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The 405 meets Marlon Williams. "I love the folk tradition of passing music on."

The 405 meets Marlon Williams. "I love the folk tradition of passing music on."

by Samantha O'Connor, Photography by Daniel Harris, 15 February 2016

It seems as though Marlon Williams is a storyteller, first and foremost. There's a character who lives within the fluidity of each song he sings, driven by every cord he strums. Once on paper, they're disconnected from the New Zealand-native and exist solely within their own sonic dimension inside the cradle of country music. He doesn't write from experience. The mold is more universal.

On his self-titled international debut album, Marlon Williams' creations are detailed articulately over the nine-track tapestry, supported by the Kiwi troubadour's marvelously distinct vocals, in a balancing act that poises between conceptually progressive country music and traditional folk values. A former choirboy turned classical music marvel, Marlon may enjoy the simplicity that exists within the heart of country music, but his innovative technicalities make for something completely his own. And for the first time, it's accessible to all.

Your self-titled album is out on February 19. What does your first international release mean to you?

On a personal level, it's certainly something that not everybody gets to do, especially for little old New Zealand. It's an exciting prospect for me to be able to put out my music on a world-wide scale. There might be someone in Czechoslovakia listening to my music on a physical format. It's quite weird if you think about it. On a professional level, I'm excited to be doing it for the same reasons. It makes me realize that I sort of think about my music on a local scale and what it means to even deliver it to New Zealanders and then to try and expand on what’s sort of relevant. It's quite an interesting exercise.

You've come a long way. Your vocal epiphany came to you when you were singing in a school choir. What was that process like of discovering your gifts, especially with a voice as unconventionally beautiful as yours?

I've always just loved singing from the first time I did it and any gift that I've got is one that comes to me and not somewhere else so it's really always been there from the time.

And you went from choir singing to winning over booze hounds at an Australian pub venue so how did that transition of growing up musically take a toll on your artistic expression as you went from holy to gritty?

It was definitely a different world to jump into, but I was also a teenager when it was happening and all teenagers get excited about the prospect of drinking so it was quite easy and welcoming in a lot of ways. It made me pretty happy to make that call and say that I'm really not going to try to win over the discipline to do this properly in a classical sense. I'm just going to write songs and have fun with it.

Your new album, the writing is incredible. You're quite the storyteller. 'Lonely Side of Her' is one of the most gorgeously written songs I've heard in a long time, but each cut is just as intricate and focused as the next. What was the process of writing the project like for you?

It came pretty quickly. There's a few songs that I didn't write on the album and the ones I did were ones that sort of really had to come up with them in the studio, pretty much. 'Strange Things,' and 'Lonely Side of Her.' They're all written under pressure in the studio juggling between the recording booth and the little outhouse I had. I don't know if I work well under pressure but it seems like the only way I can do it at the moment.

I read that each song, there’s a certain character attributed to it. I wanted to know, how does one write a character based song? Is that something you went in trying to do in your own mind?

I don't really write from experience very often. 'Lonely Side' and a little bit like that, I show a personal side on the album, but I just find it easier to do allegories as a vehicle for any emotions I have, because it means that I don't have to confront them head on. And the storytelling is such a central part of folk music and it’s just the way I always headed towards writing.

Do these characters at all coincide? The other week, Quentin Tarantino came forward and stated that all his characters co-exist in two separate universes. Is that a similar case with yours?

They're all linked. If you believe in god, then we are all part of one in the same place. And despite any dissimilarities, it comes from the same line. They share something. But it hasn't been an intention of mind to create a cohesive world. On the album, I wanted things to make sense. But I'm young and I don’t have a career like that to build something like that yet.

You mentioned before that you have a few songs on the project that you didn't write. You delivered your own version of several traditional tunes like Bob Carpenter's 'Silent Passage' and 'When I Was A Young Girl.' So why did you want to bring those back to life specifically?

First and foremost, it was me as a music-lover like the drunk guy at the party wanting to hear the song that he loved but under the guise of being a professional musician. It comes from a selfish desire to get inside those words and see what they feel like. I love the folk tradition of passing music on and being a part of it.

What was the process like of being so conceptually progressive while holding true to traditional country values?

I had a pretty strong foundation of what those traditions were, what a folktale is, about how much you give away to the audience and those tools of communication in country so it's grounding and it doesn’t really matter where you go from there. I felt free enough to not really worry and let it take its natural course.

There was a quote I read where you said, "I like the simplicity of country music. I like the self-imposed restraints of country music." Why is that and what is it like when you allow yourself to be free of that?

Because the restraints are there and because the talent is unlimited as in what you can use, it allows you to communicate more, because people can see what you're working with and people know what to expect. People are more surprised when things go wrong and change. You start to notice the subtleties and nuances because of the simplicity of the thing.

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