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Interview with Marlon Williams

Marlon Williams

Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers

“I’m not hiding behind characters so much.
I’m imbuing more of my literal and personal self into it.”

Marlon Williams

Marlon Williams
Marlon Williams is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from New Zealand. Williams fronted the band The Unfaithful Ways before recording an award-winning series of albums as a duo with musician Delaney Davidson. Williams has since played with the band Yarra Benders and released his critically-acclaimed solo debut album in 2015. His album Make Way For Love (2018) is out now.

Delaney Davidson
New Zealand singer-songwriter Delaney Davidson began his music career in 2002, when he joined The Dead Brothers. He has since recorded 7 solo albums, with his album Lucky Guy (2015) peaking at 24 on the New Zealand charts. Delaney also collaborated on an additional 3 albums with musician Marlon Williams.

Award-winning New Zealand musician Marlon Williams began his music career at 17 as the frontman of The Unfaithful Ways, a band he formed with his friends and high school science teacher. He went on to form a collaborative duo with musician Delaney Davidson, recording the acclaimed 3-volume series Sad But True: The Secret History Of Country Music Songwriting, the first of which earned Best Country Album at New Zealand’s Music Awards. Williams has continued to expand as an artist on his own, releasing his critically acclaimed self-titled debut in 2015. The album won Marlon Williams both Best Male Solo Artist and Breakthrough Artist of The Year at that year’s Music Awards. His much anticipated sophomore album, Make Way For Love, shows an evolution of themes from “murder ballad” to what Williams describes as an exploration of his own emotional psyche.

Where are you from?
Christchurch, New Zealand.

When did you start making music?
I started singing when I was very young, I started writing when I was about 13 and I started touring when I was about 17.

Who did you listen to growing up?
The Beatles, Elvis and terrible boy bands, mainly.

What was your first break?
Winning my elementary school’s talent quest by playing “A Tisket, A Tasket” on the trumpet. But I lost. That wasn’t my first break, but it was my first broken heart.

How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
It always was my trump card in every sort of situation. It sort of cheated me through school. It still seems to be doing that.

Gram Parsons
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist Gram Parsons is recognized as a founder of country rock and alt-country genres. In addition to his solo career, Parson played with bands including the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons is ranked among The Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

The Jayhawks
The Jayhawks are an alternative country and country rock band that began in Minnesota in the mid-1980s and influenced other country bands playing the same circuits throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. The band had a couple hiatuses and released their latest album, Paging Mr. Proust, in 2015.

Tell me about your first band, The Unfaithful Ways, and also your work with Delaney Davidson. How do you see it all evolving towards your solo work and where you are now?
For the The Unfaithful Ways I was listening to a lot of Gram Parsons and a lot of The Jayhawks and things like that. It was very much a straight country rock band. We were young and listening to country music, so that’s what came out. Then I met Delaney, and he brought this whole appreciation for the craft of songwriting and a spookier, more interesting element to the sound and presentation. What I’m doing now feels informed by that, but I’m still finding my own path.

Do you think listening to country music in New Zealand is different than listening to country music in the United States?
There’s a similar sort of instant allergic reaction from anyone who’s not a farmer over the age of 50. But New Zealand has its own landscape, and the country music there is informed by the land. My country music, in terms of a geographical thing, is different than it would be for an American.

Tell us about your new release.
It’s the first album I’ve made where I write all the songs, and it’s far more personal. I’m not hiding behind characters so much. I’m imbuing more of my literal and personal self into it. Sonically, it’s a little bit more explorative and bit more heavy feeling. My last album had lot of murder ballads, but this is a different kind of heavy.

“New Zealand has its own landscape, and the country music there is informed by the land. My country music, in terms of a geographical thing, is different than it would be for an American.”
— Marlon Williams

What are some issues you look to address through your music?
Personal psychology, emotional psychology—that’s something I’m only now learning to properly express. It came about through life changes and becoming more emotionally mature. I’m starting to find making music cathartic, as a psychological sort of therapy.

The Czars
The Czars were a popular alternative rock band formed in 1994 in Denver, Colorado by musicians John Grant and Chris Pearson. Together, they released 6 studio records, the last being their critically acclaimed album Goodbye (2004).

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
For a long time I’ve wanted to collaborate with John Grant since his old band The Czars, and now he’s making incredible art ballads. He’s based in Iceland and uses all these incredible electronic sounds. His songwriting is so strong and bold, and his voice is so leading. I would love to sing a duet with him.

What life events have impacted or inspired you and your music the most?
We had an earthquake in Christchurch a few years ago that sort of shook up the whole music community. It was big enough that it impacted a lot of people’s lives, and it was a catalyst for a lot of musicians to do something. And also personal relationships with friends and lovers. It all fades into the pot.

What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I love basketball. The NBA is my safe place these days. It’s what I turn to after every gig. I like playing chess a lot. Sleeping.

What are your favorite books, film and music right now?
Not long ago I read Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita for the first time, and it completely blew me away with how magical it was. So now I’m reading his book The Heart of a Dog, another crazy Russian social commentary. But I usually read sci-fi.

I saw The Witch recently. I love horror films that don’t really go anywhere and send you straight to Wikipedia afterwards, desperately trying to find anything even though you know it’s completely made up. You’re just looking for any sort of historical basis.

I’ve been listening to a lot of early Lil’ Kim. I hadn’t heard her first couple albums before. They psych me up when I’m feeling extremely tired.

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