Under the Radar – Marlon Williams Feature
Marlon Williams: Tall Dreams
Jun 14, 2016 Issue # 57 – M83 By Joshua M. Miller Photography by Warwick Baker Bookmark and Share
Marlon Williams has a towering presence wherever he goes, in more than one way. The 24-year-old New Zealand-born singer/songwriter is a lofty six foot three inches, although he thinks his skinniness makes him appear even taller.
“I’ve probably lost more brain cells as a result. I always hit my head on things,” Williams says. “I’m always in trouble when I’m flying and your legs are up and your knees are up by your face. It’s kind of a drag.”
Some of these flights have led him here to the U.S. to perform and unleash his commanding bellow to audiences. Williams, who recently released his self-titled solo debut in America, is able to wail and howl away like the best of them, and his voice soars so gallantly into the rafters that he can’t be easily ignored. He channels old school country music with pure authenticity and a voice that is sometimes reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s. He says he uses the energy of his audience to inspire himself to give the best performance he can and is always seeking new ways to perform in order to keep things exciting. One of these methods is writing character-driven songs, where he inhabits a completely different perspective from this own.
“In a performing sense, I try to take myself out of it as much as possible,” he says. “It’s not really easy to do and you always find yourself creeping up in the songs but I definitely feel distanced from all the characters or narrators in my songs. There’s a certain amount of acting that goes into it.”
That includes his cover of “When I Was a Young Girl,” originally sung from a female perspective by Nina Simone (and later covered by Feist).
“The challenge was exciting for me, trying to inhabit that feeling and perspective,” says Williams. “That’s why I do this for, is to be challenged in that way and try to come off with some authenticity.”
“It feels pretty open-ended too in terms of the narrator and creator,” he adds. “I feel I can move in a couple different directions pretty seamlessly and not worry about any incongruity.”
Williams’ songs are indebted to his time growing up in Lyttelton, a port town on New Zealand’s east coast with a population of just under 3,000 people. He sung in the school choir and later in high school with the nearby Christchurch Cathedral Choir. His father, a punk musician, introduced him to artists such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley, as well as country and blues-based music. The latter appealed to him since choir music is “more of a craft than creative outlet” and requires one to “faithfully deliver what’s on the page in front of you.”
Since the album’s been out a year and half in New Zealand and Australia, Williams is setting his sights on his next album and touring America.
“We’re all doing it in a tour van and going to beautiful small theaters so it’s a certain aspect of the American musical dream that I haven’t been able to realize yet,” he says. “I like the diversity of the landscapes and culture. Going to L.A. and going to the South, it changes all the time and it really is a melting pot of the world. Watching the fantasy I’ve seen on TV dissolve into reality is really interesting and exciting.”