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William Edward Thompson, known better as Billy to his friends, is a multi-instrumentalist based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a member of notable acts such as Heavy Mantle, Secret Smoker, and Spiritiste, Billy has made a name for himself in the hardcore scene, delivering angular, melodic, and emotionally charged music. However, on his solo debut, he sheds the layers of a full band to reveal a raw and intimate side of his artistry.

Sleep Test, Thompson’s solo LP, is a stripped-down affair featuring primarily acoustic guitar and vocals, with minimal backing instrumentation. This album invites listeners into Billy's personal space, almost like flipping through the pages of his journal. Each track offers a glimpse into his daily thoughts and emotions, with some songs feeling fully fleshed out and others capturing fleeting moments of inspiration.

We sat down with William to learn all about his debut record, what makes him tick, and much, much more exclusively for FLEX!


Hey William, welcome to FLEX! How are you doing?

Very well. I’m in Baton Rouge and it’s full on summer. Imagine if hell had 100% humidity and alligators. This is my world and I choose it.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical journey and how it led you to this solo debut?

I grew up all over the world since my father was in the Army. I went to high school in Mount Vernon, Virginia just outside of Washington DC when he was working at the Pentagon. I loved skateboarding since I was a kid. I could move anywhere and always could make friends skateboarding. I started getting into hardcore punk rock from skateboard videos back in the early nineties. I started playing in bands. Fast forward twenty five years and I am three bands playing different instruments in each. 

Several years ago, my good friend Travis from the band Small Brown Bike had been diagnosed with cancer and asked Secret Smoker to do a song for a compilation called The Circle Cure. All the bands were close friends of his and were asked to cover a Small Brown Bike song for it. This was difficult for us at the time since we were all in lockdown from the pandemic. Mark and I decided getting the three of us in a room was just too risky. So we did an acoustic song covering “My Unanswered Whys”.

Secret Smoker is a louder band so it was very different. Travis passed away and the records shipped out to us a week later. It still shakes me to listen to it. It was heartbreaking to know I couldn’t call and talk him anymore. I’m thankful to have met him and spent so much time with him.

Recording with acoustic was different but easy and seemed natural. So I decided to do an acoustic record and try something different.

You play in several bands with quite a different sound. How does your solo work differ from what you do with Heavy Mantle, Secret Smoker, and Spiritiste?

Secret Smoker has been around for 15 years. I play bass and do vocals. It’s quite intense and cathartic. We have two full length records and a few split on CD and vinyl. 

I started Heavy Mantle when Mark Waite (secret smoker guitarist) took time off from playing because he had a baby. I took on guitar and recruited my favourite bassist Brian Domingue to do Heavy Mantle. Heavy Mantle was simpler, shorter, punk rock songs than secret smoker. Both bands really write by just getting in a room and making noise together until it becomes a song somehow. Eventually Mark joined as second guitarist in Heavy Mantle. So we are in two bands together.

Spiritiste is my newest band. I play drums for them. About two years ago, I realised I somehow had several drum sets but didn’t know how to play drums. I started taking online lessons from my friend William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate). I figured the best way to learn drums was to start another band. My friend Yann Kerevel (from WithArmsStillEmpty) and I started writing together to get him back into playing guitar. 

Each band is different because it is different people interacting musically with each other in different ways. Everyone writes their own parts in the room they are written in. 

You describe "Sleep Test" as a musical version of a journal. Can you elaborate on how your day-to-day thoughts and feelings shaped the album?

I try not to overthink lyrics too much. I write what is on my mind when I’m writing. It’s really a form of breathing in a way. The past and future both written right there in front of you in that moment. I suppose it is like a journal in this way. I have been reading a lot about dharma art and practicing mindfulness. This is a form of dharma art. It attempts to capture and convey the present moment unaltered with engagement and raw focus. 

You mentioned feeling "crippled by technology and process." Can you share more about your perspective on this and how it influenced your album's creation?

I have many friends that are into recording bands. I have never been a sound engineer. I simply have no interest in learning how to make the perfect record. And I frankly love terrible sounding recordings. Technology is at the point where images and sounds can be crafted with no flaws or mistakes. I love the imperfections though. That’s me, human.

Your approach to this album is more raw and simple. What challenges and rewards did you encounter while creating music in this way?

It certainly seems like it is easier to create by keeping things simple. There was definitely the temptation to go back and redo things but I recognised if I did that it would not be as honest. I also recognised that I could never be happy with it that way.

And finally, What do you want listeners to take away from this record?

I want them to listen to it and recogniSe that they can do the same thing in their own way. I hope they do because that’s what I want to hear.

Stream "Sleep Test" in full here:


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