Til Willis

Vocal On Top

Album at a glance: Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy – Habit of Being

Habit of Being” is the latest release from the shockingly productive Lawrence, Kansas act Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy. The 4 songs only run about 9 minutes but give you a fair sampling of what Willis does. The EP is available on 7-inch vinyl in a few different colors that also unlock a bonus track. The opening title track is a punky romp while “Nobody Calls Me Home” is an obvious tip of the cap to The Replacements despite clocking in at under a minute and the lyrics consisting of nothing more than the title, the Stinson-style riff alone makes it worthwhile though. “When The Snow Melts” is easily the strongest track here ending the EP. A trotting bass line carries the song right into several harmonica parts adorning the slowed down number nicely helping it shine.

Key Track: “When The Snow Melts”

Jeopardy Of Contentment

New Music: Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy - Habit of BeingEP

Lawrence's Til Willis and his band Erratic Cowboy are back again with a new four song EP. It's Willis' 15th release but it's his first that has been pressed on vinyl.

Willis' music always reminds me of a punk-rock Springsteen or Steve Earle, especially his vocals. The new EP, Habit of Being, is no different. My only complaint about the EP is that I wish some of the songs and the EP as a whole were longer. The second track, 'Happy Birthday to the Bomb' is a gorgeous track that clocks in at exactly one minute. The following track, 'Nobody Calls Me Home', reminds me of some of the best tracks from The Replacements with a fantastic guitar riff, but it's less than a minute long as well.

The highlight of the EP for me is the closing track 'When the Snow Melts'. It really highlights what a great songwriter Willis is.

You can listen to the EP on Willis' soundcloud page and you can order the 7" on his website.


Modern Vinyl

Four songs hit from the future-rustic Midwestern trio

The title cut to Habit of Being is a rough and rocking number shot through with elements of surf guitar. Like a blast of pure Springsteen by way of the Gun Club, Willis’ voice carries a weight with it that lends believable quality to the repeated refrain of “I’ll ride on.” “Happy Birthday to the Bomb” is the quieter affair between it and “Nobody Calls Me Home,” with its viola sweetening a sad tune.

“Happy Birthday” and “Nobody Calls Me Home” could even be seen as fraternal twins — they’re both born of the same short sadness — clocking in rather quickly, but while “Happy Birthday” is plaintive in its longing, “Nobody Calls Me Home” is a hoarse shout.

The final song, and the sole cut on the second side, “When the Snow Melts,” is a mournful affair. According to Willis’ liner notes, the song was written after the “untimely death” of his brother. It’s astonishingly gorgeous, and the high lonesome sound of Lori Baker’s violin paired with Willis’ harmonica — to say nothing of the Dylanesque lines, “the only cure for death/Is to never be born” — is the sort of thing that could pull tears from the most stoic.

The Pitch

Last November, Lawrence's Til Willis released three full-length albums simultaneously. There were two solo albums, Hackles and Tin Star, as well as Cars Etcetera, recorded with his full band, Erratic Cowboy. Together, they added up to a staggering 41 songs.

"I tend to write a lot, and be writing all the time," Willis says with a laugh. "The guys in the band like to joke that, on any given day, I have half an album ready to go." Willis sounds breezy when he says this, but with this kind of output, he can afford a little nonchalance.

The three albums, he says, are meant to work both as individual pieces and as one cohesive block, with each record complementing and contrasting the other two. You can hear, for instance, Cars as a trek across the open prairie,Tin Star as a loll at home next to the fireplace, and Hackles as a campfire evening in a hollow somewhere.

Both solo albums have an inviting, ramshackle feel to them, but Cars Etcetera is a bit different. On Cars, Willis says, he wanted something more rounded than on the solo recordings. And its full-band sound is the auditory embodiment of seasonal affective disorder, with Willis and Erratic Cowboy more stark in their Americana.

"We were going for a more polished element with the band, but we're not very polished people," Willis says.

He's not exaggerating. Most of the songs on all three albums weren't cut in a professional studio. Tin Starand Cars Etcetera were recorded entirely at Willis' home. Some of Hackles was laid down at home, too, with the other part of that record made in what Willis refers to as "a little cabin" in his hometown of Ouray, Colorado.

"The cabin, built in 1900, was a bit of a refuge for me when I started recording Hackles," Willis says. "It's very small — one room, essentially — and just felt like the right place to begin work on those songs. I can still hear its reverberation, particularly on songs like 'Savior's Things' and 'Gravity.' The rough-hewn timbers of the cabin, I suppose, are a bit like the rough-hewn sentiment and story of the songs started there."

Hackles came from a batch of songs that Willis says he'd been working on for almost five years. It's a solo record, but its electric elements make it roar, starting at the top with "Savior's Things." Throughout the album, you can pick up on the fragments and the frayed edges, the signs of a half-decade's tinkering.

Tin Star, on the other hand, was done in a day.

"I got up one morning and recorded it," Willis says. "The next day, I mixed it and just let it be what it was going to be. Some of the production choices I made were because I was thinking about those early Leonard Cohen albums when I made it. They would use these massive amounts of reverb on things, which made it intimate but, at the same time, put in a whole different space."

But Tin Star doesn't sound rough or rushed, an ease that Willis attributes to the comfort in which he recorded it. When he doesn't have to worry about buying studio time, for one thing, time becomes fluid, the creative process easier.

"It's nice to be able to record at home," he says, "because nobody's looking at the clock and worrying about paying for time when we're working up parts and everything. I like starting off without an idea of what direction I'm going when I start to record them, because then it gets to be more of an exploration of the tune."

None of that explains why he put out all three albums at the same time rather than spreading the wealth a bit. When I ask him why he did it this way, he refers again to his prodigious writing habit. It was simply time, he says, to pre-empt a possible logjam.

"It needed to be cleared," Willis says. "It might have been more beneficial to release them separately, but a decision was made — almost more of a challenge to myself, like, 'Do I dare do this?'"

Besides, Willis adds, the landscape of the music industry is so uncertain that a little gamble doesn't hurt.

"The horizons keep shifting the further you walk, and you just have to take each one as it comes, even when it's too dark to see the path," he says. "Your flashlight only goes so far."

Vocals On Top

“Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy are actually anything but erratic, they have honed in on just a portion of their sound to make “Cars Etcetera” a bumping rock record. They even organized three albums for release on the same day in order to ensure cohesive groups of songs. On “Cars” the pace is kept intense and “Winter In America” finds a much more relaxed, driving groove to follow. The 90s obviously hold a strong place in the hearts of the band as they could fit right in somewhere between alternative and power pop from that era. “YWYHOYD” is another clear standout with crisp guitar licks and a strong backline. There is something undeniably unique about Willis and his band you might not be able to peg, but with this album it is obvious they are doing something right.”

The Pitch

“Til Willis, "Winter In America" Willis performs a solo version of a song which was already pretty stark when backed by his band, Erratic Cowboy, on their new album, Cars Etcetera. Here, it's positively bleak, working very much in the vein of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.”


“Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy describe their sound as “future-rustic indie-rock,” which sounds about right. ‘Cars Etcetera’ has an ’80s post-punk vibe guaranteed to get you out of your chair and bouncing around the room.”

Freelance Music Review

Til Willis has threatened us with a double or triple album release for some time now. The only thing that prevented him from doing so was that more albums got in his way. (SEE: last year’s great Crow, Soldier.)

But now we have three distinct albums, all released at the same time. A new one with his band Erratic Cowboy, an eclectic solo collection that has been in the works for a while, and new solo record, just because.

These three albums represent what make Willis and his band, featuring bassist Eric Binkley and drummer Matt Otting, so great. Rustic Americana distilled through Sonic Youth and Dean Wareham. Springsteen grated through serious funk. Blues through pop through folk. Although some might see Hackles, the collection of solo tracks, and Tin Star, the new solo record, as tossed off bonus discs, all three develop their own worlds to explore and demonstrate serious fucking songcraft.

About that. These songs are genuine and sincere, something that might turn away cynics and lovers of irony. They are fleshed out full-blooded, infused with politics and poetry. But these songs are not over-the-head or too on-the-nose or kneecapped by Willis’ preoccupations.

I admire greatly the skill the band showcases on Cars, Etcetera, the album credited to Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy. The first track, “Cars” explodes with the tight focus of a racehorse, Otting’s bracing backbeat galloping the listener through the paces. Elsewhere, on mid-album track “11:10” the band blossoms below the surface with a meditative sweep and hypnotic dirge. Although this album, as well as Hackles and Tin Star are homejobs, there’s a definite vision and competency throughout. Willis is adept at wrenching weird noises and unusual color from his battery of toys and incorporating these elements to give his songs a richer, deeper breath. He is also adept at creating a world with his guitar and his dynamic vocals, as he proves on the mostly acoustic and rootsy Tin Star.

 So yeah. Three albums. All worth your attention.

Fan Review

“Til Willis is the kind of secret treasure for songwriters. The kind that one day you’ll be listening to the radio and hear a song that sounds both vaguely familiar and terribly new and you’ll ask, “Who is that?”. And they’ll say some forgettable name but then end the sentence with a smile they’ll add, “but it was written by Til Willis.””

News-Press Now

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy have made some strides in the Kansas City and Lawrence music scenes. Now, they just wish everyone would get their darn name right.

The trio has heard just about every incorrect variation: Electric Cowboy, Eclectic Cowboy, Elastic Cowboy.

“Erotic Cowboy — that’s my favorite,” laughs Willis, the Lawrence band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist. “Some day, we’ll probably have to record an album called ‘Erotic Cowboy’ that’s all ‘70s porn music with wah-wahs.”

Surprisingly enough, all of those descriptors fit — well, all of them except for ‘erotic.’ (Although Willis did tell St. Joe Live about a gig he played in Mississippi in which two older gentlemen dropped their pants and started dancing.)

Willis, drummer Matt Otting and bassist Eric Binkley always put on an ‘electric’ rock show full of energy and dramatic moments. The three-piece is certainly ‘eclectic,’ weaving together Americana, blues, roots, punk, soul, funk and jazz through its classic rock core. Heck, even ‘elastic’ seems accurate considering how much the group stretches itself every time it creates a new song or records a new album.

But, yes, ‘Erratic’ is most apt. The direction of the band’s tunes often veers unpredictably. For a group that frequently hearkens back to such classic roots rock greats as Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy sure do play with some weird noises. In “My Own Time” (from the 2013 album “Crow, Soldier”), for example, the use of “pocket synths” gives the building powerhouse song a haunting, theremin-esque quality.

It’s difficult to pin such an adventurous act into any one genre. That’s why Willis, Otting and Binkley created their own.

“As a band, we’re constantly asked, ‘What style of music do you play?’ We lovingly refer to what we do as ‘future-rustic indie roots rock,’” Willis explains with a chuckle. “I think that confuses people enough that they stop asking, but gives them kind of an idea of what we’re doing.”

Throughout his long music career, Willis never has abided by limitations. Honestly, he didn’t know any other way.

“My favorite bands kind of did a little bit of everything — be it The Clash or Neil Young. Everything was always up for grabs,” he says. “I just thought that that’s what being in the rock genre meant.”

Willis says he’s often drawn to songwriters who pen vague, broken-but-meaningful narratives. He loves listening to attention-grabbing storytellers like Waits, Billy Joe Shaver and Kris Kristofferson. Willis has followed their paths. He says he never writes tunes with a complete story concocted in his head because the end result often feels too contrived. Instead, he starts with one intriguing line and builds from there. He takes a similar approach to writing the music. He starts with an interesting riff and builds from there.

“I don’t tend to think of a style to write in. I don’t sit down and think, ‘I’m gonna write a song that’s gonna have a bluesy tinge.’ I follow what fascinates me,” Willis says.

He often chases his fascination to groovy, catchy, diverse rock songs that deftly explore themes of love, lust and modern struggles. Many of his hometown fans have referred to Willis as “Lawrence’s Bruce Springsteen” and it’s not just because he’s a prolific local veteran. He’s earned it through his deep, raspy vocals and a comparable songwriting style.

Take the song “Working Down” as a prime example. Although it’s rich with hooks and boasts a Western lounge flair, Willis says the song was written in the spirit of someone absolutely beaten down. Inspired by news stories of hurricanes, Willis starts with the line “house under water” and stitches together a tale about the rising desire to give up on life. By the end, he gives his protagonist a chance to skip town with “five gallons of freedom” and “matches to spare,” but what happens is anyone’s guess.

“It’s about that feeling that no matter what you do, it’s not enough. And I think there’s a lot of people out there right now that feel that way. I know I feel that way,” Willis says. “... It’s a great, very American way to end this story.”

While “Working Down” remains one of his favorites, Willis has about 100 more songs to choose from at each gig, from the Latin-flavored “Blue Impala” and the British punk-inspired “Infected Moon” to the new alternative jam “January 8th” and the hard rock groove “I Can’t Dance.” Believe it or not, Willis has three albums in the works that should be released this year. One with Erratic Cowboy already has been recorded, but he says two more albums are on the way — in total, about 40 new songs will be added to his catalog.

Needless to say, Willis writes songs like a madman.

“I’ve always written like that. I always have tons of songs laying around,” Willis says. “I feel like if you’re going to be a songwriter, that’s what you do. You don’t just write enough songs for a new album and that’s it. I’m constantly writing new material, and at any time, I have at least an album and a half in some stage of completion.”

The band recently released a live album called “Live at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club” that was randomly recorded in one take, and Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy frequently has been blessed with radio play on 90.1 KKFI in Kansas City and 90.7 KJHK in Lawrence. When he’s not playing shows or writing songs, Willis is hosting his own weekly radio show called “Oscillator Radio” in which musicians improvise an entire 20-minute set on the fly.

The likable but creatively off-kilter Willis should fit right in with the rest of the lineup in St. Joseph. Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy will perform with Nebraska’s Universe Contest and local alt-rock bands Dsoedean and Cupcake at 10 p.m. May 9 at Legends Sports Cafe.

After that night, music fans in St. Joseph should remember the band’s name.


Til Willis has been a performing singer-songwriter for a very long time that began at age thirteen. Til Willis came along after the birth of rock and roll, but before the setting of the sun in the home state of Elvis. A state that as John Magnie says, “Eats the roots of American music.” And, out of this climate Til strode with the confident swagger of a man possessed with the desire to be a songwriter. Growing up on rock and roll made back during a time when “rock and roll” mattered, and it wasn’t about fashion and packaging, Til strives to deliver substance in his own orchard of sound. A listen to any of his albums confirms this level of commitment. Over the years on the road he has performed both solo and with various bands through the country. Along the way he has shared stages with the likes of Pete Seeger, The Subdudes, Ronny Elliott, Fainting Goats etc.. In 2012 he formed Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy. There lyric driven future rustic indie / roots rock style of the most recent album, Crow, Soldier has been called, “as adventurous as it is captivating..” and, “amazing, creative and forward-thinking.”


Performing at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Okla., a few years back, the power went out on Til Wilis. The singer-songwriter was faced with a dilemma: vacate his cool basement platform for the steamy bar upstairs and perform unamplified, or lose his turn to play altogether. Willis decided to play.

“I walk in front of these tables — it’s kind of a restaurant bar upstairs, huge high ceilings, hot as can be up there, big picture of Woody Guthrie in the back — got up there and just started playing.”

Willis performed his set, rousing the crowd despite the heat and setbacks. At the end of the show, one of Woody Guthrie’s granddaughters approached Willis, explaining a family belief that Woody only kills the power on people he likes.

“It had happened to so many people when they start playing Woody Guthrie songs… It happened to Bruce Springsteen three times. Here he is having the big bucks to pay for stadium sound, for some reason when he starts playing Woody, the power goes. [Woody’s granddaughter said] ‘We take that as a big endorsement from beyond the grave.”

“You’re family, I guess I’ll take your word for it,” Willis told her.

For somebody once described by a concertgoer as Lawrence’s Bruce Springsteen (a reputation he takes with wry bemusement), Willis has learned to make the most out of a little, applying a practical and forward-thinking approach to songcraft, performance and recording. This has led to numerous shows throughout the region, a bevy of solo releases, and a fruitful relationship with his current band, Erratic Cowboy.

When we spoke to Willis nine months ago about the group’s first release, The Land of Sawdust and Spangles, the songwriter mentioned that he had two albums in the works. The group’s new album, "Crow, Soldier", to be self-released June 1 at The Bottleneck, is not one of those albums.



Willis says that the songwriting process for this project snowballed quickly. Initially it started off as one or two songs to record for a single, a way to have something new coming out. “But,” Willis explains, “by the time we actually got around to record, it was OK, well, now I got five songs ready to go, by the time we recorded those five, well I’ve got these as well. Next thing you know we’ve got 14 tracks.”

Like many songwriters worth their salt, lyrics and song ideas flow out of Willis. He says that while he knows some songwriters are successful in releasing 10 solid songs in a year, “at given day I’ve got 10 songs laying around.”

“I always figured ... if you’re gonna call yourself a songwriter then you need to write songs.”

Hence the new album, which formed organically between those other two projects Willis is prepping. One is an eclectic disc of solo material that should get released this year, and the other is something his band may assist with.

“I kind of like being on that 1960s schedule for recording. Every six months we need an album. You better be working” Willis jokes. Nearly all of the songs on "Crow, Soldier" were written since the last album. “Some of them just 24 hours before they were recorded,” says Willis. He explains that for independent artists like his band, it is a huge benefit to always have something new coming out, a philosophy of music production shared by many of this generation, especially as technology has made creating and distributing music easier.

Like the band's last album, "Crow, Solider" was recorded in Wilis’s home in Lawrence, but with a crucial difference. “ [For] this album we wanted everything to be a little sharper… Not so loose, so we took time to not record all things live in the same room so we could have better control over it. Just [to] make it more professional sounding.”

The band also started discussing how to create music more in terms of dance and funk. While"The Land of Sawdust and Spangles" certainly has a few foot-jumping tracks, Willis reflects that the group intended that album to be a loose and ragged batch of songs.

“With this one we talked about wanting to have stuff that maybe you can even dance to, that was tight, that if you’re thinking about where you have to go in your part, think dance and grooveability.”

 Willis mentions that key points of references for Crow, Solider were some of The Clash’s funkier tracks and the boogie of seventies-era Rolling Stones.

“It’s rock and roll, but has that swagger,” Willis explains.

The 14 tracks on "Crow, Soldier" are drawn from strong images and a hurtling sense of urgency, enhancing the band’s dynamism. Once he was comfortable with the click track levels, Willis would bump them up about three notches so his performances would be a little more off-kilter and sped up.

In addition, drummer Matt Otting and bassist Eric Binkley seemed to have eased more into their roles.

“They’re both real quick at picking up their parts and they’re committed to making original music…We’re pretty good at reading one another in the room,” Willis says.

“With this I think we concentrate a bit more, I think this is a lot more of a focused album — not to say The Land of Sawdust and Spangles is bad, it was almost a learning experience to get into this album,” says Otting. With "Crow, Soldier’s" groove-focused sound, the rhythm section that is Erratic Cowboy becomes more pronounced and expressive, something listeners will find immediate on powerhouse tracks like opener “Best We Can,” “Blue Impala” and “Working Down.”

Says Binkley, “compared to our last album, which had some more laid back stuff, this one is definitely more of a toe-tapper. As far as my basslines, I would say it’s got more of a funk feel.”

"Crow, Soldier" manages to cross a wide swath of styles and genres, with some tracks, like “California Widow,” evoking the dirge of a good Tom Waits song. Other tracks make serious good on the group’s promise of danceability. For a rock group rooted in standard formats, Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy conjure up some wild noises, with the presence of cheap pocket synths used to great effect on a few songs. The range of styles and sounds on "Crow, Solider"demonstrate that Til Willis and his bandmates are unafraid to write sincere songs while also indulging in noisy and abstract impulses.

The result is high-impact and affecting, building off of the lessons learned in their short time together. As Binkley says, the album “represents Til and our band, and what we can do.”


freelance music reviewer

A friend recommended this album to me, and I have to say, the first few times I heard it, I was unsure what I thought. It sounded distant somehow. It had catchy riffs, and an awful lot of drive, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. Now given I was listening in the short distracted moments I had driving in my car to and from work, and errands. Since I trust the opinion of the friend who had recommended it, I wondered, “what is he hearing in this I’m not?”


Then I sat down with it one night at home with a gin and tonic, and a dedicated ear to solving this mystery. Somewhere around the fourth track, a song called Dreadful War, there was a line, “democracy, so I’ve heard is the way an honest man lives. Dalton Trumbo passed the words back and forth across his lips.” That’s when the doors of Crow, Soldier opened up to me. You see behind the catchy riffs, and multi-textured music this is a lyric-centric album. The fact that it didn’t reveal all it’s secrets to me right away is one of the best parts of it. In fact with each subsequent listen I’ve picked up something else. This is a collection of songs that mix the personal and public, and bring up questions that have no “?”.


As for the music, the “catchy riffs”, it couldn’t compliment the stories better. In those first few listens I realize that what was off putting was that it wasn’t polished in the way I’m accustomed, and yet it was. There was a low-end force to this album that I found disturbing, until I saw it was being carried by a complete story comprised of melody and lyric in a way that you don’t come across everyday. Clearly these musicians were all working for the sake of the song. They seem to be one giant moving mass. Through fourteen tracks this album doesn’t let up, and I mean that in the best possible way. All in all this is a very strong album by a band few have heard, and I can only hope that they will very soon.


Check out Crow, Soldier at http://tilwillis.bandcamp.com/album/crow-soldier


St. Joseph News-Press

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy, 'Crow, Soldier'

Til Willis calls Lawrence, Kan., home, but he has performed in St. Joseph as a solo act on a handful of occasions. Over the last year, however, he had a fruitful relationship with his current band, Erratic Cowboy, and the trio recently released the new 14-track album “Crow, Soldier.”

To say this one’s eclectic would be an understatement. “Crow, Soldier” never plants itself firmly in the genre of folk or rock, drawing from Bruce Springsteen (many in Lawrence would tell you that Willis sounds more like The Boss when he sings than any other musician in town), The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, John Mellencamp and even a little bit of The Clash.

But for a group that hearkens back to such classic rock greats, Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy sure do play with some weird noises. In “My Own Time,” for example, the use of “pocket synths” give the building powerhouse song a haunting, theremin-esque quality. Conversely, they give “Open Sky” a soulful, throwback vibe. It’s really neat, and it proves that Willis and his bandmates aren’t hesitant about giving into their abstract impulses.

The latter portion of the album — songs like “Smut Jazz and Jive,” “Blue Impala” and “New Orleans” — dive head first into the worlds of jazz, blues, Latin and even funk. But Erratic Cowboy isn’t content with stopping there. It’s as if the band wants to hit on every genre possible before the album ends. “People as Buildings” ventures into dance pop. “Working Down” has a ‘50s surf rock hook. Remember how The Clash rubbed off on this record? “Burn Your Money” is a punk rock song brimming with intensity.

“Crow, Soldier” is as adventurous as it is captivating. It’s an amazing, creative and forward-thinking album that’s worth multiple listens.

To buy a copy of “Crow, Soldier” or to take a listen, visit Willis’ Bandcamp page attilwillis.bandcamp.com/album/crow-soldier.

The Jeopardy of Contentment

I'm really excited for another chance to post something about one of the best up and coming rock bands in the Lawrence area, Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy. I'd previously posted about their last albumand they're already back for another full-length Crow, Solider (out on June 1st).

Although what drew me into their sound initially was the grittiness of the vocals and songs, on the new album they've polished their sound and songwriting to great effect. My favorite thing about them are still Willis' vocals, who's voice still sounds like he's lived hard and smoked a few cigarettes. However, putting his voice over great songs with really catchy hooks at times works really well.

You have a few chances to see Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy over the next few weeks. They'll be at The Bottleneck in Lawrence on Saturday, June 1st for the album release show. They're also playing an early show (6pm) at the Replay on Friday, May 31st as well as a show at The Jackpot on Sunday, June 2nd.

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy - 'Rest Our Guns'


“So many delicate fears run through an election year.” So begins the first song on singer-songwriter Til Willis’s new album Land of Sawdust and Spangles. It might seem too keen and appropriate, given that the presidential election only is 45 days away, but that line certainly reflects a frustrating truth about our country’s election cycle.

Willis explains the line as expressing the kind of things people tend to get really focused on during an election year, “out of some kind of in-grained civic duty” that exposes them “to all these suggestive things like all the hope and fear that different parties and ads and crap like that can inspire.” I’ve been thinking about that line every since he told it to me, and as we near election time, it has become all the more resonant. The 32 year-old Willis, who has lived in Lawrence for the last three years, describes Sawdust and Spangles as a “kind of a dark after-hours political album.”

The title is lifted from an article on circuses published in National Geographic way back in 1931 that Willis happened to come across, and his appropriation of the phrase speaks to absurd sideshow of America politics.

“I thought ‘sawdust and spangles’ really sums up a political album, because no matter how far we’ve made changes [or] advances, in the end there’s still sawdust on the ground to hide the fact that we’re waking on uneasy ground that may or may not be sh*t and spangles to distract and attract us in to the show.”

While Willis emphasizes the “after-hours, political vibe” of the album, he did not set out to make a strictly political work. That killer first line, from the song “Uniform,” was something he had written during the last election. He had a few holdover songs that didn’t fit on his previous albums and thought that recording an EP of these remainders might make it easier to work with his new backing band, Erratic Cowboy. But as he says, “we recorded all that…and it just kind of evolved.”

With Matt Otting, of Leavenworth, on drums and Eric Binkley, of Shawnee, on bass, Erratic Cowboy, takes its name after a lyric from one of Willis’ songs. “I already had [the phrase] printed on T-shirts and stuff and so when these guys were ‘well can we have a name?’ I said how about ‘erratic cowboy?’ ‘Oh that sounds pretty f**king cool. Let’s go with that.’”


Courtesy of Til Willis

Courtesy of Til Willis by Chance Dibben


In their six months together, the trio has certainly settled into a groove, and it’s more or less a happy accident that album’s content is timely. That is not to say that The Land of Sawdust and Spangles hits you over the head with its political characteristics; the album is more balanced and less obvious than what the adjective “political” connotes when applied to a creative work. Willis explains “it’s more of an introspective political thing…there’s some songs that might even be confused with relationship songs.”

Politics aside, it is clear, at least from the portions of Sawdust and Spangles Willis played for me, that the band really has something together. The album combines the best of Willis’ influences into one loose, funky package. Springsteen, Velvet Underground, Dylan and Dean Wareham, can all be heard throughout and Willis’ wide range of vocal styles is a stark contrast to his genial conversation voice.

And amazingly, for an album that was recorded in Willis’ living room, Sawdust and Spanglessounds full-fledged and dynamic, with psychedelic and noisy flourishes that give it a compelling and huge-sounding atmosphere, while retaining the intimacy of three dudes drinking and making music. Willis says that a lot of work went into the album and that this is the first record in a while that he’s completely engineered himself.

“The danger with that is a lot of times that leaves you open to people saying ‘oh yeah well I can tell it’s a home-done job.” Aside from certain (great) details like Willis’ wife Stephanie laughing at the end of one track or a small THUNK on another where the couple’s cat knocked down a mic stand—you would never have sense that this was a “home job,” and these details only enhance the record’s loose after-hours vibe.

Willis says he has two more albums in the pipeline. Here’s hoping they are just as serendipitous.

Til Willis and Erratic Cowboy play with My Jerusalem the Jackpot at 9 p.m. Friday. The Land of Sawdust and Spangles will be self-released on Oct. 2.

Check out a free download for single “Freshly 21”

Jeopardy of Contentment

What better time than now to discuss the dreary political climate this country faces and what better person to do that than a gritty, blue collar singer-songwriter.  Til Willis and his backing band Erratic Cowboy have recorded what is probably the best politically charged local album you'll hear in a good while. 

Land Of Sawdust And Spangles reminds me of Bruce Springsteen's haunting Nebraska album in that it would sound great at 3am when you are soaked in whiskey.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if  Lawrence songwriter Till Willis recorded it in that state.  There are two things that immediately stood out to me on this album...first is Willis' voice, which instantly struck me as being the kind of gravely voice I really love. The second star of the album are the songs.  It's amazing how much atmosphere three guys can create with great songs in a living room.

You can stream the album on Til's soundcloud page and you can download the single 'Freshly 21' here.

Til and Erratic Cowboy will be playing a couple of local shows you should check out as well.  They'll be at the Bottleneck in Lawrence on Wednesday, November 28th (with Modern Rock Diaries) and at the Record Bar in KC on Wednesday, December 5th (with John Maxfield and Shelley Miller). 

Til Willis - 'Freshly 21'

Little Queen Music

Take U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Seger, roll them into one, and you’ve got Til Willis. As an advocate of indie artists who write and play their own music, I was only too willing to write up a review on Til’s newest album, ‘Rumors Of A City’. From beginning to end, this album has my foot tapping and each song leaves me anticipating the next. This studio album not only plays well on the digital medium, it brings you the kind of music that also plays well on the live stage.

Taking five years to complete and recorded in six different cities (Memphis, Santa Cruz, Cotati, Denver, Ouray, Sebastapol), it is clear that Til Willis put his entire soul into the craftsmanship of every track and every instrumental aspect. As one who isn’t necessarily easy to please when being introduced to new music and is a huge fan of American blue-collar blues and rock, this album failed to disappoint me, in any way.

Promises and Poison, the opening track, sets the tone for the album.  This track is a mix of acoustic and electric guitar work throughout and vocals that always hit the mark. Following the opening track are eleven more tracks, all similar, but all having their own personality. Featuring a cohesive rhythm section and exceptional horns by Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, there is absolutely nothing boring about this album, right down to the epic track, The Ways, which is over seven minutes long.

Below is a track listing and link to purchase the album.  You can preview each song on CD Baby, to see for yourself that this album is worth every penny.

Til Willis – Rumors of a City – Track Listing

- Promises and Poison 4.48

- Dirty Little Spectacle 4.15

- April 25th 5.09

- Studyin’ The Rain 4.06

- Victimless Crimes 4.57

- Sensation 4.26

- Seven Ladies 3.48

- Till Last Night 3.40

- Dust 4.08

- Flashes Of Light 4.02

- This Side Of The Truth 4.12

- The Ways 7.30