Marlon Williams is glad to be on the tail end of things. Despite the new release of his self-titled debut here in the U.S. (Dead Oceans), it’s been a long couple of years for the alt-country artist from a small coastal town in New Zealand.
Success came early for Williams as front man for The Unfaithful ways, who toured regionally with Band of Horses. His current run as a solo artist, anchored by the beautiful, intimate tales on his self-titled, first earned him awards in New Zealand and Australia. In a three-week stretch in March, Williams will set foot on three different continents. After all, a man has to hit SXSW in between gigs in Australia and the UK.
So there’s a reason Williams sounds quite tired by the time we’ve caught up with him. The demands are never-ending. The response is overwhelming. But his time will come, and in the end, he will be glad for the ways in which the world has found his songs.
Stereo Subversion: I’m curious how you’re taking it all in at this point, all of this attention, interest and demands?
Marlon Williams: It’s hard, you know. It’s really… it can be myopic. It’s really survival at the moment, and getting through the physical work of touring. It’s trying to stay innocent and fresh when talking about the music. You’re constantly confronted with it, and it’s tiring, when people are talking about you all the time, but you can see it as part of the job, so you put the blinkers on and get through so you can start writing again.
SSv: You just said you put the blinkers on until you can get back to it. Is that home for you, being in that writing space?
Marlon: I really love touring, but it does get… you just need to balance it out with writing. That’s certainly something that always gets overlooked. I haven’t developed the skills to balance the writing with when I am working on previous stuff.
SSv: So space is a necessity for you to even tap into your creativity?
Marlon: Yeah, I need the space, both mentally and physically. When I’m around where I am from, I feel the most at ease. That’s where I started writing, and that’s the rejuvenation of where I am today. It feels like the most natural place.
SSv: The music is so intimate and yet the demands are encroaching. Is it hard to create that moment in a live setting?
Marlon: It is sort of manipulative. You find more subtle ways of approaching it. Especially when you play a song over and over again, it gets kinda dangerous. You can start looking at it, and it becomes mechanical, and you have to look closer and closer to find new ways to find meaning. For sure, the challenge is keeping the quiet space where it belongs sacred. It’s the hard part.
SSv: Has music always felt that way to you, sacred?
Marlon: In a way. Like, you know, there is something undeniably true about it. Like a medical equation, an elegant simplicity to it, and it keeps me in the game.
SSv: I was wondering if that is the draw for you, or the connection not the music, I wondered what the draw was.
Marlon: Yeah, particularly it’s communication. The beauty of it is in the relationships with other people, the shared experience. But you know, it’s also the shared line of meaning. That’s a pretty heavy question. [Laughs]
SSv: Where did Dead Oceans come into the picture for you?
Marlon: The album had been out for a few months, and a friend of mine, Josh Sturgess, he worked for Flying Out. It’s a label, and it was in the ’80s, but it’s still active and stuff. They had an office in New York, and he was working there. He played some of my record for those guys, and it just happened from there, really.
SSv: Did it happen pretty quickly?
Marlon: Well, not all that quickly. I recorded it about two years ago now, but the album is just coming out. That’s pretty weird, and feels a little like being in limbo or something, but that’s the way it goes.
SSv: How is it playing those shows in the states before the album is out? Is there a longing to have the album out so it could be in their hands, or are you surprised by the attention of it before it’s out?
Marlon: I don’t know. I am so used to these songs now, I can’t even tell. It’s an interesting thing bringing it to America and the anthropological observations about it. It’s been comical, but the songs themselves, I never really realize that the album isn’t out.
SSv: For a show to feel fulfilling, what elements are in place there?
Marlon: There are many different things that you can take away from it, at any given show. No matter how it went, you will find a way to hate or love it depending on your mood. I guess, to me, right now, I would really crave something new to bring to the table and some new songs. I dream of performing new things. That’s the sweet, sweet relief I have.
SSv: Is that time coming for you?
Marlon: I hope so. it’s been driving me a bit nuts. It’s all swimming around up there.
*Photo by Justyn Strother