It was All Hallow’s Eve in Los Angeles, and Nosferatu was sitting alone in a hotel room: immersed in heartbreak, devastated by loneliness, and high as hell itself.
“Crazy and depressed,” the stoned specter donned his flowing black cape and took to the Los Angeles Symphony, noticeably late and skulking down the rows for an empty seat in a sea of tuxedos and gowns.
For some, that may sound like a nightmare. For New Zealand-based singer-songwriter Marlon Williams, it played out more like a song: “Vampire Again,” — his first new material since his eponymous 2015 album.
For Williams, who describes himself as “not the most socially comfortable person,” becoming Nosferatu served as both a distraction and a test of character. “The song is sort of about that weird sense of confidence that sort of comes from some silly arbitrary decision to do something like that,” Williams said. “It was a ‘yay me’ moment — I can get stoned and go out in public dressed like a vampire...it was like Garden State, set in L.A.”
The 26 year-old New Zealand-based singer-songwriter has always found refuge in alternate personas, with a discography full of character studies and fantastical tales that feel centuries old — from ‘When I Was A Young Girl’ to the story of fatherhood and tragic loss in ‘Dark Child.”
Williams describes this style of lyricism as “newspaper storytellings” — akin to the narratives found in old folk tunes. “When I hear an old bluegrass song, it feels to me like reading a newspaper article,” he said. “There’s a dryness to it that’s all the more upsetting.”
Williams grew up listening to classic American crooners like Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves, and Marty Robbins. “It’s this sort of openness that doesn’t happen much anymore, in Western indie music in particular,” Williams said. “It’s unashamed. Here I am, and I love singing.”
Listening to ‘Vampire Again,’ it’s easy to imagine a young Williams, dancing around his parents living room to Elvis Presley’s ‘Trouble’ — “Because I'm evil, my middle name is misery, well I'm evil, so don't you mess around with me.”
Williams’ upcoming album, set to debut in February of 2018, promises to deviate from his illusory past: instead delving into a breakup with his long-time girlfriend, muse, and fellow musician Hannah Harding (stage name Aldous Harding) a self-described “gothic folk” artist with a devastatingly haunting voice.
“I’ve become less afraid of putting myself into my music,” Williams said.
Just as Williams resigned himself to writing something new, the material presented itself: the ending of a nearly lifelong love, a profound partnership that began in childhood and connected two people on a seemingly higher plane.
“The relationship was a deep one, and there’s a whole lot of backlog of growing up together,” Williams said. “I guess it was an obvious point for me to start.”
“It was an excuse to be a sad artist,” Williams said, with a wink.
As musicians, Harding and Williams seem to share an understanding that goes beyond heartbreak or bitterness, continuing to collaborate at festivals and even on his upcoming album, which will feature Harding’s vocals.
“What happens if she writes music about your relationship and hers is better?” I asked. “Oh yeah, she did. Hers is much better,” Williams said.
Singing about heartbreak — hardly a novel topic — meant Williams needed to dive deeply into his own personal life, which wasn’t a comfortable journey. “It never feels old, the heartbreak itself,” he said. “You’ve got to really delve into the subtleties of what it means to you, and the nice things about it, and you’ve got to look a bit closer.”
The hardest part, Williams says, was being honest. “It’s not something you want to bullshit about, you know? When you feel that strongly about something, it’s pretty upsetting if you don’t nail it,” he said.
“You just get lazy, and you do slip and fall into those traps of a beautiful sounding line about how sad I am… but then you’re like oh, whoa, I didn’t even believe that,” he continued.
“Either it sounds good, but it’s not true, or conversely, it’s true, but it doesn’t sound good.”
“Vampire” is the first of a series of singles to be released prior to the album, including the more recent “Love Is A Terrible Thing,” a broken-hearted love ballad dreamed up with Williams’ longtime musical partner and friend Delaney Davidson.
With this first taste, a more raw, exposed Williams emerges, leaning less on the superficial subject matter of his past, and falling deeper into his own pain.
Along with a departure from his old material, Williams says he’s open to new styles beyond country crooning. “I am a changed man,” he said. “I’ve started using synths and drum samples and vocoders and I recently woke up to electronic music, like minimal techno.”
Does this mean fans can expect a techno track or two on future albums?
“I’m certainly not closed off to the idea,” Williams said. “I’d love to guest on someone’s techno track.”
“Got a number for Daft Punk?”