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INTERVIEW: Marlon Williams

THE SEEDS OF COLLABORATION

Marlon Williams talks about Plastic Bouquet his new album with Kacy & Clayton and gives an update on some of his other upcoming projects.

by Chris Familton

In 2017, New Zealand songwriter Marlon Williams was on tour across Europe when the algorithms of Spotify dropped a Kacy & Clayton song in his lap and stopped him in his tracks. That was ‘Springtime of the Year’, from the duo’s 2016 album Strange Country. “I heard their music and was so taken aback by it that I had to message them straight away when I found out they were my contemporaries. Next thing I knew I was flying to Saskatoon to collaborate with them,” laughs Williams. 

At the time of that initial impulsive action, Williams was in the first run of touring his album Make Way For Love, yet with the benefit of hindsight he can see his musical radar was already scanning for the next thing. “I was probably 40 days into the tour and I was probably subconsciously trying to align myself to what my next project would be but I don’t think there was a lot of intentionality behind it.”

The tyranny of distance meant that a period of online correspondence ensued as the trio begun to engage creatively. It quickly became clear that there was a strong musical synergy between them. “We’d send songs back and forward to each other. Not a ton of co-writing per sae but some back and forth editing,” explains Williams. “There was a mutual understanding and we both loved the same kind of music but came at it from slightly different parts of the word and different cultures. For both of us that was the intrigue in the first place and we leant into that.”

Fast forward to the northern winter of 2018 and Williams flew to Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada. “I turned up and Kacy picked me up and we drove two hours straight out to her family’s ranch and I got acclimatised there for a few days,” says Williams, recalling the below-zero temperatures. “Then we drove back to Saskatoon and recorded at their friend’s studio where they recorded Strange Country, the one that turned me onto them. We recorded in a gritty, dodgy backyard part of Saskatoon in a re-conditioned old church.”

The results are an intoxicating mix of country, 70s folk and 50s rock ’n’ roll and pop, all rolled into a seamless blend of melodies and rhythms that tumble and counter each other beautifully. With Williams and Kacy providing the vocals it was left to guitarist Clayton to weave his magic on guitar. “We treated Clayton’s guitar playing as a third voice on the album. He’s very frenetic and it’s like these little fireworks constantly going off on his fretboard,” Williams enthuses. “There’s a nervousness about the way he plays that’s very individualistic. It provides a a sophisticated counterpoint to the vocal melodies.”

Since the recording of Plastic Bouquet was completed late last year in Nashville, Williams hasn’t been resting on his laurels. He’s completed a soundtrack for a NZ film, he has “a whole bunch of songs” waiting to be shaped and corralled for his next album and he’s particularly enthusiastic about an album of songs sung entirely in te reo Māori that he’s halfway through writing (with Kommi Tamati-Elliffe) and which will be recorded with his band The Yarra Benders. “There are ways I sing and arrange things which are informed by my Māori sense of harmony but this is going to be further exploring that and exploring some of the linguistic geography and becoming more connected to my historical Māori tribal areas through songwriting too.”

Collaboration is something that Williams is familiar with, in his work with Delaney Davidson and others, and as he explains, it’s a process that allows him to continuing evolving his songwriting craft. “One aspect is just me using my privilege as a musician to be able to explore music with people I respect and love. it’s me as a music lover wanting to be part of other people’s musical worlds. that’s the most basic reason I do it. It’s using other people as a mirror to develop your own sense of self and identity in different contexts.”

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