Song Deconstructed: ‘Pillow Scream’ by Will Knox

Will Knox. Photo: Liz Van Den Akker
Will Knox. Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

Will Knox: “Musically it’s basically just a guitar and a voice, which I think helps the story and lyrics stand out.” Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

Stepping out from behind the metaphors and suppressed feelings, the folk singer-songwriter finds his true self within this autobiographical offering

Fans of Elliott Smith, Passenger and Nick Mulvey will find a sympathetic soul in British singer-songwriter Will Knox. Born and raised in London, but now based in Haarlem, Netherlands, Knox’s folk-infused melodies make an ideal partner for his introspective lyrics and raw vocals. As well as his solo material, Knox is also a successful behind-the-scenes songwriter who has worked with the likes of Duncan Laurence, Sarah Julia and Ilse DeLange.

With new solo album, English Silence, due out in September, recent single Pillow Scream is a chance for fans to get reacquainted with this talented artist. Here, Knox tells us all about it…

INSPIRATION

The inspiration for the song was an experience with someone quite close to me that made me realise I was lying to them and myself about my feelings in order to avoid a conflict. I couldn’t speak my truth, be myself, and I realised that I was doing this all the time – whether in day-to-day life, relationships, or making music. So I wrote a very autobiographical song about this experience.

LYRICS

Lyrically the song is very direct and it tells a personal story. Pillow Scream represents me having all these feelings but not being able to share them with the people around me. I had this as a song title for a while, but I think the real hook in the song is, “I just want to be myself again.” Once I found this very simple phrase to tie the story together, the verses came out quite quickly as I could just tell the story as it happened.

For this album, I didn’t want to hide behind metaphors like I have in previous projects. My co-writers were constantly challenging me, making sure I was telling the truth and not hiding. I wrote this song by myself, but I could hear my friend Jesse Ruben in my head (who co-wrote some other songs on the record with me), making sure I was being honest.

Will Knox. Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

Will Knox: “I love recording in this live way, it puts a pressure on performance that you can sometimes miss if you’re doing a lot of multi-tracking.” Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

MUSIC

Musically it’s basically just a guitar and a voice, which I think helps the story and lyrics stand out. The guitar has this Leonard Cohen Avalanche inspiration, a very fast finger-picky part that helps give the song a bit of pace. I wanted to have a little melodic riff to keep it interesting and hooky, and after noodling around for an hour or two the guitar part actually started to feel quite natural.

I felt there was enough room in the demo to experiment with some vocal harmonies, but everything sounded a little unnecessary until I tried this vocoder. It started sounding like something was trapped, trying to break out of the mix, and I feel like it represents all these feelings that I wanted to scream.

IN THE STUDIO

I recorded the final version with Ian Grimble. We recorded guitar and vocal together, trying to get as close to a Nick Drake-type sound as possible. We did five or six takes and picked the best one. The recording didn’t end up so different from the demo, we just wanted to record it better and most importantly, get the best performance. I love recording in this live way, it puts a pressure on performance that you can sometimes miss if you’re doing a lot of multi-tracking.

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Will Knox. Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

Will Knox: “I love recording vocals and guitar together, and keeping the productions really minimal, as the songs were written.” Photo: Liz Van Den Akker

FINAL THOUGHTS

Recording this song and my last single, Growing Pains, made me realise how much I love recording vocals and guitar together, and keeping the productions really minimal, as the songs were written. I think Adrianne Lenker did an amazing job of that on Songs, and I think some of my favourite records such as Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, or Jose Gonzalez’s Veneer sound so magical because they’re so minimal. I want to lean further into this sound for future records.

Pillow Scream is out now, with Will Knox’s new album English Silence following in September. Knox will be playing a show at Green Note London on 6 June. Further dates and more music can be found at will-knox.com

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