Stand aside, bluegrass spoons: on evocative second album Make Way For Love, Marlon Williams has peeled away several genre layers to reveal a beautifully haunting collection of tracks, all tethered together by his singular voice.
The unabashed romance of this album is super admirable: it’s Orbison, it’s Cohen, it’s a delight. How did you capture that feel in the studio?
It’s just swamped in reverb. It’s the same with all the strings. The sound is like a trigger of nostalgia for people. It just puts the listener in a certain space I think. It’s ethereal, and it’s soft, and it felt like a good bed for the stories on this album.
The single Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore is a duet with your ex-partner Aldous Harding, apparently recorded while you were at opposite ends of the world. How did it work out?
Well, I recorded it in Northern California, with the rest of the album, in March last year. The Hannah recorded from Cardiff, in Wales, two months later. Which was pretty odd, but also kind of poignant and fitting: I wrote the whole thing and sort of brought it to [Harding] and was like ‘How would you feel about singing my interpretation of your perspective about our relationship?’ And, she went for it.
Love Is A Terrible Thing has what sounds like a very, very old piano in it (the kind where you can hear all the hammers inside). Is it your piano? How did you choose the song’s instruments?
I know f-ck all about musical instruments in general. I’ve always just sung my way through things in the hope that something else would fit what I’m doing. So, the process was just walking around the studio and trying out a few things. But for Love is a Terrible Thing, that’s just a sort of sappy song. I wanted to just to have some real weird ‘80s British soap opera sort of sound going on. Just to… hopefully bring some self-awareness, something that’s [a little] knowing. That’s true for most of the album.
That’s a great and very apt term: self-awareness.
I think it’s a really important thing to communicate with a listener. You’ve got to let them know that you’re sort of on their side and that you’re not completely lost in what you’re doing, otherwise – I feel like whenever I hear albums that don’t do that, I lose trust. Yeah, I don’t trust that you know what you’re doing there. It’s purely a communication thing.
With a track like Can I Call You, which utilises a lot of space, do you ever feel pressured to fill or decorate that space?
It’s a constant battle to try and preserve your initial spark of what make something good. I’m a real ‘yes man’ and a people pleaser. I’m always struggling to preserve the strength of my own ideas. But I feel like with this album, because I’ve got faith in the arrangements, it really is going to help me have confidence in my decision-making, I think.
How did you initially deal with the personal nature of these songs when you were writing – was it scary or emboldening?
Well, I’m likening it to when alcoholics really get involved in AA and they just want to talk about it all the time. There’s some sort of religious fanaticism that comes from their transformation. I sort of feel that way: I wrote these songs, it was very unconscious. It was a very gut-instinctual need to get these ideas out. It’s only really now that I’m really considering the nature of some of the content in there. It’s been like, when my mum [asks] me about certain lyrics… yeah, there are some lyrics on this album that I really didn’t want to talk to Mother about. I really don’t. [laughs] It surprises me as much as anyone else. It’s a whole learning process.
I suppose, when it comes to touring this album, it will be like a journey of discovery into your own material?
Totally. With the last album I made, I put that out nearly three years ago and had to tour it, pretty much, for two years straight. That’s the only thing that keeps you sane: looking for those new nuggets of discovery that are brought about by presenting to different audiences, and in different scenarios, and when you’re in different frames of mind – that’s the stuff that really gets you through.
Make Way For Love is out now via Caroline.
Read our review of the album.