Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian region of Stokes County, North Carolina, Will Easter has long been enamored by the landscape and the music around him. Like a coursing river flowing steadily around a bend, Will continues to propel himself forward by tapping into the landscape of his rearing and looking inward into the very essence of what makes us human. As a songwriter, Will is greatly influenced by the likes of North Carolina’s very own BJ Barham and Doc Watson; the former hailing from the area of Will’s childhood and the later once inhabited the area that Will lives today. With the release of his second full-length album, Will demonstrates his artistry and connects listeners with the spaces that molded the artist. Having grown up in the same area as Will, I am proud to be able to call him my friend, and I am even more proud to have been able to have this exchange with him in order to share it with all of you.
Americana Highways: Knowing you as well as I do, when I listen to your self-titled record, I can hear the many facets that make up who you are as a person. You share a special connection to the landscapes that have shaped you into the individual that you are today; from the mountains to the river, from Stokes county to Wilkes. Talk a little bit about how landscape has played such a pivotal role in the music that you make. In what capacity were you around music growing up in Stokes? Has the music that you were exposed to early on been influential on the music that you make today?
Will: When writing a song, I always write about what I know and what I’ve experienced. I’ve always had a big interest in the land that surrounds me, everywhere I’ve lived. I grew up in a very rural area in North Western North Carolina. The first house I lived in was the old home place of my great grandparents’ farm. Most of my mother’s extended family lived around us, so I was able to roam through the woods on their property and just explore. My mom ran a daycare when I was younger and all of us kids were constantly outside playing after school, on snow days or in the summer. I have never thought about it this way but the surrounding areas and landscapes made me who I am. In addition, I grew up in the shadows of the Sauratown mountain range. Tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was always filled with wonder about the mountains. When you’re on top or viewing from afar, it feels like a different world. They have always captivated me. Many of the jobs that I have had in the past have been related directly to the landscapes that surround me. For example, right after high school, I worked and ended up managing the Dan River Company (a kayak and canoe rental company on the Dan River). I would go as far as to say they inspired my choice in what and where I studied in higher education. Which was Recreation Management at Appalachian State.
AH: You are not only a musician but also a songwriter, and sometimes writers have specific spaces that they like to go to in order to write. A place of solace and inspiration. Do you have a space, whether it be a physical space or a mental space, that you go to in order to write?
Will: In order to write successfully, I have to first and foremost be free of distraction. Turn off my phone and close my computer. I typically am alone when I write. I am not the type of writer that can sit and carve out a song in 10 to 15 minutes. I typically write about something that I cannot shake off of my mind or an idea that I think everyone regardless of your life experience or background can relate to. That may take anywhere from an hour to months to finally finish. I typically write after I have processed a situation I was in. When I first started writing at 17 or 18, my writing was more of a personal journal of how I felt at a specific time. Because of that, I think I got in the habit of writing as honestly as possible. That is sometimes hard to do because of the vulnerability of stripping feelings down through music.
AH: Who are some artists that have been influential to you as a musician? I know you have a deep appreciation for Doc Watson, who lived right down the road from where you live now in Deep Gap, North Carolina. How does it feel inhabiting the landscape that produced one of your heroes?
Will: Now that’s a loaded question. While I am a folk or roots rock songwriter, I take a lot of inspiration from quite a few different artists, from different genres. For this, I will stick to the related genres. When it comes to the energy I put out at a live show, The Avett Brothers are a big influence on that. I have seen them around 12 times now, and they always put on a hell of a show. They feed the crowd energy from the stage and the crowd throws it right back. Some of my most memorable performances have been just like that. Another big inspiration for my music is John Prine. He was so genuine and wholesome with his writing. He’s one of the only writers that can make someone laugh and cry within the same song. Another artist that influences my music is BJ Barham from American Aquarium. One of my favorite things about his writing is how relatable he is. He and I grew up in towns that are about 30 minutes apart. So, I’ve seen a lot of the things he talks about in his music. For example, I have seen the struggles of rural North Carolina towns that many folks left behind. He writes about the working class or being a musician who feels like they are fighting tooth and nail just to get by. Furthermore, Doc Watson is not only a musical hero of mine, but a personal hero. Although, I never met him. I have many friends that spent time with him and they all say that he was just a good person. “Just one of the people,” as he would say. When hearing Doc sing, pick, or talk I get the feeling of home… like family. Doc was from Deep Gap, North Carolina where I have lived now for over two years. I have said it and many friends that have been to my home have said it, too. You can feel his spirit in the air through the area. There is a feeling of awe that comes over me when I think about Doc being from the same community I live in. Deep Gap is one of the areas in Watauga that seems to have not changed much in the last 20 years. It’s a simple community. A lot of rolling hills and farmland. Many of the same things that influenced Doc growing up.
AH: Do you ever look to other artistic mediums for inspiration, such as film or literature?
Will: There are not any specific things that come to mind right off hand. If anything, I pull from books that I have read. I am a big CS Lewis fan. Not to say my music is specifically religious. There are influences that are scattered in there though. Another favorite of mine is Into the Wild. Chris McCandless captivated me. He went against any social norms and made his own way. That’s so inspiring to me.
AH: In 2019 you released your debut studio album, Carolina Home, and this year you released your sophomore record, a self-titled album. What were some of the pivotal differences in the creative process in comparison to creating your first record to this second one? Was the whole process much easier having done it before, or did the first one drive you to try something new the second time around?
Will: There are some rather noticeable differences in the two albums I have so far. The first difference is the head space I was in writing the two records. When I wrote Carolina Home, I was writing that from the point of view of heartbreak and needing to leave home. The majority of the self-titled album was written as a response to Carolina Home. I left home and moved to Wilkesboro. Then Boone. There was a tremendous amount of personal growth between the two. I learned to let go a little easier in the time frame of writing the sophomore album. It’s a really coming of age album I think.
AH: Who were some of the key players in the making of the new record? Such as those that recorded it and played on it.
Will: Man, I cannot thank the people enough that were involved with making this record. I had initially gone into the studio with buddy, Gaberial Jones, to make demos for the record. The more we worked together, the more I gravitated toward making a record together. Gabe and I work very well together. We are always willing to try new things just for the sake of trying them. Not expecting them to be a masterpiece… just explorations. That gives us the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. He also played drums on the record. Another big influence on this record was Dylan Evans. otherwise known in the EDM world by his stage name, Lavier. Before I started working on this record, Dylan and I were recording some newer songs of mine for an EP that will hopefully be released this fall. For this record, Dylan did the mixing and mastering. It was so nice to have him around as another influence. He has an incredible way of bringing out the best in a song. Things that I would have never thought of, he suggested, and it worked well. Another key player in this record is Jordan Lamb. Formerly, Luke Combs’ lead guitarist. He provided a good amount of the lead guitar tracks. He adds that timeless country tone to every track he was on. Everett Dimenna played bass on 90% of the tracks and I am incredibly grateful to have him around. He is very easy to work with. Mandolin was played by Blake Bostain. Prior to Blake playing on the record, he and I had talked for years about working together. I am glad we finally did. This record was a little more rock n’ roll, so the addition of mandolin helped bring it back to the roots sound of my first record. Bobby Frith was another big help on this record. He also played lead guitar parts and is responsible for the riff on the song “Florida Girl” that I still find myself humming throughout the day.
AH: I’ve heard you mention that the song, “Unknown Love,” is your favorite song on the new record. What was the inspiration and process of writing that song and bringing it to life? Why is it your favorite?
Will: “Unknown Love” is by far the most rock-like song on the record… it’s just so different and sounds big. This song was written about no particular person. Hence the name “Unknown Love.” During that time in my life, I found myself being a hopeless romantic and imagined a girl coming into my life and sweeping me off my feet. So much so that you may feel incredible loss if and when you part. So that’s exactly what the song is about.
AH: A song that stood out to me is one called, “Nostalgic Search.” Being a writer about country and American roots music, the concept of nostalgia remains so prevalent. What do you think it is about nostalgia and the past that continues to be so prevalent in this type of music?
Will: Nostalgia is always a feeling of going home or to a place where things were easier and more comfortable. Americana and roots music is music that is made for everyday people. I think it is easier to talk about the subject matter of nostalgia in music for everyday people. We all go through the struggles of life. Therefore, it is natural to want to revert or feel comfortable or at home in your everyday struggles.
AH: I feel like the album covers of both of your records, Carolina Home and Will Easter, tell a story. The first one is a photograph and the second one is a drawing. Tell me a little about each one and how they relate to who you are.
Will: The album cover to Carolina Home is something that I cherish. I found this framed photo at my grandmother’s house a few years before I even recorded Carolina Home. The picture captured a scene from the 1950’s of the house I grew up in. The old car in the front belonged to my great grandfather’s cousin. My great grandparents lived in that house, as did my grandmother, mother, my sister and I… along with my nephew in recent years. That is literally my Carolina home. My self-titled album cover was designed by Hannah Lawson. As a former studio artist, I have always admired her art. Especially her illustrations of animals. Ironically, I chose a rabbit for the Will Easter album… I’m not sure what influenced that. It may have been some of the ceramic pieces I had formerly made that were related to the tortoise and the hair. In the bottom left of the drawing are two hammers. One of the reasons I chose those is because I work in construction. I also chose hammers, because it represents growth as a person. That’s what this album compared to Carolina Home represents as well. Growth as a person, writer, musician, and performer.
AH: You recorded and released this record over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has self-isolation impacted you as a writer, musician, and human being? What can we expect to see out of you in the months ahead as the world starts to go back to a normative standard?
Will: It’s funny. None of these songs were written during the pandemic. Some are a few years old at this point. I finally had time to sit down and record, because I wasn’t touring all the time. That is not to say that I did not write during the pandemic. Just not this body of work. Now that things are starting to open back up and shows are slowly becoming normal again, my band and I will be touring throughout the year. We have shows scheduled for the Evening Muse, Ramkat, Grey Eagle and a lot more. The list is continuing to grow for solo, trio, and full band shows.