The William The Conqueror frontman delves back into his family history to chronicle the evolution of a deeply personal song
Having already made a mark with his solo records, Edinburgh-born songwriter Ruarri Joseph is currently enjoying life with his new group William The Conqueror. Alongside bandmates Harry Harding and Naomi Holmes, their music takes on elements of Americana, Southern rock, blues and grunge – all with an added sprinkling of Britishness. They are currently midway through a trilogy of albums which started with Proud Disturber Of The Peace in 2017 and are linked by the biographical nature of Joseph’s compositions.
In this diary extract, Ruarri takes us through the evolution of his song Bleeding On The Soundtrack, from its origins as a mere title right through to the finished version…
The title popped into my head one day. I’d been working on the trilogy of William albums for a couple of years, up to my eyeballs in ideas, but somehow the songs just kept coming, especially for the second album, which centred around the adolescent years of disillusionment. At first, the title referred to how it felt trying to empty my head of ideas. I didn’t notice the reference to Dylan’s album about divorce, Blood On The Tracks. That would come to have more meaning later.
I wanted it to be a final word on all things related to my dad’s addiction to alcohol, which hit a ghastly rock bottom when I was a teenager, slap bang in the middle of adolescence. I started writing songs when I was 11 and when my dad became ill, they became an obsessive, therapeutic escape. I consistently wrote songs about my dad, his addiction and the break up of the family. Twenty years later and I still hadn’t nailed it though! I decided Bleeding On The Soundtrack would be one last song about it all. The reference to Dylan’s divorce album made more sense now. I should say here that my dad hasn’t had a drink for over 20 years, which when you know anything about recovery, is a remarkable achievement.
I had a couple of different ideas for the music. One was a chirpy shuffle, like Howlin’ Wolf or something. We jammed it in soundchecks but we’d done this kind of thing before though; music for the camaraderie of propping up the bar, smoky rooms and shooting the breeze. I wanted something with a bit more menace. My other idea was a 6/8 loop, somewhere between blues and grunge that did the same in the chorus as the verse, droning repetitively on like drunken footsteps, an Escher waterfall coming back round just when you think it’s all over.
Lyrically I was at a loss. My memory can be quite deceptive but I wanted to get it right so was thinking on all the odd personal details, raking over every vignette in my mind for anything that would separate this song from anything else I’d heard or written before. The quirky details were everything but I couldn’t figure them out into a poetic or coherent order. This wasn’t working.
“THERE WAS A GUILT IN THERE THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO FACE”
I started thinking about hero worship and how even when things got really bad, I still tried to keep Dad’s pedestal intact. I mirrored this with my other hero at the time, Kurt Cobain, (also an addict…what great role models I had!) Kurt had blown his brains out and I remembered reading his suicide note in the NME. In my easily-influenced angsty brain, it was oddly romantic to me, like he was a martyr or something, a fallen prince. The reality of what his death meant to his friends and family went over my head and (stupidly) made me respect him more. Then something struck me that I’d never written or even wanted to think about before.
At rock bottom, my dad had tried to take his own life but through incredible good fortune had been rescued and resuscitated. This was a trauma I’d buried for sure; something I didn’t want to rake over or go through. Somewhere in the confusion of romanticising my heroes I’d hidden from what was really going on in front of me. As an adolescent, I’d chosen to be self-involved, so dug into my own “problems” that I looked away from what I should’ve been focused on. I realised there was guilt in there that I didn’t want to face. Like I’d (wrongly) blamed myself for what happened or something? Maybe that was why I was still writing about it?
One day, after a bizarre sequence of events involving a trip to my childhood home with BBC4, a half-written novel, a drum ‘n’ bass festival in Wales, a hallucinating child and a three-hour conversation about drug abuse; I collapsed onto my bed physically and emotionally exhausted! When I woke up, anxious and knackered, I did what I always do in those situations and picked up a pen and paper. What fell onto the page was what became Bleeding On The Soundtrack liberated and fully formed.
We recorded it in one take and it became the album’s title track.