Pink is Ainslie Wills in her element – powerful vocals nestled safely behind a piano.
In the self-produced four-song EP, released 24 November, Wills strips sonically and lyrically down to her most authentic self.
A four-time APRA ‘Song of the Year’ nominee and a two-time ‘Australian Music Prize’ nominee, Wills has garnered global admiration by supporting renowned artists like Hiatus Kaiyote, Leon Bridges, Michael Kiwankua, Lianne La Havas, and Vance Joy. With 30 million online streams and a devoted following, she’s become a cherished figure in the Australian music scene.
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She has featured in Rolling Stone, NME, Line of Best Fit, The Guardian, Frankie Mag, RUSSH, Vogue, Marie Clare, Pilerats, ABC, triple j’s Like A Version, and more.
But, as if unphased her own musical genius, Wills is a self-described ‘41-year-old-mother, independent musician, mentor, and collaborator’.
“The EP marks the beginning of this time of coming back to my musical roots,” Wills states.
The Melbournian artist describes the work as ‘an ode to coming back to oneself’. “It’s me being able to focus on what’s important, which is hitting that emotional mark within each song.”
Wills’ emotionally charged vocals layer over a rich, warm piano, occasionally accompanied by strings, drums, and a pedal steel.
“It’s really limited in terms of extra textures,” Wills says. “Not to dismiss what I was doing before, but… now I’m coming back to this feeling of… I want to feel like what I’m doing is enough without all of that.”
“These songs stand by themselves.”
Wills produced the EP, co-engineering it with long-time friend and producer Jono Steer.
Lucas Levin, Madeleine Jevons, Anna Pokorny Ioana Tache played strings on the EP, with Shane Reilly on the pedal steel, Brett Langsford on bass and drum sounds by Danny McKenna and Leigh Fisher.
“I feel privileged that people want to listen to my music.
“But then you think of your life in a broader way and think… well, if you’re not enjoying those moments, what are you doing that for?”
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Reflecting on her journey in her early 40s, Wills turned music into her full-time career, surrounded by a small passionate team.
“Charlotte, my manager, really gave me confidence to do the things that I’ve done. She’s really helped me focus on the thing that’s most important which is enjoying life.”
It was this decision to be present in life that led Wills to move to Macedon, where she wrote, recorded, and produced Pink.
“Just before I [wrote] the EP… I was ebbing for a while in life. I was constantly coming back to this feeling of, ‘am I in the right spot? Does this feel like it should?’
“Then realising that I had a choice to change my reality.
“Everything just fell into place really beautifully and I haven’t been questioning where I’m at. I found a sense of flow in life again, and that flow… back into my creative process.”
Pink was written amidst significant life-altering changes for Wills, leading her to this newfound balance.
“The EP itself marks the transition, I went through a major turning point in my life; the ending of a really long-term relationship. [I was] having all this unravelling happen, while writing an EP…. lockdowns, and then falling in love again.”
“Then I had a baby two years ago and so it felt like life has just sped up.”
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In striving to honour the significance, and sacredness of these changes, Wills intentionally wrote the EP to be more narrative-driven than previous works.
In each song rich vocals and intentionally sparse instrumentation give the lyrics a piercing clarity:
There was love in our mistakes, so let’s try to celebrate.
I want to only see the good.
“If you’ve been through breakups before, it’s easy to just go, ‘oh, that was shit. I want to wipe the slate clean and just start again’.
“But I still wanted to see that we did all these amazing things together; we wrote music together; we travelled the world together; there was a lot of care and love that went into our relationship.”
Wills also tied in universal experience and empathy towards other’s stories.
“‘Eyes On Me’ is an ode to falling in love again and that experience is a universal one. And wanting to honour that feeling of falling in love.
“‘People Pleaser’ is definitely about me going, ‘you know I see what you’re, or what this person’s, trying to do; trying to keep everyone happy… at the expense of their own experience’.
“Until you reach the actual other side of realising ‘Oh, I don’t have to do that anymore’, and I don’t have to apologise for putting my own needs first.”
You won’t believe what’s on the other side
I’m going to meet you on the other side.
“That’s imploring other people that identify… to let that go if they can.
“It’s such a liberating feeling.”
Listen to Ainslie Wills here.