Who is William Bowery?
Unless you’re Taylor Swift, or Bowery themself, the answer to that question seems to be the equivalent of the shrug emoji. Thanks to the remote nature of pandemic-era collaboration, even the National‘s Aaron Dessner — who produced and co-wrote 11 tracks on Swift’s new Folklore album, and has been giving a satisfying amount of insight into the process of creating the project with her — has never met Bowery, who’s credited as a co-writer on two songs, “Exile” and “Betty.”
When Swift dropped the surprise on Thursday (July 23) that Folklore was coming that night, Bowery was included in a list of “musical heroes” she name-dropped as collaborators: “@aarondessner (who has co-written or produced 11 of the 16 songs), @boniver (who co-wrote and was kind enough to sing on one with me), William Bowery (who co-wrote two with me) and @jackantonoff (who is basically musical family at this point),” she noted on social media.
Dessner spoke of Bowery in some interviews about the making of Folklore on Friday, but hasn’t really divulged any clues about the songwriter’s identity.
“I haven’t actually met him because of social distancing, which is kind of funny,” he told Pitchfork, mentioning that he was in contact with Swift daily on text or phone over the course of three to four months while they worked on the new music. “I think he’s a friend.”
To Rolling Stone, Dessner reiterated, “He’s a songwriter, and actually because of social distancing, I’ve never met him. He actually wrote the original idea for ‘Exile,’ and then Taylor took it and ran with it. I don’t actually know to be totally honest.”
“I don’t fully know him,” he repeated, “other than he wrote ‘Betty’ and ‘Exile’ with her. But you know she’s a very collaborative person, so it was probably some songwriter.”
Swift said she’s adapted characters and intertwined their tales with her own on Folklore. “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t,” she revealed on Instagram on release day.
“An exiled man walking the bluffs of a land that isn’t his own, wondering how it all went so terribly, terribly wrong,” she said, seemingly referencing “Exile.” Describing “Betty,” she wrote: “A seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize.”
Speculation is rampant among sleuthing Swift fans that William Bowery is a pseudonym (a familiar concept to Swift, who’s written under the pseudonym Nils Sjöberg). Dessner first denied this idea, then admitted he really has no idea.
“No, no, no,” he said, when asked if Bowery is an alias. “I mean, I don’t know — she didn’t tell me there was a ‘Cardigan’ video until literally it came out, and I wrote the song with her. So I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure he’s an actual songwriter.”
“She enjoys little mysteries,” Dessner pointed out.