Ezra Williams is an ever-evolving artist. Beginning their career with sparsely instrumented but brutally honest songs, such as their dreamy bedroom-pop debut single ‘Thinking About You’, they’ve gradually yet consistently broadened their sound.
Growing up in County Wicklow, a coastal town, the 21-year-old would steal their brother’s iPod Shuffle of a night to listen to music under the duvet, writing “little poems” and all the words they “could remember that rhymed with each other.” At the time, it didn’t occur to them that this would form the basis of songwriting, and they mostly felt “embarrassed” to share these instead.
The Irish singer-songwriter began releasing music under the name ‘Smoothboi Ezra’, but abandoned the name as they got older. “It’s mainly the change between being a child and an adult,” they explain. “It’s the name I used when I released things quite young. People, when they heard the name, assumed that I was younger than I was.”
Nevertheless, since the release of their debut track in 2018, they’ve been on a continuous upward trajectory. The use of their 2020 song ‘My Own Person’ in Netflix’s hit teen drama Heartstopper earned them a viral moment and a surge in following. Breezy, but pensive, the song is about finding a sense of self. It’s undeniably the perfect soundtrack for Nick Nelson’s innocent attempt at trying to understand his sexuality.
This introspective tendency fuels their debut album, Supernumeraries. For the first time, Williams places their voice at the forefront, as the most malleable instrument. The climactic, yet slow-burning ‘Babyteeth’ features the agonised belts one would expect from an artist like Fiona Apple, yet the gentle soft-rock tendencies of songs such as ‘Beside Me’, carried by an airy falsetto, is more reminiscent of the sound of Elliot Smith, or the early works of Soccer Mommy.
A couple of months since the project’s release, Williams is already back to the drawing board, working on songs for their next album. We hung out over Zoom to have a chat about first loves, Irish icons and teeth.
Hey Ezra! How’re you doing?
For the last month, I’ve been sick with a chest infection and fever. I’ve been in bed since basically I got back from doing the BBC thing. My body just decided that it was time to be ill, so I’ve been quite sick for the past while.
You’ve had a busy couple of months! The debut album, Maida Vale, Glastonbury… How did it all go?
It was all really full on. The second I got back from the Maida Vale session, my body was like, ‘Ok, now we can be sick’. It was all really, really cool, though. The Maida Vale session was really good. My bassist wasn’t able to come and we weren’t able to do the three-piece harmonies, which was a shame but I was really happy with how it turned out. We have a bassist in reserve, who knows all the instruments; he only had one or two days of practice so it was a little anxiety-inducing, but he did very well. Then Glastonbury was so intense, it was crazy. It was really fun though.
You’re a university student at the moment – how have you found juggling doing your degree with music?
Last year, I was in my first year of university and it was definitely difficult to juggle things. I was constantly having to change plans and be between Cork, Wicklow and Dublin all the time. It was intense, but it was fun because it kept me busy.
Supernumeraries, your first album, has been out for just over a month now. How does it feel to finally have it out in the world?
It’s weird because it’s been in the works and I’ve been performing the songs for so long. In my head, it was already out there. When it got released I was performing at Beyond the Pale and I had no service. The day it came out I couldn’t look at my phone and had no way of checking what was going on for the entire weekend. I missed a lot of the hype!
How has your sound has evolved from when you first started making music?
Each thing I’ve released has shown the progression of me figuring out how to use my software and play instruments. I’m self-taught in production and most instruments; piano is the only one I was taught how to play. The progression of production value, sound and overall soundscape of my songs is just the progression of me learning how to do it better. My friend Jacky also played drums on some songs on the album, which definitely made them bigger. I’ve slowly but surely learned how to actually produce songs.
Where did the name, or theme, of Supernumeraries come from?
‘Supernumeraries’ is having an abnormal amount of something, and mine is teeth. I was born with almost an extra set of teeth and I’ve had to get them taken out since I was five or six. As of this month last year, I have a normal amount of teeth in my mouth. It was funny because I’d associated going to the dentist with getting off school, so I liked it for a while when I was younger because I didn’t get it. Every few months or every few years, I’d get my teeth in a bag. I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t happening to everyone?’ But that’s what the album is about – it’s me shedding my teeth.
‘Babyteeth’, the most recent single, is one of the album’s pivotal moments. Can you talk through the background of that track?
That song was about probably the most important friendship breakup of my life. When I wrote that song, it felt like the end of my childhood. It was a friendship that I’d had during my early adolescence, and I realised in the moment it ended that I was technically an adult and I was doing a load of adult things. I was in charge of everything and I wasn’t a child anymore. It felt like the start of a different chapter in my life. That’s what the song means to me, and that’s why I called it ‘Babyteeth’, because the baby teeth are gone and I’m old now. The person that it’s about was my first proper girlfriend, which then turned into a very codependent friendship that wasn’t great. The whole ‘first lesbian girlfriend situation’ is usually the most difficult thing to do.
‘Seventeen’ is the only song on the album that you’d already released. You write about turning seventeen as looking into the future, but obviously, it’s been quite a while since you wrote it. Why did you choose to end the album with it?
The decision to re-do ‘Seventeen’ was a joint decision between me and Jacky, who produced the song. He liked the song when I released it, and had his own vision of what he would like it to sound like. He asked me if he could do his own version, and then he started making it and sent it to me as he was going through it. I really liked it and asked to be on it. I sang on it and asked to put it on my album.
The song is the last one on the album because it was the biggest and most cathartic to do. It was nice working on a song that meant something different to me at the time that I wrote it than it did when I was working on it again – it means a lot more now. I performed it live a few times now, which I hadn’t ever done, so it got a rebirth and I liked that.
What do you think has changed most since you first started songwriting?
When I was sixteen, I was very lost in wanting to figure out who I was and trying to find labels that fit me. Now I’m way more content with not really fitting any type of label for myself and being very ambiguous. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable in myself. That’s my constant state: I used to be uncomfortable with my discomfort, now, I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Does your attitude toward labellessness translate to your music?
I think so. When I started releasing music, people wanted me to put myself in a genre, which was another label on top of me trying to figure out the other labels. I could never fully find comfort in any genre labels. I listen to so many different styles of music and I never want to be in one box. I would love to completely change the type of music I make every single time I release something if that’s what makes me happy.
I make the music for myself and then for other people. Even from the age of seventeen, who I thought I was has changed a lot. At twenty-three or twenty-four, I’ll be completely different again. I don’t want to continue to make the same music that I am now, because my music changes with me. I’m a very sporadic person, I can never stay in the same place and I think I’ll be constantly changing until I die.
Who were your biggest musical influences for this project?
My biggest influences for the album were people I’ve always been influenced by, like Kate Bush and Elliot Smith. Hayley Heynderickx is also a consistent role model in the music industry for me. I was listening to so much Indigo de Souza while I was making the album as well – I’m obsessed with her.
Has that changed in the writing you’ve done since you finished the album?
I’ve been writing since before the album came out for new things. I don’t have a specific idea in my head of what I’m doing yet. I always have something in the works. I’m making things that are completely different from the album now. In the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Sinead O’Connor. Obviously, I knew her music and she’s a big part of every Irish person’s music inspiration, but I hadn’t ever properly sat down to listen to it.
My mum was very into her music. I’ve been listening to her stuff now, for the past few days, and I’m definitely finding a lot of inspiration. It’s also led me to listen to The Cranberries again, I’m very inspired by Irish women at the moment. Irish music living and dead, like CMAT. I saw her at Glastonbury and cried, me and my band are so obsessed with her! There are so many amazing Irish musicians, like NewDad, that I have a pull towards listening to and talking about.
What’ve you been working on since the album came out?
I’ve been trying to produce and record stuff for the past month, but I can’t sing without coughing a lung up! All I have is a bunch of lyrics and backing tracks. One day I’ll release the vocals I have right now because they’re so bad it’s funny. I’ve got a full recorded backing track and then it’s me intermittently wheezing and spluttering trying to get my lyrics out.
Are you planning to tour for the album?
I don’t have a lot of gig plans in the works right now, because summer is coming to an end and I’m going back to college. They’re both a priority for me. I would love so much to go on a tour, but realistically I won’t until I’ve finished college. If I was to have complete control over the world, I’d tour during my Christmas break and Halloween break and summer break, but I’m trying to be studious.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
College! I do have a few things in the works, I’m not going to drop off the face of the earth any time soon. I definitely want to keep doing things and keep making things. I’m planning on sharing a lot more of my art, even if not music-wise. I spend all of my days knitting, doing fibre art, printing and every other type of art. I’d love to start making a website where I can post my art and have people know me for not just my music and the other art I make. I’d love to one day have my stuff in a gallery, or have an exhibition.