To say that 2014 has been a watershed year in the evolution of local musical shaman Karl S Williams would be somewhat of an understatement. When not pushing the boundaries of organic-psychedelic deliverance as part of the band Tsun, this year Karl’s own increasingly more recognised musical forays (both solo and with band) have seen him traverse musical terrains both here and abroad, as well as deliver a re-imagined version of debut record Heartwood.
Chatting with Karl in the homely confines of the Rabbit and Cocoon café, I ask him about his recent trip to the USA, where he performed as part of the epic CMJ Music Marathon line-up (similar in concept and scope to the famed South By South-West expose). Whilst the official industry proceedings saw him schmoozing with record company types and showcasing his wares across dingy New York venues to a random assortment of college radio taste makers, it was the impromptu gig moments that resonated most with the man…
“On the day we wandered into the conference part of the festival, I didn’t have any instruments on me but my manager asked if I could do an accapella song, so I jumped up…the room had a view out onto the Manhattan skyline, it was an amazing backdrop, and I got to sing for all those people.”
I asked Karl if he managed to drum up any interest whilst there.
“Yeah definitely, It was one of those events where everyone was swapping cards…although I don’t have a card, I just received quite a few,” he chuckles wryly. ”CMJ is so centred around the college radio world, there were people there that specialise in running campaigns to get music onto college radio, and we definitely had some really strong interest and spoke with a few such people about engaging with them in that capacity. That was really exciting, because the eventual plan is to go back and do CMJ again, so if you’re charting in the college radio world, you’ve really got a good chance of being on their radar.”
Karl also managed to squeeze in an informal show on the West Coast at a vibey little venue called The Hotel Café, just off Sunset Strip in Hollywood on the way back to Australia, which brought about a different kind of audience engagement.
”That show was really rewarding for me, because I was playing to locals, it feels a bit more familiar, there’s a different energy to such shows as opposed to showcase gigs…and people tend to get a bit more excited!”
This year also saw the re-release of Karl’s debut record Heartwood on the Footstomp Music label that he signed with earlier in the year. The Timebomb single and two other songs were added to the record, which replaced a few of the other songs from the original release. I questioned Karl about the process involved in delivering a finished recording.
“It’s about creating something that has a bit of unity about it. With Heartwood I had about 30 songs, and myself and the Engineer looked at them to work out what group of 10 or 11 songs has a common thread or sound, while still maintaining diversity.”
And there is talk of new material on the horizon, building upon the vibe created by Heartwood and taking it to the next level. Writing and recording time is on the cards for the early part of 2015, although Karl is in no hurry to deliver an end result simply for the sake of getting it out there.
“Nobody is putting any kind of deadline on it. Everybody that I’m working with is very much supportive of the creative process, allowing me the time and flexibility to try and make a really great album. I feel sometimes that I could go crazy and just spend way too long on it, but at the same time I don’t really enjoy being in the studio that much. It’s the sort of thing that, I don’t want to be one of those artists that spends months and months in the studio. There’s less spontaneity and it becomes more about ‘let’s get this right for all eternity’ and while it’s important to think about that, I don’t like to obsess over it.”
I also question Karl on the potential dilemma of having to tailor or alter songs for the hope of future radio play. And as is befitting of a true artist, meddling with the creative process too much is a definite no-no. ”I don’t think about that when I’m writing songs,” he told me. “But when it comes time to start talking with the producer and the record label and showing them the songs that I have, then it may become a factor.”
“Fortunately so far I’ve never had anyone say ‘oh you need a catchy chorus, or an up section here’, I feel that might be a little false. I can live with perhaps shortening some instrumental sections or intros to songs to try and get it into that magic radio length… but not for all songs. I’m conscious of not being too self-indulgent, but at the same time I feel I want to do justice to the original vision of the songs.”
Another interesting musical detour Karl undertook just this month was to perform the seminal Leonard Cohen opus Songs of Love and Hate in its entirety. Despite the shadow of the G20 Summit and it’s associated civilian impacts, and a tight timeframe to put it all together with the band treatment following the New York Trip, the end result was an unmitigated triumph.
“It was well attended on the night, at least 200 people, and it was a fun show to play, we even had the three piece female vocal section. It was a real privilege, I’m such a huge fan of Leonard Cohen, and to do the songs in our own way… I deliberately avoided changing the key of the songs, I’m a bit of a purist in that way, so it was a big challenge for me to sing in a lower register for some songs.”
To wrap up 2014, the dazzling year that was in the world of Karl S Williams, the man is bringing it back full circle and making one final sojourn on the tour trail, before hunkering down to commence the writing and recording process, which we will hopefully be privy to in 2015.
”This tour we’re doing now, which is a national headlining tour for the Heartwood album, ends back here in Queensland, at home,” he said. “They’ll be the last three shows of the tour, and the year.”
“It ‘s been such a big year, and I feel that it’s nice to end it back here where we started. And especially with the writing period that’s going to come after, it could be pretty slim on shows for awhile!”
So be sure to celebrate with Karl (and band) as they bring down the curtain on a momentous 2014, which might just be your last chance to catch him in the live setting for a bit. The shows may also feature a special onstage addition to Karl’s musical palette. As for what that may be…well you’ll just have to get along to one of the following shows to find out!
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7 December: Rabbit and Cocoon Miami (solo), supporting The Waifs
17 December: Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
18 December, Sol Bar, Maroochydore
19 December, the Soundlounge, Currumbin