William Beckett jokingly calls himself a mini-celeb. Fans of the former singer for defunct Chicago pop-rockers The Academy Is… would likely drop the “mini.”
Beckett’s big enough to have a “verified” check mark next to his name on Twitter and to casually tell stories about his friend Demi Lovato. Right now, though, the focus is on the 27-year-old Barrington resident as he puts his previous band behind him and supports “Walk the Talk,” which dropped in April. It’s the first of three solo EPs coming this year (the others follow in July and October), on which Beckett explores new subject matter for him.
“[The last Academy Is… album] was about my time in high school,” he said during an interview at Tribune Tower. “Since then I’ve had a child; I’m a dad now. With all the experiences that a band that tours the world time and time again over an eight-year period have had, the last thing I want to do is now go back and dwell on the past even more.”
Still, Beckett says he will play his previous band’s songs on tour from time to time, despite his focus on the future. “[The band was] sort of the like the cool police on everything. If it wasn’t mysterious, it wasn’t cool. I could have B.S.’d another record with my band, and some people would probably think that that would be the [right] thing to do, but it wasn’t. Not only for myself but for the fans.”
What do you think people expect out of your solo work, and what will they actually get?
Well, I feel like expectations for what I’ve done in the past, particularly if people have expectations they’ll know where I’m coming from with my band and what we did as far as on a record-to-record basis. We pretty much flipped the script every time that we made a record so every record was different and I think, to a certain extent, shocked our fans, for better or for worse. [Laughs.] So for this with all the additional freedom, the expectation, I don’t know what people would expect. I guess the least expected thing would be to make the same record that we just made as a band as my solo thing. But I’m certainly not going to do that.
What’s something you have the freedom to do now that you didn’t before?
There’s a particular song called “Girl, You Shoulda Been a Drummer” that I love, and it’s a little more shticky. It’s not shtick but it’s a little more swagger and taps into a different side of myself that I feel like just conceptually it would have gotten killed on the ground floor in our band setting. I’m really happy that I stuck with my gut on that song. It’s really fun and it tells a pretty fun, sexy story. That being said, I feel like that’s one example of a particular song that wouldn’t have gotten out of the cutting room floor.
The first single, “Compromising Me,” some may take that as you anticipating what people might say about you and striking out before they can even say it?
If you’re asking if it’s like a pre-meditated attack … maybe a little bit. It happened pretty naturally. I wrote the song at a point in time when I was really, really at wit’s end and really frustrated with where I was with my label situation and where I was with the project because I felt like it was so ready to go and the vision was clear yet there [were] way too many cooks in the kitchen at that point. And no one could decide where it fits. What radio format does it fit on? Who are we selling it to? And for me it’s like, I’ve never thought about music so directly like a product before. To me the artists that truly do break out on massive proportions are those that don’t follow a formula. Look at Adele for instance. One of the most groundbreaking artists of our lifetime and she didn’t follow any formula whatsoever. If anything it was a huge throwback and it was her own thing. There wasn’t something else like her on the radio at that time, so for me to mirror my sound or my approach off of something that already exists in the market, even from a business standpoint, just doesn’t seem smart to me.
A little, yeah. If I make the same record as Joe Schmo, and I know how we all love Joe Schmo’s work—
By the time I put it out, it’s old news. So that being said I would want to write a song that was just honest and bold about the kind of music I’m going to be making from now on.
You sing, “Girl, You Shoulda Been a Drummer” for mostly negative reasons. Is it better to date a singer, guitarist or bassist?
[Laughs.] The twist on that was that I enjoy it. I enjoyed it a bit as well. This person can twist your world upside down, beat you senselessly, whether that’s metaphorical or not, but at the end of it it’s like, “Whoa, I’m enthralled by this different side of this person.” In a lot of ways it is kind of a reflection of myself and how I’ve blossomed since leaving the band. In certain senses I feel like having tapped into that more instinctual, carnal part of myself, I notice that more in others. That’s essentially what that song’s about, about a wild night with someone that you know, you’re seeing a different side of them that you ever have. Or someone that is taking you by storm.
So what member of a band tends to be the most volatile to get into a relationship with?
Definitely, it’s gotta be the lead singer.