An electric guitar cranks into life in extreme close-up. In black-and-white a dramatically spotlit man with a light three-piece suit and a slick quiff pings up from the floor, then starts doing a shuffling, shoulder-shrugging dance as he sings a song that sounds strikingly different from anything else around right now. Halfway through he pretends to be shot like a Wild West cowboy.
This is Willy Moon and his debut single I Wanna be Your Man, announcing his arrival on the pop scene in startling fashion. Over stuttering, twanging rock ‘n’ roll guitar and stop-start clattering digital beats, he sings simple, knowingly old-fashioned lyrics (“People try to put you down/Talk their jive all over town”) in an echoing, Buddy Holly voice. It could be yet another Fifties throwback but the rowdy, energised electronic production takes it somewhere new. Most amazingly for such a dazzling calling card, he says it was filmed by his girlfriend for “a couple of hundred quid”.
This sharp-suited rockabilly from space is the only thing on his minimal website at willymoon.com and it’s all over in less than two minutes. There has been no expensive teaser campaign and no adverts. He’s only sent three tweets in the past month; there’s no shaky YouTube footage of him performing embarrassing formative pub gigs. In this terrifying era when Professor Green can have his own reality TV show and Cheryl Cole will happily inform 17 billion Twitter followers that flour “goes straight through me”, a new pop star who keeps things on the down-low feels like the most radical thing imaginable.
These are early days for Moon, who has only just signed a major label record deal and is bracing himself for the big January push, when critics like me are asked to fill a gap in the release schedules by anointing the next year’s million-sellers before they have released a note. Early in 2012 is when he’s also planning to play his first ever concerts.
“If people have too much information it can be too overblown,” he tells me. He’s happy for people to make their own assumptions about him. “I wouldn’t be offended to be called retro. If you look at the video it’s a reasonable assumption to make. But I wouldn’t call myself a rock ‘n’ revivalist. I obviously love that music but I’m mainly interested in taking different sounds, trying to press them together and see what happens.”
Even stars with far bigger budgets such as Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey have been unable to avoid evidence emerging of their initial drab, pre-makeover forays into the music business. Moon seems to have come out of his cocoon fully formed without leaving a trace. He won’t tell me his real name, though he admits he was christened William. He insists he has not learned his craft in a terribly embarrassing previous band. “I’ve just been locked away on my own, bashing away trying to learn digital production techniques and failing miserably. I’ve been quietly cultivating my sound, figuring out what I want to do. I did it alone, and I like to keep it that way as much as possible.”
He grew up half-British, the son of two teachers, in Wellington, New Zealand, and followed the traditional Kiwi path of travelling to London for bar work. “I came here basically as soon as I could. It was always my plan. I saved up money as a teenager and bought myself a one way ticket to London. I tried working in a bar and got fired. I was practically destitute so I fled to Berlin.” In Germany he found his sound. “That was where I conceptualised everything and got it all together in my mind.” Now 21, he’s back in London and living in Spitalfields, preparing a debut album for sometime next year and putting together what he hopes will be an all-female backing band for his first gigs. “I’d lke to see more women on stage – playing instruments that is.”
Such a live line-up, no doubt dressed impeccably, promises to stick in the memory. Moon clearly values his image. It’s rare even to see a colour photo of him – among other shoots he’s been photographed by the French fashion designer Hedi Slimane – and he insists on dressing in vintage threads even when off duty. “I don’t want a stylist. I can’t think of anything worse,” he says. “I’m a consummate professional. You won’t see me out of character.”
“Character” is the key word. Moon’s playing a game here, creating a pop star version of himself to put out there and not seeing the need to give away the deepest parts of his soul for sales figures. He obviously has a healthy dose of cynicism about the music business already, something that should keep his feet on the ground when the hype machine starts buzzing at deafening levels in the new year. “At the end of the day what I’m trying to do is entertain. There’s no message, none whatsoever. Hopefully I’ll make lots of people happy, which is kind of the whole point.”