Album Walkthrough: UK musician Westerman breaks down Your Hero Is Not Dead
After capturing international attention with his enchanting Ark EP back in 2018, Westerman now enters the album format with incredible results.
Header image by Bex Day.
One day, Westerman will be a musician no longer needing an introduction, and that's an incredibly exciting future to look forward to. Over the last few years, the UK musician has emerged as one-to-watch with his charming and wistful indie-electronica blend, with a string of singles across this time - plus EPs such as Ark in 2018, which gave him a greater sense of international acclaim than ever before - encapsulating this intense emotive passion through shimmering and often-subtle indie; a blend Bon Iver-reminiscent when united with his soaring and angelic vocal.
In saying that, it'd be a near-crime to label Westerman's music as just 'Bon Iver-reminiscent'. He's an entirely unique and distinct force whose sound transcends those he's often compared against - Neil Young another name often thrown in the ring as a comparative - thanks to his ability to pluck the charm out of stripped-back simplicity and emphasise it, highlighting the deep emotions of his vocal and the senses of longing, passion and indulgence that it encapsulates regardless of the genres people attempt to box it under.
That's something that really shines on his debut album Your Hero Is Not Dead, which with its arrival last week, well and truly marks the entrance of a musician bound to blossom into one of the UK's - and the greater world's - most special. It's an enchanting twelve tracks that dives head-first into the depths of his work at its most potent and rich, highlighting the wide-ranging variety of his sound and the multi-faceted emotions that play a part in building its songwriting. It's something evident from the get-go; each track often different to the one following it in sound, but united in the rich intoxication that somewhat defines the whole record.
Recorded alongside close friend and collaborator Nathan Jenkins (A.K.A. Bullion) in Southern Portugal and London, the record dives into the intricacies and complexities of the man behind it; his multifacetedness shining through the album's twists and turns. "I wanted to make something that’s eventually uplifting," he says on the record, visible through the album's ability to always match sombreness with a sense of hope that acts as a silver lining. "I wanted to say in as unguarded terms as I could — there are reasons for hope."
The album is full of high points. At times, he moves with the rhythm and swagger of the Neil Young's and co he's often compared against, with woozy guitar melodies swimming alongside his often-soft-sung vocal. Elsewhere, he moves into an almost electronic-like sound, the guitar ditched in favour for subtle synth work as he showcases a sense of versatility that with a whole album-length duration, is finally capable of shining on Your Hero Is Not Dead.
On Think I'll Stay, his gentle vocal focuses on the "warped celebration of existence," as he questions the universe that moves around him, and the intricacies of it that move into his own life. "The initial impetus is a very specific case, but I think there’s an inevitable amount of pain that everyone goes through, being alive." Confirmation, meanwhile, is one of the album's highlights with its blues-y riffs and carefully-placed keys: "What animates me is when I feel a compulsion to express something in a way that can’t be conveyed through conversation," he says.
It's a brilliant album that really showcases Westerman's strong points, so take a dive into it below with a track by track walkthrough that details its inner themes and creation one song at a time:
The phrase “your hero is not dead” is meant as a mantra for me and for anyone listening. I wanted to make something that was ultimately hopeful at its core. That was a challenge. I think it’s easy to look outside at the world right now and see things aren’t in the most positive state. All of my music starts out as a sort of therapy – it’s me looking both inward and out the window, trying to find a resolution.
This song is about the ever-shifting parameters of what is and isn’t acceptable. This can apply to so many things from gender to human rights, parenting and politics. I don’t believe that this means there’s no right and wrong, but normative values are constantly in flux as we start to be more compassionate. Both the music and lyrics were quite tricky to write, but after many reincarnations and a lot of patience I was able to deliver a result I was happy with.
Big Nothing Glow
This is quite a political song. The homeless crisis here in the UK is out of hand, and I wrote these lyrics with the thought in mind of when I was in the city one day and saw a homeless man on the street who by chance turned out to be one of my best friends from nursery school. That experience shook me up a lot. I wanted to document the brutal unfairness that sometimes comes with our existence. Often there’s no rhyme or reason, and it feels like a big nothing.
Waiting on Design
This isn’t a breakup song in a traditional sense, but I was trying to capture that feeling of being in a relationship when you know deep down that it’s finished. It’s about the uncomfortable limbo period, where there’s that feeling of not really wanting to go back but there’s still a compulsion towards what’s familiar.
Think I’ll Stay
I wrote this one while I was travelling a lot. It is about chronic pain, a very specific type of pain, but I think there’s an inevitable amount of pain that everyone goes through just being alive. But in this song, I’m ultimately trying to say that it’s worth sticking around. It’s a sort of giddy affirmation of being.
This is one is a conversation between two characters and they’re talking about the idea of complicity. By accepting the benefits of exploitation, even if you’re not the one doing the actual exploiting, you’re still complicit. Like wearing clothing made in a sweatshop and then protesting for workers’ rights. I’m not preaching that anyone who does this is terrible, because that’d be hypocritical. I just wanted to explore the grey areas and idiosyncrasies within these issues.
There’s something profoundly sad about what’s being lost in our environment as a consequence of modernisation. I wanted this to be a calming song though, not angry. Today it’s so easy, especially right now, to live in an echo chamber of bad news, but if you look hard you can still see individual acts of kindness everywhere. You have to be engaged and stay sensitive to suffering, but it’s not constructive to live in that space all the time.
This one is about infinite choice, how it’s easy to overthink and lock yourself up. I wrote this at a time when I wasn’t doing so well, and I was struggling to be creative. The chorus jumped out as one of those nice moments when you’re writing music and you enter a trance-like state and this line just came out. It’s an older song and I think my writing has moved on, but I think it was important to have this song on the record. It’s a good individual encapsulation of what I’ve tried to do with the record as a whole. There's a struggle and relief.
This one came together as a poem more than the others on the album. It’s a circular contemplation, so we made it into sort of a round, or a communal chant.
This is a short movement that I had lying around. To me it conjures an organic, really warm image. I wanted it to be a nice balm, a soothing little thing that doesn’t try to do too much. There’s been various nuanced topics that I’ve engaged with on the album up to this point, but this song is there to act as a pure relief.
Your Hero Is Not Dead
I wrote this song as I wanted to put myself to task and respond to the sadness I was feeling at that moment when Mark Hollis died.
With this song and the album as a whole, I wanted to say in as unguarded terms as possible – there’s still reasons for hope. Everyone’s reasons are different, some are small and some big. Maybe it’s teaching yourself to cook, learning to play an instrument, or reaching out to a friend you haven’t spoken with in a while. For me it’s writing music; I use it as a means to expel something.
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