Winnipeg singer-songwriter William Prince hails from the community of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, Canada, the son of generations of preachers. The music of Prince’s childhood was songs of faith, struggle and grace, often sung in the Prince Memorial Chapel, a one-room, wooden building, named after his grandfather, where live music was usually in the service of healing. These early influences growing up in a remote rural network of towns and families, alongside the pantheon of classic country outlaw singers he heard at home, fundamentally shaped his “21st Century Northern-Interlake-Country-Gospel Sound”; a product of a part of the world where “You could sit for hours and only hear the sound of the trees keepin' the lake and sky apart.”
As a writer, Prince approaches the big questions with humility and curiosity; his songcraft a masterclass in skillful simplicity. His 2015 JUNO Award winning debut album Earthly Days introduced his poignant philosophy and rich baritone to the world. Breakout song “Breathless” found audiences worldwide and reached the B List at BBC Radio 2. Sophomore album Reliever followed in 2020, an exploration of what, who and how peace is found, and reunited Prince with producers Scott Nolan in Winnipeg and Dave Cobb in Nashville. Later in 2020, Prince released his third album Gospel First Nation, a collection ofstories of family and faith in an age of griefat the hand of a pandemic. William last visited the UK in January and his next trip is already fast approaching and the tour in June includes an appearance at Black Deer Festival in Kent. We recently caught up with William to find out how he has fallen in love with the UK and also hear about his new track featuring fellow Canadian artist Serena Ryder. “I love the UK, honestly it’s my second place in the world other than Canada. It’s over there that people embraced me and gave me so many chances to great things, I’ve been over there with Yola, I’ve made friends with Bob Harris in this time and I just feel really blessed to know who I know there. The fact that we can go back in a more current frame of mind, I think because it was four different reschedules to pull off these dates that we just completed and over that time people were still sending messages of encouragement and saying they can’t wait to see this show, what love to feel from somewhere across the ocean, it’s a beautiful feeling and I’ll come over there to the UK as much as you’ll have me.”
“It would have been back in 2018 when I first came over and did some BBC radio stuff when my first single “Breathless” got onto BBC Radio 2. I met with Jo Whiley back for the first time, spoke with her on her show and performed on the show then have returned to these really great venues and bigger rooms where we sold every ticket which was really nice. The idea of returning to some places that we couldn’t along with some Scandinavian dates, so it all worked out. I have some Ireland dates to make up too and we are very blessed to be able to play London again, so I’m excited to get back.” One of the highlights of William’s trip over to the UK is his appearance at Black Deer Festival in Kent, which is an absolutely wonderful event which all fans over here are excited about it’s return. We talked about what he had heard about the festival itself, what he enjoys about playing large events like this in general and how he has found the UK audiences so far. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about it and them extending the courtesy of keeping me there with their number of reschedules is great. I’m looking forward to seeing some friends and playing that area. I think again it’s going to grow in this really organic way with the audience that is over there, and this is the festival that you want to play to be able to have that. Anytime I can go somewhere new and prove myself, I’m happy to rise to the occasion. I love playing for new people, I love feeling the massive festival with all these talents and great people playing, so to just be a part of that is so great for the spirit and getting on the right trail.”
“The folks in the UK are always so attentive and right there, locked in with you. People in Canada, where I hang in the folk societies as such, they’re a listening crowd so I’m blessed that I make music that I guess attracts listeners who want to hear these stories. This coupled with the nice politeness that we have in common as nation to nation it is the perfect place to play music. So many people aren’t blessed with that, they play in noisy bar rooms or rowdier gigs, but I love the attentive appreciation, it’s very uplifting getting to tell people a story and that’s what I love.” Ahead of the upcoming trip to the UK and his appearance at Black Deer, William has recently shared his new release “Sing Me A Song” which is a duet with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder. “Serena and I go way back. She is from the Toronto area and I started to spend more time there, Toronto is kind of the jump off point to the rest of the world in Canada. We played a number of gigs together, but I started out as a fan, going way back and I’m talking about university days. I just loved her work and suddenly we’re at the same gig together and you get to know each other in the community. It’s a small world for Canadian singer-songwriters and we eventually naturally clicked, we didn’t rush into anything, but she said right away that she wanted to sing together some day. I’ve had this song for a while, and I’ve been waiting for the right voice but the fact that it was someone that I started out being a total fan of who became a friend, I’m surrounded by beautiful full circle moments like that lately and that was one of them. It’s very special.”
“Gospel First Nation” was the project prior to this single, which came out at the back end of 2020 which has been described as Twenty-First Century Norther Interlake Country Gospel which William and I talked about what this actually is and where it comes from. “It is First Nations Country Gospel. First Nation is the preferred term in Canada that some people may recognise Indian more, the American Indian so American Indian Country Gospel in some sense but I prefer First Nations. It’s country Gospel music from a certain place in Canada called the Interlake, which is home to these communities that I grew up in and played music in with my dad. It’s a sound imprint, this is our interpretation, this is what comes from listening to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride and Elvis Presley, those interpretations of Gospel, then turning that into our own kind of feel of a country band in these small reserves where First Nations people will attend church and have an old-time stomping revival for a weekend which was quite the site to see when I was a teenager. I was playing guitar until one in the morning whilst these old folks are doing their thing. I loved being in a band, singing and playing with my dad so it was a really great music memory for me. At the same time, it gave me a lane and a place to talk about how the relationship between the church and First Nations people in Canada is in need of a lot of repair and atonement on the part of the church. We have discovered children’s graves at a lot of residential schools here in Canada and now it has prompted exploring these Christian run institutions that were set out to remove the Indian identity from the children. It just shows you the effect of that colonisation really that these old Gospel songs were taught to my dad when he was a kid and now my son knows them, that power of music is in there but whilst every memory of the church for some First Nations people won’t be bright, the inter-generational trauma is real. What I try to extract from it is that joy of music, learning country music, learning Gospel framework for how to write songs and how to sing them. It was a great thing and that’s the part I really appreciate about all of that.”
From the powerful telling of the background to the story, the songs and his culture, we moved on to talking about whether this project as a concept and an idea was something that he had wanted to do for some time and whether the effects of the pandemic and not being able to play live gave him the time to be able to do so. “I was really establishing myself as a songwriter, a folk and country songwriter, not a Native songwriter, not a First Nation songwriter but just a good songwriter. Part of me was shy even to share more about my culture and being First Nation because it’s so stigmatised. There’s a lot of healing that needs to happen on the public perception of who exactly the First Nation’s people of Canada actually are because we see the effects that play out in the lives of these people that are struggling. Substance abuse, alcohol abuse, loss of culture, loss of identity and not having these support systems to help with their trauma so that was a tough thing to bridge there too because I was just trying to play in a way that people could hear my songs and not worry so much about my skin colour or my identity but that these are just good country songs or good folk songs. I knew that Gospel would make its way into my repertoire at some time, but I didn’t expect for it to be this early and it was a very spontaneous record that was built off a Mother’s Day performance. Due to the pandemic, I wasn’t able to see my mom, so I played some songs live on the internet with some old Gospel that she loved as a gift for her and the response to it was really positive, then a month later we were in the studio cutting some of the first songs that I ever learnt. There is a song that I wrote when I was fourteen on that record and there is a song of my dad’s on that record, he was a Gospel singer and a preacher. Then the title track of “Gospel First Nation” is the name for all of those reserves, all of the First Nations in that Interlake area and places that I grew up playing music. I kind of put them under the umbrella as some neat clashing words of Gospel and First Nation people, Native people in cowboy hats and singing about Jesus, what a combination that is an interesting recipe I think.” I personally found the story fascinating as I love to learn about different cultures and a video, he made prior to the release of the album explains all of this perfectly whilst giving a beautiful view of the landscape. Listening to the record just purely as a record without knowing anything about it is so wonderful and this is exactly what people are likely to feel at Black Deer Festival.
“That’s the great thing, if I play Gospel First Nation at Black Deer, I’m bringing the place that you see in that video to another place in the world and I think that is what these festivals are asking for people to just be themselves. I’m so fortunate that I get to do this and be myself every single day, I wake up and give thanks, I’m grateful for where I get to be and play music again. I had the time to work on that record and reflect on the other songs too.” We had talked extensively about his last extended project and his recent new single with Serena but to round off our chat, I wanted to get a feel for what we can expect from William Prince somewhere in the not to distant future. “I’m really looking to correct the course back. Johnny Cash made Gospel albums his whole career, Elvis you know. It’s almost like a mixtape to them like the hip-hop mentality of what else I can do rather than just looking what I’m doing now. I’m finishing recording and writing for a number of different projects that I kind of have plotted in my mind for the next two years and I’m really excited about all of them. The time is coming to get back to what I have really been happy doing. There are a couple more songs with Serena on the horizon and I’m really excited to share a new record in the next while so it’s all there, the work has been done, I’m proud of the next generation of songs to get us back to where I was pre-pandemic. “Reliever” kind of went to the ether of the pandemic and now that we can be out and touring again, I have another statement to make and it’s going to be beautiful which I’m so excited about making.”
William Prince UK Tour Dates – June 2022 June 13 Manchester: Gullivers June 14 Bristol: Louisiana June 15 Nottingham: The Bodega June 16 Edinburgh: The Mash House June 18 Dublin: Whelan’s June 19 Kent: Black Deer Festival June 21 London: The Lexington The latest track “Sing Me A Song” (featuring Serena Ryder) from William Prince is out now and available HERE. Full ticket information for the upcoming tour is available on his WEBSITE whilst you can keep up to date with William socially through INSTAGRAMTWITTER & FACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks