A story for years we’ve been too frightened to flock to, too daunted to dabble in, is that of Billiam. Through sheer volume of output, appearances and projects has wide-eyed, blue bolter Billiam carved out an iconic aura in the Melbourne Underground. Trying to tell his tale has seemed too intimidating a task to take. However, having had the good grace of striking up a chat with the wide-eyed, wired punk, his enthusiasm is far from synthetic and his energy infectious. Sitting atop the balcony of Sloth Bar in Footscray, we listened to one of the most affable artists who’s DIYed himself to death, been punched as a puppet and lost a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament at Highpoint. Who is Billiam? This is Billiam.
At the ripe age of 12, first picking up a 60 dollar, non-branded “fucking rough” guitar from Cash Converters, Billiam’s punk odyssey began when he repurposed his Primary School iPad for more fruitful ventures recording on Garage Band. Though his ambitious aims were clear, the means of achieving them felt more opaque; “When you’re just getting into music you’re looking at big bands. Most of the time, a big band is people who work together and then they record together in a big expensive studio with a big expensive budget and release it on a big expensive thing, yadda, yadda, yadda. When you’re 12 and no one you know likes this kind of stuff, it’s a bit unobtainable”.
As an early pastime, searching random words on Wikipedia in his formative years would prove the catalyst for his own creative ideas when perusing ‘hi’; “I think the first time I heard of the concept of low fidelity music was probably Daniel Johnston when Hi How Are You came up. That was a real eye opener for me because it was the first time I’d heard an album that was really good and recorded on next to nothing”. Diving further into the lo-fi rabbit hole, Billiam unearthed an outline for his operations; “Pretty soon after I heard about Weird Paul who’s like a similar kind of American dude who’s been making stuff on cassette tapes since 1980 and is still doing it now and I started to think, there’s a genuine chance I can actually do this. It was kind of like a blueprint to follow to start making shit and, you know, it was bad at the start, and you could argue it’s still bad now, but that’s a discussion for another day”.
Initially just another in a long line of hobbies, Billiam’s liberating sense of license making music made it stand above all else; “I dipped my toes in a lot of things. I remember, this is a really fuckin weird example, but my Primary School was hugely into Yu-Gi-Oh. I got really into playing and when kids at my school stopped, I’m like, Ok, I still wanna do this. So I went to a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament at Highpoint hosted at EB games and like, fuck man, nup, nup, nup. Don’t do that! That EB games is long gone. Good riddance! But I went from thing-to-thing and music, making stupid punk stuff, was the first one where no one stopped me and no one has stopped me yet, knock on wood”.
Commencing his career with the beloved punk project Disco Junk offered a means to experiment with writing, recording and performing; “I was just recording it on my iPad and I thought people kinda thought it was funny at first because there was this 16 year old kid trying to put out this punk music which, if any kids are listening, put out music while you’re young because people in their 40s will love it, no matter what! That was the first name I performed under solo, first tape. It was the learning process of Ok, this is how I write something, this is how I book something, this is how I do that”. Transiently followed by Collective Hardcore, this sophomore setup proved just as experimental as the first; “I’d barely count that as music. It was like a weird shitpost band I did in 2019. I really hated hardcore for some reason, dunno why, I like hardcore now, but I was like, I’m gonna make a hardcore EP in a day and just put it out and I did. I think it was the first thing I did which I recorded entirely in my life”. Outside his own monikered music, Tor was, and still is, a splendid synth-punk duo shared with fellow Split Bills member Mary-Lou exemplified best by ‘Wifi Head’.
It wouldn’t be until 2020’s Synth Explosion and a performance at Footscray’s Jizzfest, that it felt possible to branch out as pure Billiam; “Synth explosion is just me learning how to use the synth. The reason I made it was because I got a synth and I thought that would be a good way to teach me how to use it”. Who Is Billiam would have another self-imposed artistic challenge at its foundation; “I got really obsessed with trying to do an album that was released in segments. I would, each month, do 2 songs and put them out at the end of the month. That tape is those 24 songs put in order”. His most recent opus, 8 Hours in Billiamville, pushed his percussive skillset even further; “That was the first one that used actual drums which I think I prefer for most of the stuff I write now. I think there are very few things a drum machine can accomplish that a kit can’t”.
Driven by a deep affinity for lo-fi punk, Billiam articulates the genre’s ugliness as its allure; “I just kinda like things that are bad. Like, even when I look at my taste in movies and internet media I like things that are just a bit shit. I’m drawn to things that aren’t 100% amazing. My first memory of music in general of a recognized band was The White Stripes because of ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, mainly because I was fucking obsessed with Lego and I was like ‘OOooOh LeGo!’. But even then, I was kinda drawn to their first couple of albums because they were a lot more ramshackle and taped together”. Resonating with a raw reality, he consolidates, “I just like things that are very immediate and sound like they’re trying to be forced to get out and aren’t naturally coming out. Like, the person who’s making it is being compelled to make it rather than taking time to perfect it”.
Starting out so young, Billiam’s Dad was needed in attendance at gigs to offset age restrictions. While Billiam faked it ‘til he made it in the early years onstage, there was little internal pressure; “I don’t remember being, like, particularly intimidated. I’m not really that adept socially and I don’t think that comes at me more being scared but more me thinking that I’m meant to be there, which, you discover very quickly in life that if you just presume you’re meant to be there, you’ll walk straight in”. A far call from his solo starts, Billiam’s live band, The Split Bills are in the “peach fuzz” era of their 6-month stint following a lengthy development. While consisting of mates Ada, Lach, Mary Lou and Jack, there exists some tension between Bill and the band; “The Split Bills hate me! They’re planning a set where I walk offstage halfway through and I just go home. I literally get on a bus and don’t come back”.
Driven more recently by the exploits of TISM, Billiam’s live antics range from dressing as B1 while supporting Private Function at Brunswick Ballroom to being robbed by SpongeBob SquarePants. More recently, supporting Snooper’s first Australian tour, parading as a puppet proved particularly punishing; “They had snuff puppets, which are legendary puppet people, and when they came over they were like, ‘don’t hurt these puppets, these are the ones you don’t wanna hurt’, which translate into HURT THE OTHER PUPPET! I don’t think anyone intended to punch me in the face. The way it was structured it looked like my head was a lot further up, so I think everyone was trying to punch the supports, but there weren’t any supports. There was just my face inside”.
Among the likes of Private Function and Snooper exists a wider net of Melbourne musical mates which Billiam denotes developing thanks to a sincere love for the scene rather than any intention of networking; “Everyone says, you’re so good at networking’. I don’t even know how to fucking do it. I don’t fucking know! I think it’s cause I like all their music and in general and with smaller people, if you just acknowledge they exist, they’ll acknowledge you back. I fuckin’ love and adore the music that comes out of here, a lot of those people have written some of my favourite songs and albums of all time”. Of all the tapes collected over the years, the one Billiam would part least with is one from his closest circle; “I think the one I’m taking to my grave is the first version of Chromosome by Gee Tee. I had someone offer 500 for it and nahhh! Maybe if I got 30 grand I’d sell it but nah, no one’s fuckin’ touchin’ that”.
Currently in the midst of his first headlining tour with the Split Bills, Billiam also has an unexpectedly polished new single out in that of ‘Freak Line’, featuring a rare appearance of an acoustic instrument; “It totally is an acoustic guitar. I was pretty proud of that track because it’s got a few different things going on, it’s a bit less stupid. Like, it’s stupid but, again, it’s got an acoustic guitar. That means it’s fucking SERIOUS! It’s got layers ok! I can’t make fuckin’ stupid punk music 100% of the time”. Well utilised for this track, it remains to be seen if the acoustic will feature on further recordings; “I wanna do more stuff with the acoustic guitar but fuck mine is shit! Like, the neck was snapped when I got it and it kinda works but it’s shit to record because it isn’t loud. It did sound alright on this track but I dunno how the fuck I got it to sound like that. I went to get another acoustic guitar the other day but fuck they’re expensive. Like, I don’t want a good one I just want a non-shit one but they’re more than an electric guitar. Like, those have wires. These don’t have wires!”.
While ‘Freak Line’ may prove this point different, self-admittedly, Billiam owns the fact that writing lyrics is his least-liked aspect of music making; “I fucking hate writing lyrics so much. I think in my entire life, I’ve written lyrics first for maybe 5 songs. That stuff is always the last thing I think about”. Thematically etched in obscure 80s hotlines, ‘Freak Line’ captures “an ad from the 80s called Freddy Freaker. I don’t think this was an Australian thing but in America there were lines you could call. Like, talk to Santa on the Santa line. There’s one for something called Freddy Freaker. It’s a puppet and there’s no explanation for why you should call this line and I just thought it was fucking hilarious”. Another in a long line of tracks to get the mastering tick of approval from Mikey Young, Billiam himself downplays this prestige; “I just get him to master everything. Ya just chuck it in an email and he presses some buttons, I dunno what mastering does, I mean, it’s not that prestigious. Ya just email him and he’ll do it. I’ll give ya his fuckin’ email. He’s just mastering shit. He’s not exclusive. Ya don’t have to, like, climb a fuckin’ mountain to get to him. He’ll master your shit. He’ll master anything. It’s his job!”
With a US/ Europe tour intended for next year and a new LP for Billiam and The Split Bills entitled Corner Tactics coming soon, the world needs to prepare for Billiam and his association with a certain hedgehog; “I just like Sonic games. There’s nothing deeper than that. People think that, like, if you like Sonic media you have to have had some kind of trauma. I don’t know, I just like the games and whenever I would mention it to people there would be a reaction, so if I just keep doing this it’s gonna make people angry and that’s kinda funny”. Having dived deep, ranting and raving over the course of 45 minutes, it’s clear to us who this young punk at the forefront of the genre is. But, in Billiam’s own words, who is Billiam?... “a nerd”.