At a truck stop somewhere outside of Boston, Marlon Williams holds a camera against the dashboard of his tour van and adjusts his helmet to make room for his dangling earring. We’re talking about his upcoming Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival appearance in San Francisco, and when I ask him if he’s releasing some of his old bluegrass numbers, he agrees that the occasion is as good an excuse as any. .
When creating his previous albums, Williams (who plays the Aladdin Theater on September 29) was heavily influenced by Gram Parsons and Porter Wagoner. Folk music is in the Kiwi soul of the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter, but his vocal styles often shift from quiet country to Orbisoneque belting to a Chris Isaak call. Each album is a new pivot – and at the center of each is Williams’ buttery-rich vocals.
The croon-tastic indie rock-folk album of 2018 Make way for love helped propel Williams onto the world stage (it’s a breakout album that’s mentioned alongside Beck’s change of the sea and Joni Mitchell Blue). He then leaned into bluegrass, teaming up with Canadian folk duo Kacy & Clayton to create the stunning 2020 album Americana. plastic bouquet.
The last of Williams, My boy, explores themes of masculinity, tribalism and escapism. The songs go from Polynesian guitar (“Easy Does It”) to dark synth-pop (“Thinking of Nina”) before the album ends with a cover of Barry Gibb’s “Promises” which takes the mood Gibb’s epic in a haunting new direction.
Album star ‘Nina’ was inspired by the FX show Americans. It has the catchiest choruses and a video with a David Lynchian feel that showcases Williams’ acting talent.
“For some reason, these more over-the-top, over-the-top performances just come out of me,” he said. WW. “It’s sort of self-perpetuating.” Williams’ performances in music videos led to acting roles, including an appearance in the 2018 remake of A star is born.
So how many actors come into Williams’ stage performances? “I’ve had conversations with people who thought I was landing on ‘Soft Boys Make the Grade’,” from My boy, he says, referring to a song that’s about less cocky fuckboys (and features a goofy reference to DMs). “I address a certain part of my character, or my past behaviors.”
Then there’s “Trips,” a song about 19th-century sailors trying to circumnavigate the globe. “But it’s also about being on tour,” says Williams. He loves the ambiguous quality of fact and fiction in his music: “I think going too far either way is pretty stupid.”
I ask Williams what’s up with the video for the rippling synth-pop number “River Rival,” which features a close-up of him dripping as he seemingly sings into your soul. He’s laughing. “It came from a place of great fatigue,” he explains. “I was so tired that I couldn’t even close my eyes. I was like that frozen zombie, you know. So we kind of had to lean into that.
Williams takes his job very seriously but has enough humility to joke about it. “I watched this video [’River Rival’] stoned later, and I felt like it lasted five hours,” he laughs again.
These days Williams is studying traditional Maori music (he is Ngai Tahu and Ngai Tai). Although not fluent in Maori, he learned and absorbed hundreds of years of proverbs and songs from composers like Hirini Melbourne ONZM, and then worked on a Maori language album.
Williams also reads Genevieve Callaghan A story a day, a collection of 1,001 micro-fiction stories. He describes the book as filled with “beautiful little idle thoughts…[that make you] think about things like you don’t think about them, that’s what you want in a writer.
For Williams, collaboration is the very essence of creativity (he enjoys working with other alternative and unclassifiable artists like Aldous Harding). “Being able to meet some of these other personalities on the pitch and figure out what the sum of the parts is? ” he says. “That’s one of the greatest joys of being a creative person: that ability to learn from others and get to know yourself by working with other people.”
SEE : Marlon Williams performs at the Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., 503-234-9694, aladdin-theater.com. 8 p.m. Thursday, September 29. $20. All ages.