If you listen to Willis Earl Beal's debut album, Acousmatic Sorcery, you're listening to an album that was never meant for you to hear. Labeled "an outsider," Willis started making music when he was homeless, and he eventually began recording those songs on a cheap karaoke machine. He promoted his work around the city of Chicago with hand-drawn flyers including his phone number. People began to call, and Willis would sing to them over the phone. He says he did it because he was bored and lonely.
A lot has changed for Willis over the past year. His unorthodox promotion strategy got him noticed, and he's now signed to XL Recordings, the home of acts like Adele, Jack White, and Radiohead. His story is an incredible one, but when you talk to him about it, his matter-of-fact tone suggests that he's not really concerned about showbiz.
Willis's debut album might show off his introspective side, but his dynamic live performances prove that he's got a lot more to offer. The lo-fi recordings of his first album don't do his powerful voice justice, and though it's surprising for a man who's earned a reputation for being a loner, Willis' stage presence is magnetic.
He may not want to be packaged and sold to the masses, but that just makes him all the more intriguing. In an industry full of people who want to put up big numbers and get noticed by as many people as possible, Willis makes it seem cool to be an "outsider."
As told to Jacob Moore (@PigsAndPlans)