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Interview: Marlon Williams Reflects On His New Album 'Make Way For Love'

Interview: Marlon Williams Reflects On His New Album 'Make Way For Love'

Lydia Jenkin / Tuesday 13th February, 2018 12:52PM

With a voice that gets compared to everyone from Elvis to Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, Marlon Williams has been captivating crowds across America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for the past few years, impressing the world with his uncanny ability to turn his classically trained voice into an effortless, worldly, seductive instrument of storytelling. Born and raised in Christchurch, and cutting his teeth in alt-country band The Unfaithful Ways, Williams went on to collaborate with Delaney Davidson and Tami Neilson, and also Aldous Harding, before releasing his solo self-titled album in 2015.

Harding and Williams were a couple at the time, occasionally writing and performing together when their busy independent schedules allowed, and balanced the challenges of developing careers which often had them separated by oceans, with a deep and devoted relationship. They were that couple that everyone wants to be, until they weren’t. It was a heart-wrenching split for Williams, but it also helped him to conquer a sort-of writer’s block which previously had him struggling to create his new album.

After the break-up he wrote 15 songs in a month – his most personal and soul-baring songs of his career – and 11 of them became Make Way For Love, his stunning new album which runs the gamut of love, from joy and excitement, to jealousy, hurt, emptiness, nagging questions, and acceptance.

It’s the most personal we’ve ever heard you be with your songwriting. You’ve always been great at telling stories with your songs, but they were often at least partly fictional, always one step removed from you. What was it about this period that made you change your mind, and made you feel like you could put yourself in the vulnerable position of sharing so much with these songs?

I think the key phrase there is changed my mind. My mind was changed by the life experiences that lead me to make the album. I was put in a sort of space of semi-helplessness I guess, where I felt like the only way through it was through music, and writing songs. I’ve never had that before. To find that creating music feels so necessary in order to survive, as a means of personal expression, that I couldn’t do any other way.

It was a very necessary change. I just had to do it.

So it really felt like the only way to process the heartbreak and the upheaval and emotions was to start stringing some words and chords together?

Yeah, exactly. I was a total artist cliché for the first time in my life. It was both relieving and also spooky and scary to think about – I think Nick Cave once described it as being a cannibal of your own life. Devouring your story and experiences like that.

I guess there’s also another line where, to some degree you could’ve written those songs and kept them to yourself if you wanted to, but you felt like they needed to be released as well?

Yeah. I’ve never been very good at keeping things to myself. And it felt right I guess. Also I needed an album, so there was a purely practical reality of needing songs, and finding that these were the songs I was writing, so I didn’t have much of choice.

There’s a certain darkness to quite a few of the tracks as well, which is beautifully elaborated by the production work of Noah Georgeson. I especially love ‘I Didn’t Make A Plan’, which sounds like a really dark classic, and feels very mature.

Yeah there’s probably a bit of a sense of a ‘coming of age’ in a lot of the songs I think. That song is me trying to work out my own responsibilities to other people and relationships, and reflecting on my own power for hurt. It’s me trying to work out what it means to be a man I guess in some ways.

It certainly feels like it tackles something that you rarely hear other people revisit or admit, I guess because it’s painful to look at our own capacity for hurting others.

Yeah there was something so deeply therapeutic about the whole process of this album that it kind of left me unafraid to open up. It feels like I’ve been in AA or something, and all of a sudden I’ve switched and I’m completely fine with talking about anything, and not scared to jump into it.

It’s been about working out my own parameters and being comfortable with them. It’s taught me how to be alone a lot better and just find some sort of personhood in myself.

I have to ask about collaborating with Hannah (Aldous Harding) on ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’, because it seems remarkably advanced to be able to get beyond a break-up like that, and somehow continue to create beautiful music together. It’s something quite fascinating that musicians seem to be able to do, to bridge these tricky relationships with music.

Exactly, it’s like a saving grace.

Did it feel like it was an easier way to communicate at a certain point, that making music might be easier than anything else?

Yeah for sure - that’s how I got to know Hannah in the first place, and how I got to love her, and it was always there in our relationship, sharing music was always part of our dialogue, and there was a sense of the artistic aesthetic to the whole thing, which allowed the break-up to be expressed in those terms – which you’re right, is a really unique experience to artists I guess.

But for me, it was part of the therapeutic process. And there’s a feeling that’s expressed in that song, that I naggingly couldn’t put words to, and couldn’t talk about, and through having a dialogue with her, even though the song is from my perspective, it somehow worked out. That’s the weird thing about it is that she’s singing my words, or the words that I’ve written for her to sing – like she’s playing herself in my story. It’s a strange and beautiful thing, and I love her for doing that.

Just the fact that she accepted my perspective of it was really edifying for me. Even if she didn’t agree with it, she could accept it, and see my point of view.

Are you looking forward to playing these songs live?

Yeah I am. Purely from an entertainment level, I feel like I’ve cast off the weight of the subject matter through the writing process and now I can enjoy it, and work at making into a good show. And that’s a really nice feeling.

And so what’s happening next for you?

I’m currently packing for the next three months. I’ll be heading to Auckland in a couple of hours, for a few days of rehearsal with the band, and then I’m over in Australia for some press, and then back to Auckland to make a music video, and then we go to the States for some press, and then we start the tour in the UK in late Feb.

That sounds hectic but excellent. You seem like you’re just churning the videos out at the moment. Every time I turn around there’s another one. Have they become a bit of a particular favourite activity with this album?

Yeah they have really. They’re a whole other aspect of this lovely job I have, but I really enjoy them. I’ve sorted started to see them as an extension of the songwriting process as well which is cool, to try and propagate the ambiguity and the mystery around the songs.

There’s definitely some intriguing little stories going on in each of the recent videos, and quite a bit of comedy too it seems?

Yeah, I’m constantly trying to balance out the darkness of the songs, trying to balance out my own darkness with whatever comedy I can find.

You seem very comfortable on screen, really confident in being yourself.

It’s funny because there’s definitely a weird sense of denial going on, like denial that I’m actually doing what I’m doing, a suspension of reality that goes on in my head to allow myself to feel that comfortable. It seems to be ok, it seems to work.

Well congratulations on the album. I bloody well love it. It’s absolutely beautiful, and feels like the perfect progression from the first album. We look forward to hearing the songs live in May.

Thank you.

‘Make Way For Love’ will be out this coming Friday 16th February via Universal Music. You can catch Williams touring his new album this May, for more info head along HERE.


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Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love Tour
Sat 19th May 8:00pm
The Hunter Lounge, Wellington
Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love Tour
Tue 22nd May 8:00pm
Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin
Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love Tour
Wed 23rd May 8:00pm
Ngaio Marsh Theatre, Christchurch
Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love Tour
Fri 25th May 8:00pm
Auckland Town Hall, Auckland