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UK News Desk

Bill Ryder-Jones: 'Fans tell me personal things'

Bill Ryder-Jones’s football team Everton have just lost to arch rivals Liverpool at Anfield ahead of our phone interview.

The Wirral singer-songwriter and former Coral guitarist, however, is determined not to let that fact ruin his week.

“I have a rule that I’ve lived by for a few years,” he explains. “If we play at three o’clock, I have to stop at five past five – that’s it.

“I don’t get so intense like a lot of my friends do, just for my own mental well-being.”

For many football fans that might be a throwaway line but for Bill it’s a literal work in progress.

For years he’s been open about his struggles with stress, anxiety and depression, as well as acute psychological conditions such as dissociative identity disorder, agoraphobia and monophobia.

He’s been an ambassador for mental health charities too, but it’s through his music – like on new fourth solo album Yawn, a soaring soundscape of deeply personal vignettes – that the 35-year-old feels he can be of most help to people, not least himself.

“People who listen to my music have already got an insight into me as they’ve been listening to me talk and sing,” says Bill, who left his old band in 2008 on health grounds.

“They can approach me and tell me very personal things after the show because they already think we’ve had a bit of a conversation, which is fine.

“But sometimes it’s awkward because I don’t know how to react to that. My job is not sitting down and helping people with their problems at all; you have to be skilled and committed to do that.

“I just bang on about my problems and hope that it will… Actually,” he corrects himself, “I do it solely because it makes me feel better, and secondly it’s nice that it appears to help people.”

Bill has had therapy and is now back on his prescribed medications – after “a silly decision to stop taking them this summer”.

As well as channelling his emotions into melodies and confessional lyrics on new tracks such as Recover, No One’s Trying to Kill You and Don’t Be Scared, I Love You, the musician believes it also helps to play five-a-side football, swim regularly and set himself achievable daily goals.

“When you’ve got all that stuff going on it can be so all-consuming that sometimes you have to focus on one little aspect of your life,” he adds.

“Because I’ve just been on tour in Europe and I’ve just eaten bread and drank beer, I just need to shift a little bit of weight, so that’s my focus.

“It’s just those small victories, every day when you don’t have a pizza or eat a chip barm [butty if you don’t speak northern] and you go; ‘OK, good, I’ve done that today.’

This year has seen a raft of records released by artists who are mindful of the importance of discussing mental health in their music.

Think Courtney Barnett’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, Slaves’ Acts of Fear and Love and Joy as an Act of Resistance by Idles, BBC 6 Music’s album of the year.

Bill’s hopeful that the era of “lad culture, FHM bands” and artists “who offer nothing” is slowly on its way out.

“We’re getting out of that generation of toxic masculinity, but there’s still a few groups out there.

“My generation do seem to be a little bit more wary about what they’re putting out there and being more honest about things.

“In the last 10 years it’s become easier for people to speak about those things, and that’s reflected in the art that people who have grew up around that change have made.

“I think there’s also more effort from the press to acknowledge when someone is singing about mental health.”

Despite his openness around the topic and his brutally honest music, Bill is at pains to stress that he’s no martyr and, at times, no saint either.

“In my life I’ve done some terrible things,” he confesses, “and I worry that I’m out there promoting myself as a hero by saying these things and speaking my mind.

“I do genuinely care about people and try to do my bit but I’m not like some pariah or hero. I’m exactly the same as everyone else – I do silly, selfish and mean-spirited things at times.

“When you get a lot of praise about being honest, at the back of your mind you remember that last awful thing you did.

“I haven’t beaten myself up in a song for a while, so I’ll probably give myself a good kicking lyrically soon!”

Ryder-Jones has just finished supporting Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys across the continent and has even found himself playing guitar for the Welshman.

He plays his final gig of the year at Liverpool’s Grand Central Hall on 13 December and admits that, while he’s “pretty comfortable” with the guitar-playing side of things by now – also contributing to Arctic Monkeys‘ hit 2013 album AM – it’s the frontman thing he has still yet to get his head around fully.

“I’m much more comfortable playing football than singing at people,” he deadpans. “I’m a decent footballer and a terrible singer!”

When he’s not making his own Low-inspired music, Bill produces other bands, like Our Girl and most recently County Line Runner, from the safe haven of his studio in West Kirkby.

“No one here gives a crap about the fact I’m doing anything,” he jokes. “If anyone approaches me here, it’s ‘weren’t you in The Coral?’

“The fact I’ve done four records and built myself up from the brink means nothing to anyone here.

“It’s beautiful, perfect. Keeps me in my place.”

Bill Ryder-Jones tours the UK in February 2019. Yawn is out now.

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