Til Willis began performing in 1992, at the remarkable age of just twelve. Since then, he’s produced an expansive catalog of music, including fifteen studio albums, two live albums, and five EPs. Til’s bandmates, known as Erratic Cowboy, both compliment and enhance Til’s well-seasoned songwriting, and have added their own dynamic energy to his albums and live shows since 2012. With November’s release, Grinding of the Stars, Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy show no signs of slowing down.
Til and the boys perform frequently at favorite venues such as The Record Bar and The Brick in KC, and The Replay Lounge, Kaw Valley Public House and The Bottleneck in Lawrence.
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How did you begin creating performing your music? How has your approach to your music evolved over the years?
I started performing at 12 years old doing Bob Dylan and Neil Young covers, by 13 I was starting to write my own, which is what I really wanted to do. Once I had enough songs, I quit covers. As far as my approach, I think it has only gotten broader. And, perhaps quicker in execution, getting an idea from head to hand to fruit faster.
What does a typical songwriting session look like?
Well, I wake up. I feel like it's being employed 24/7. I'm never not working on it, and when I get something to a finished point, I introduce it to the band, or add it to my solo set. Or, in the case of my side-project, SOLOHAWK, we text lyric ideas back and forth until we can get together and hash out the music. I suppose there is no "typical", there's just no getting in the way of a good idea, which I try not to do.
Tell me a little bit about your band, Erratic Cowboy. How was the band formed? What does each member bring to the development of your overall sound?
Erratic Cowboy... we're steadfast in the wind, and deeply rooted to the ground. Earlier this year we celebrated our tenth anniversary as a band, which was a milestone. A band is only as good as its rhythm section, and in that spot we've got Eric Binkley on Bass, who's been there since the beginning, and Austin Sinkler on Drums, who's now been with us for seven of the ten years. These two are tight enough to be playful musically, which is always great for groove. For a long time it was just the three of us, but as we prepared to release our last album, Dirtflowers, we got Bradley McKellip in the band to share guitar duties with me, and that has allowed us to expand our palette.
What other artists or styles inspire and influence you as an artist? How do you find that these show up in your work?
When I was a kid music seemed to be a narrow lane of what I thought was good or bad, but the older I get the more it just seems like a vast plain with no real separations or barriers at all. There'll be something I was into years ago, and then one day I'll hear something or see something, and think, "Oh, that's where I picked that up." It's like osmosis, because it won't have been done consciously. When I started playing guitar I tried to pick up Stevie Ray Vaughan licks, but I quickly realized my fingers wouldn't move that fast. Years later I was watching an old performance of his, and noticed a picking technique he used that I also use. Or, a certain wooden sound from a Tom Waits song. I have a high tolerance for tonal squishiness from years of listening to Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart.
What can a concertgoer expect from a live performance? How are your solo performances different from those featuring the band?
Solo shows fall more into the Americana/Singer-Songwriter acoustic folky range, and there are lots of songs that only surface in this context. Whereas, an Erratic Cowboy show is loud and electric rock 'n roll. The acoustic shows allow me to push myself mentally with storytelling and nuance of emotion, and the band shows allow me to push myself physically with the sonics and the erupting emotions that that can carry. Sometimes, not every time, but sometimes during a band show there are moments where you can almost leave your body, it's what keeps you coming back to try it again.
Briefly describe one of your most memorable performance experiences.
I once got to sing, This Land Is Your Land, onstage with Pete Seeger and Steve Earle, so that was pretty great.
Til Willis’ recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Invisible Hour by Joe Henry
Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair