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Interview: Marlon Williams Talks About His New Album With Kacy & Clayton + NZ Tour

Interview: Marlon Williams Talks About His New Album With Kacy & Clayton + NZ Tour

Annabel Kean / Photo credit: Janelle Wallace / Friday 11th December, 2020 10:37AM

Wash the sleep from your eyes and pop the kettle on, Christmas has come early and you’ve got a brand new Marlon Williams album to listen to. Written and recorded in the wild Canadian tundra of Saskatoon, Plastic Bouquet is Williams’ first collaborative album with Saskatchewan locals, folk artists and second cousins Kacy & Clayton. Ten months on from releasing his multi-award winning sophomore album Make Way For Love in 2018, Williams flew thousands of kilometres from a dry Ōtautahi summer to a sprawling white, negative 25° C landscape. The three hunkered down and each brought their own half-formed, home-spun songs to the table, with Williams drawing from sketches begun as far back as 2016, and tying in “the Māori strum in a pretty big way” to songs like ‘I Wonder Why’. In between announcing *checks notes* twenty eight New Zealand shows for 2021, I managed to get the Lyttelton dreamboat on the line while he dipped in and out of reception, and he dished on his Spotify Wrapped, canine actors, and Sardinian dreams. Crack those eyes open as wide as they’ll go to get your lids around this mammoth tour, listen to the wistful folk of Plastic Bouquet, and please enjoy my conversation with Marlon Williams...

UPDATE 2/03/21: Due to Covid-19 alert level changes, this week's Marlon Williams shows have been postponed with new dates to be announced...

Undertheradar proudly presents...

An Evening With Marlon Williams

Thursday 25th February - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch SOLD OUT*
Friday 26th February - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch SOLD OUT

Saturday 27th February - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch SOLD OUT
Tuesday 2nd March - Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin (postponed, new dates tba)

Wednesday 3rd March - Oamaru Opera House, Oamaru 
(postponed, new dates tba)
Friday 5th March - Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin SOLD OUT 
(postponed, new dates tba)
Saturday 6th March - Civic Theatre, Invercargill 
(postponed, new dates tba)*
Sunday 7th March - Athenaeuem Hall, Arrowtown 
(postponed, new dates tba)
Monday 8th March - Athenaeuem Hall, Arrowtown SOLD OUT

Wednesday 10th March - Regent Theatre, Greymouth^ 
Thursday 11th March - Theatre Royal, Nelson SOLD OUT

Friday 12th March - Theatre Royal, Nelson SOLD OUT

Sunday 14th March - Opera House, Wellington SOLD OUT

Monday 15th March - Whanganui Opera House, Whanganui* 
Tuesday 16th March - TSB Theatre Royal, New Plymouth* 
Thursday 18th March - Municipal Theatre, Napier (venue upgrade)* 
Friday 19th March - War Memorial Theatre, Gisborne* 
Saturday 20th March - Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga SOLD OUT
Sunday 21st March - Leigh Sawmill, Leigh SOLD OUT

Tuesday 23rd March - Concert Chamber at the Town Hall, Auckland SOLD OUT

Wednesday 24th March - Concert Chamber at the Town Hall, Auckland SOLD OUT

Thursday 25th March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Friday 26th March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Saturday 27th March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Sunday 28th March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Tuesday 30th March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Wednesday 31st March - The Hollywood Cinema, Auckland SOLD OUT

Saturday 3rd April - Opera House, Wellington∞

All shows reserve seating, except for the new Leigh show which is standing GA. All shows all ages.

Tickets available via*
Tickets available via
Tickets available via
Greymouth tickets available at venue^

Annabel Kean: Hi Marlon!

Marlon Williams: Hey Annabel, how you going?

Good! How are you?

I’m pretty good. Just trying to find a not windy spot. I’m living in Diamond Harbour now and I have to go walking to find reception, but where there’s reception there’s a lot of wind. But I’m hiding behind a tree now.

How’s your day going?

Good. I only woke up half an hour ago, had a late night. Went to Wunderbar and had a jam at Al Park’s jam night. How are you?

I’m good. I’m highly caffeinated, I’ve had two coffees.

Same. I’ve had two too.

In half an hour?

Oh yeah, a double. Well I had to go chat to you so I have to wake up in a hurry.

Thank you. I actually made the enormous mistake of listening to your Kim Hill interview this morning, and now I feel like I have to do better than that.

[laughs] She didn’t come at me very hard, for a Kim Hill interview it was pretty gentle.

One thing I can’t believe she didn’t ask was, who’s your favourite: Kacy or Clayton?

I can’t believe she didn’t ask that either. If I’m at the end of the world and aliens come and they request a guitar player then I’m giving them Clayton. But if they’re requesting a wonderful singer then I’m giving them Kacy. That’s the most diplomatic answer I’m going to give you for that.

I think that’s totally fair. Great answer. Have you done your Spotify Wrap Up?

I have! Well, my number one artist is the Brothers Grimm, because I listen to fairy tales when I fall asleep. That was number one, and I think number two was St Joseph’s Māori Girls College. Bit random, but there you go. Then it might be Kanye third I think.

I watched your ‘Minds Walking Out’ video. Who’d you make that with?

It was Zac Beckett-Knight. I went to him and said we need to make a dog video. We’d been talking about it for a while, so I just wrote up a little Lady And The Tramp story. We didn’t have the budget to get proper acting dogs, so we just used his dogs. They did pretty well considering. But we shot about eight hours of footage for a two and a half minute video. So Zac did a lot of editing on that one. That’s where the work was.

It looks pretty magic. You watch it thinking ‘wow how’d they get the dog to do that!’ but actually you just filmed the dog for ages until it did something.

Exactly. Eventually. What do they say? If you leave a monkey alone for an eternity with a typewriter he’ll write all of Shakespeare. It’s the same vibe with the video.

I think someone actually tested that out. Left a typewriter in a monkey enclosure and they ended up doing just nothing at all, barely even touching it.

You gotta lead them to it, you gotta make them want to write.

Gotta inspire them.

Yeah. That’s a really tricky problem that we’re gonna have to sort out as the human race in the next wee while. How to get our monkeys properly making art.

Did you try to get the dogs to eat a spaghetti at the same time?

No! Na we didn’t go for that obvious a reference. We thought about it but — I think we just forgot and ran out of time.

How did you split up the songwriting with Kacy and Clayton?

We just sort of privately worked away and squirrelled away at songs, and then we’d throw them to each other, pretty much in a rough shape. Then normally the other person would be like ‘okay that’s done, that’s a cool song’, because they’re Canadian and I’m a Kiwi so we’re like ‘Yep that’s great! Yep’. We were just upping each other’s work. They had written a couple more songs than I had so I had to go into my back catalogue and find ‘Arahura’ and songs like that that I wrote a while ago to make up the numbers.

How long’s a while ago?

‘Anahura’ I wrote in early 2016 I think. Far out that’s four years ago. Jesus.

Did you just play guitar?

I did a little bit of guitar, I wanted to bring a bit of the Pacific vibes, like on our first single ‘I Wonder Why’ I locked into the Māori strum in a pretty big way. There were little moments where I wanted to put my imprint on it. But largely I wanted to explore what they were doing with their band and sort of go into their world. And just sing my bits.

What was it like there? In Saskatoon.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Saskatoon’s the city and Saskatchewan’s the province. It was minus 25 degrees and like an empty tundra. It was one of the most shocking transformations of weather I’ve done. I’d come from super hot Christchurch in early December, it was about now actually two years ago I went over there, and it was just absolutely freezing. There was just so much space. Empty, white space.


Yeah, I used to be scared of those ads for the Antarctic Centre on television. I used to have to hide my eyes because I was scared of the emptiness. It reminded me of that.

Did you ever go to the Antarctic Centre? Did that prepare you?

Oh yeah, that sort of did. I loved the blizzard room, the blizzard room I was into. However, you know how there’s that awesome wind machine in the blizzard room? They didn’t have one of those. Well, they did, but it was just the wind. Just actual wind.

Did you get quite homesick?

Yeah sort of! It sort of just turned into a weird sort of dream state for me. I had to suspend belief, and live in that world to be able to be not too deranged by it. And when I got home it felt like I’d woken up from a really bizarre and lucid dream.

Have you been playing any of the Plastic Bouquet songs live?

Yeah, well, I’m pretty limited with what I can do without them, especially as I said, I didn’t do a lot of the instrumentation on the album. There’s a few moments. I’m trying to figure out different ways of presenting it, without just sounding like an idiot. When I go on tour in February / March there’ll be some moments for sure.

So what’s the deal with all of these shows? It’s just silly. Did you genuinely not think that they’d all sell out?

Well, we weren’t sure. These are bizarre times and because we’re doing little theatre shows, and we always wanted, if it got to that point, to be able to do a whole run of Auckland shows, and do like an old school residency type thing. The way the show is going to play out and the vibe we want, it just made sense to do smaller rooms. So it looks pretty silly on paper, but it’s not like I’m playing to thousands of people every night. They’ll be nice intimate shows.

It’s created such a buzz as well. People are like ‘Ah, I didn’t get tickets, maybe there’ll be another drop!’.

Yeah! Just the tension and release. It becomes a game. A capitalist game. Just another Black Friday.

Oh god. The Marlon Williams Black Friday sale.

Tickets here! Everything must go! General admission! Gold seats!

What’s the deal with the Leigh show? You doing something special?

The whole tour’s really going to be quite proper and choreographed, so the Leigh show is to have a show to cleanse the palette, and I’ll get some mates up to play and it’ll just be a far more relaxed affair.

Is it a secret who you’re gonna have playing?

It’s a secret to me still. Yeah, I haven’t jumped on that yet. I’ll find some mates and they’ll be awesome whoever they are.

Now, you’ve been working on a Te Reo album right?


Fuck that must be hard.

[laughs] Yeah, it is in some ways. And sort of refreshing in a lot of ways too. I mean, my Reo’s not much chop, but I’m working with an amazing co-writer in Kommi Tamati-Elliffe, who’s got the Reo down wonderfully and he just helps me, and we find our way there. It’s nice having a limited grasp of the language in a lot of ways, because it just simplifies my lyrics. Which is nice. You have to sort of make the metaphors work for you. It’s like a real nice refresh button to work in Māori.

So you’re not translating, you’re starting in Te Reo and finding the words that way?

Trying to as much as possible. Starting with a few key words or a couple of key concepts and then building up from there.

I imagine you could spend more time on the sounds of the words.

Exactly. When you’ve been speaking English your whole life you close off to the sounds of the word. You don’t have the naive, child-like idea of the language anymore. I think you lose something in that.

Okay, last question. Pretending there’s no pandemic, that doesn’t exist. If you could live anywhere in the world outside of New Zealand where would it be?

If I could live anywhere. No pandemic. Uhhhh. Okay, I’ve actually never been here, but I have a real fantasy about going here and learning how to sing the way these people sing, and I’d love to live on the island of Sardinia in Northern Italy. I only know a few people who’ve been there. They do this amazing singing, which is the best singing on the planet. So I would just go there and try to get them to help me learn how to do that.

Marlon Williams' collaborative album with Kacy & Clayton 'Plastic Bouquet' is out now via New West Records.


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