bob Dylan by way of Kurt Cobain and Southern rock.
“The name just popped into my head one day,” Joseph recalls. “I wondered what somebody called William the Conqueror would sound like? What would they write about? You can't be called William the Conqueror and be afraid to say something that's on your mind. I needed that push.”
The songs for the entire trilogy were penned in a single creative burst, then honed into their raw-edged but deeply felt current form on stages around the world – but not in rehearsals, which the band eschews in order to maintain its soulful, rough-hewn feel.
“There's two ways for a sculptor to make a piece of art,” Joseph explains. “One way is to build it up slowly, and the other is to start with a big mass and whittle it down. I took the latter approach – I amassed all this material, and making three albums was a process of chiseling away at it all. The idea ultimately being that I'm trying to empty my head.”
William’s three albums were not quite enough to contain all of the ideas that emerged from Joseph’s burst of inspiration. He’s expanded on his story in both a novel and a podcast, all of which chart a journey navigating the stages of life to a blinders-off maturity. Maverick Thinker abounds with idols knocked from pedestals, be they false prophets or all-too-human fathers.
The album opens with the ringing, poignant guitar lines of “Move On,” which urges a step forward into the wide-open future by means of faded Polaroid snapshots of a redolent past, moments frozen in time and etched into memory. “The Deep End” pits gratitude against misguided ambition, while the Southern-accented “Alive At Last,” which finds eternal truth in mythology, touching on a theme as intimate as friendship through one as epic as resurrection.
The tender, inquisitive “Quiet Life” meditates on the way yearning for change can be tinged by nostalgia for the past, especially as the roles of parent and child reverse with age. The bluesy swagger of “Wake Up” feeds into the rave-up twang of “Fiction,” both songs in which one half of the William-Ruarri duality seems to speak acerbically to the other. The haunting “Suddenly Scared” fesses up to the frightened child within the outwardly confident man, while the blistering “Reasons” struts out the anthemic mantra “I wanna live before I die.”
In a way, that deceptively simple lyric sums up the feeling of the album as a whole. While Maverick Thinker may have started out as a concluding chapter, it ultimately feels like a doorway into an expansive new story, teeming with all the experience and emotion that make Joseph’s soul-searching, pulse-racing songs such a searing rush. There’s plenty of life left in William the Conqueror, and every moment of this brilliant new album exults in that knowledge.