14 Nov 2020

Marlon Williams: 'A very blessed time to be able to share with family'

From Saturday Morning, 9:05 am on 14 November 2020

Alt-country troubadour Marlon Williams' new album Plastic Bouquet is out on December 11. It's his first new music since 2018's award winning Make Way For Love, which was written in the wake of his breakup with Aldous Harding.

Recorded during the Canadian winter of 2018, the record is a collaboration with Saskatoon-based folk duo Kacy and Clayton.

Marlon spoke to Kim Hill about the new album, his upcoming solo tour, and how happy he is to be stuck in New Zealand.

Marlon Williams

Marlon Williams Photo: supplied

Marlon Williams came across Canadian duo Kacy and Clayton's album Springtime Of The Year randomly on Spotify. He couldn't help but fall in love with its "old time jangly" feel.

"It was just one of those musical moments where a smile comes over your face and you feel like you’ve been allowed into the next level.” 

From there, he reached out to them.

“That was the thing that drew me to them, we share the same love for the same music, but they’re deep in the heartland of North America and I’m just a Māori boy from the South Island … the real intrigue was in the clash of those worlds and the familiarity versus the distinctions."

And Williams didn't fail to experience one of the biggest similarities that most would point out - the "crushing politeness" of the two countries.

“I’m a Kiwi and she’s a Canadian, so we both don’t want to offend each other about our song writing, so we always go ‘oh yeah, that’s great'.

“I’ve always had Canadians around me in my life … and the music being the real bond between us [Kacy and Clayton], it all sort of flows out from there, it’s a really good way to get to know someone, by playing music with them.

“I enjoy collaborating and enjoy working alone after collaborating too, because it’s very enriching to be shown your own abilities through someone else.”

Having bonded over their love of the same music and sharing ideas for the songs, the trio recorded the album in a "dicey back alley of a rough part" of Saskatoon in 2018.

Kacy and Clayton paved the way by writing the bulk of the songs, with Williams describing the second cousins as a great team of co-writers.

But surprisingly, the single was almost left out entirely from the album.

“That’s a funny one because for a while there that one wasn’t even going to make the album, it was sort of a throwaway song that I’d written, but sometimes the things that come out the easiest are the most easily digested and the most approachable.”

He noted that sadness in country music was a running theme overall and teaming up with Kacy and Clayton allowed him to explore certain avenues to express his emotions.

"It’s measured but manic country music, it jumps around between the extremes of emotions and extreme events.

“My last album was a very personal self-regarding, self-cannibalising album. So for me, one of the most exciting things about working with Kacy and Clayton was exploring those forms again and using limited chords and really familiar tropes that everyone can grab onto easily.

“All music is autobiographical in that sense, but country music is specifically about the details of observation and trying to get behind why people live the way they do. But also at the same time, it’s a descriptive art. To lay judgment down in country music is I think a fallacy, I think you’ve got to let the audience bring the moralising to the table."

Now enjoying his time in Diamond Harbour ahead of his tour - set to start in February going from Invercargill to Auckland - Williams says he's pining for the rest of the world in this pandemic and the comradeship of touring with a band.

“I’m very happy to be here, not just because of our positive Covid response relative to the rest of the world, but because I’m exploring te reo, and exploring what family means again, I feel like overall it’s been a really positive thing for me to be here and forced to take stock that way.”

“It feels like a very blessed time to be able to share with” family, he says, after sometimes having to go weeks without talking to them due to tour commitments.

His next project is an album in te reo Māori, and despite being schooled for a little while in kōhanga reo, he's no longer fluent in it.

"We spoke a little bit around the home but not enough to keep it going until this present day, so it's been a real process of learning.”

With the help of a co-writer and composer, he's ensuing on an “enriching experience”.

Williams also spoke about his cameo roles in A Star Is Born, True History of The Kelly Gang, his upcoming part in yet to be released feature Lone Wolf, and his sorrow and shock after the death of Justin Townes Earle, whom he had toured with.

Full details on Marlon Williams' February + tour can be found here.