Billiam: ‘I really like doing stupid shit onstage, there’s so much you can get away with’

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Billiam: ‘I really like doing stupid shit onstage, there’s so much you can get away with’

Photo: Luke Keatinge
Words by Wil Clifford

The Sonic-loving punk’s debut album Corner Tactics heralds an exciting new step in an already rich discography.

Billiam and the Split Bills ripped through song after song to a packed Curtin Hotel, never addressing the endurance cyclist that pedalled a marathon onstage to the left of their guitarist.

For vocalist and brainchild Billiam, it’s nothing new; intense games of chess and impromptu haircuts are just some of the acts he’s shared the stage with. For everyone at the album launch last Friday familiar with the Billiam live show, it’s an instant classic.

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“I just really like doing stupid shit onstage, there’s just so much you can get away with,” Billy said. “It makes the experience more unique…You can have things that kind of make people question what the fuck is going on.”

This unpredictable and exciting facet of the Split Bills’ live show shines on Corner Tactics, the band’s debut album, released late September. The biggest Billiam project to date, it’s the culmination of half a decade of grinding and a star-studded backing band, featuring members of The Vovos, TOR, Revv and Licetrays.

“I’ve got the best backing band on the planet. I’m not gonna even slightly downplay anyone, I fucking love every single person in that band to the end of the earth,” he said. “It’s just so good to be in a band with everyone who wants to do it really badly and are my best mates.”

Since debuting the Billiam moniker in 2018, Billy’s discography seemingly duplicates itself with every passing year; in 2022 he added four EPs, one bootleg tape and a split 7” to the list. This year however he’s been pretty quiet, but he certainly wasn’t slacking off.

“This is the first time, by myself, I have recorded something that’s longer than 15 minutes. I think it kind of drove me insane because I ended up recording 130 songs for this album and just cut it down to 14. I didn’t really know how to put together something that long.”

14 tracks clocking in at 27 minutes, each quickfire blast catchier than the last. Bandmate Ada Duffy begins the album slagging off the Billiam songwriting formula, setting the untamed tone for Leather Pepper. Singles such as Low Testosterone and Second Take are lo-fi romps that really display Billy’s mastery of song structure, with the latter getting attention after a friend recorded the live version on his phone. It’s that catchy.

“Someone went out of their way to record a bootleg of it, that must mean it’s something.”

Embedded within the lo-fi recordings and irreverent lyrics is an emotive core, one which reveals itself in strange ways. Corrugated Chest’s chorus sends the listener spiralling with its earnestly simple composition, while album closer My Life as Sylvie S builds contemplative synth chords note by note atop a steady ride cymbal. It could very well be the first Billiam song to contain an outro, giving insight into his headspace by the tail end of lockdown, when these songs were put together.

“I hated [2021], nothing good happened, I didn’t record anything. Going from that to recording a lot and playing every weekend, seeing bands every weekend, going interstate for the first time, It was kind of a weird emotional whiplash,” said Billy. “I like to make things – cohesive things that I release– kind of a reflection of where I’m at at any given time and I feel like those sort of tracks kind of show that.”

That’s not to say this album is sad, nor is it going to make you miserable. ‘Shitpost’ songs like Shadow The Hedgehog display Billy’s love for Sega’s flagship franchise, usually one of the first facts someone would deduce about him.

“I think I was recording the vocals of that at like 3am and I was just so done with that song, like fuck this, this is fine. I sent it to a friend and they’re like ‘this is the best song you’ve ever written, if this isn’t on the album I’m gonna fucking throw something at you’…well, can’t resist that threat.”

Corner Tactics is a raucous debut record glued together by friends. Whether solo or in one of his many bands, Billy is most inspired by those closest to him, the ones who are as passionate and motivated to create as he is.

“I feel like when one person does something it only serves as more motivation to do other things. When I see The Vovos doing something sick that’s kind of a sign I should keep doing this,” he said. “I’ve got friends who are good at booking stuff and good at drawing things and designing things. It’s like this little insular ecosystem of friends that want to make shit.”

It’s an ecosystem that even branches out beyond Melbourne. Billiam and his band tore up the east coast earlier this year with their Travelling Pageant Tour and were blown away by the positive reception. Corner Tactics has opened a lot of doors for him already and next year Billy’s looking to pull off something even bigger, much bigger than having a cyclist on stage with them. Maybe two cyclists?

“I never expect anyone to like anything… I just make music and put it out there and if people like it, people like it, and when people really like it I kind of just go ‘You sure about that?’. To have people give attention to my stuff is extremely honouring.”

Check out Corner Tactics on Bandcamp and Spotify.