"I wanna make music that doesn’t have too many goals. But maybe I wanna make music that doesn’t fall into any genre."
Incendiary interview White Williams
It’s a hot May day and the creator of one of my favourite LPs of the year Jim, aka “White” Williams is playing upstairs at the Paradiso. Luckily we’ve got a chance to interview him, and given his sensational debut Smoke we are naturally agog to find out what makes this young man tick. Somehow, (after a lot of negotiations via his tour manager), we end up in one of those ever so slightly seedy Rock ‘n Roll hotels Amsterdam is full of. Designating a hotel “Rock ‘n Roll” (in the hope, I suppose, of attracting bands who are playing in town) seems to be some sort of convenient excuse for not cleaning up, never mind attending to guests’ wishes. In this particular case, (apart from the seemingly de rigeur lack of response to my request for a stiff drink), the flowers on the breakfast tables are in an advanced state of decay; so advanced that they bring to mind withered posies that are strewn on graves and left to rot. Maybe it’s a statement. Maybe it’s where Rock n Roll truly is. No matter.
Jim Williams eventually walks into the breakfast area; a slight, diffident figure replete with baseball cap, well worn tee shirt and long shorts. He looks is exactly like I imagined Holden Caulfield to look. We sit down, and pulling regularly at his cap, this gauche youth begins an almost unbroken beat-style monologue.
IN: I liked the LP a lot. In some ways Smoke is completely against the grain, with references to Van Dyck Parks, Cluster… It’s a witty, slightly irreverent LP. Was any of this conscious on your part?
JW: Erm… I didn’t really make anything on the record that was pre-determined; mainly because I was pretty inexperienced in the ways of why people make records. I was completely based around my group of friends and people who I went to school with, and to be honest I was pretty unaware of what was current musically. The record had way more to do with how I reacted with my friends, it allowed my sense of humour and the absurd to come through, so you can interpret a lot of what I did quite freely I think. The lyrics aren’t really streams of consciousness but more words that I found interesting. I’m not from an English background… So it was more to do with things that sounded interesting to me. Maybe I’ll write a lyric and sit back about the many different ways that lyric can be interpreted musically. And maybe if I can find something funny or interesting, or uncomfortable, it’s usually what I end up with.
I made the record at home. There’s no real link to musicians or the music world or the qualities that you might associate with making a record. I’ve never had a band till now. I think now that I have been playing and listening to so much music, maybe I’m thinking of a record that has a plan or is pre-determined in some way… Back when I made Smoke, the more I would try to work in with a theme, the more I felt that I was closing things off and I felt that it was a bit restrictive, but we’ll see.
IN: Other than the album I know very little about you. And I also felt the LP had absolutely no vibe. Which made it all the more enjoyable to listen to be fair… Did you feel that you were an artist who had no discernable vibe? And because of what you’ve just said about your last LP, I’m interested in knowing what is making you tick?
JW: Erm, well I suppose you answered this in part when you said my LP sounded like Holger Czukay and Cluster. Maybe it’s… I wanna make music that doesn’t have too many goals. But maybe I wanna make music that doesn’t fall into any genre. My new LP will definitely be a reaction to my experiences of promoting this record, let me say that! I have learned a lot just from meeting other people who make music, do the press and the way that record labels work. It’s completely foreign to me. I mean a lot of that stuff is superficial so I don’t want to give in too much to it.
But I definitely have been informed by what I have been through, and I certainly don’t want to make the same record again. I think I have a label that can in some ways enable me to work with other people, have more of a collaborative approach to song writing, maybe working in a studio. I dunno.
IN: It’s interesting you mention Cluster. I would never say that Moebius or Rodelius are people who would see themselves as in a band per se. They have their own intuitive way of working, as artists... Do you see yourself trying to set up a free association idea, like Cluster? Who would you want to collaborate with?
JW: I think there are some people that I have met and share similar interests with that I feel I could work with. I’d like to keep things really intuitive because that’s the best way I work but to have the chance to stand back and be more objective about things. It’d be nice to have more communication I suppose. Take the guys I play in the band with. When we’re out together and hear a record it’s good to keep that same group thing going on when you’re composing and producing. It’s educational. It’s probably a blessing that I need to work with a label. You need focus. But communication with labels is so strange too in a way… (Silence). I never thought that packaging would be such an issue… I’m a little disappointed but there are a lot of things a label can do on the non-musical side that can really help an artist.
IN: They’re not there to be artistic are they?
JW: I suppose I should reserve my judgement! I have a lot of material so I’m excited to make a new record, record company or not. I’ve been out of town, on the road for so long…
IN: So what’s it like being in a band then?
JW: Interesting. I’m still getting comfortable with it. For me it’s better to be at home. Performance used to be like an afterthought, but now… I wish it was more… now that I have played live it has certainly helped how I would organise a performance or a recording session. When I make the new record I also want to think how I can play the new material live, as long as it doesn’t detract from the new recorded material. The songs are great live at present but there’s so much more you can do, I have realised that…
I’ve been a bit too synchronised in my approach to my material live. It could be more spontaneous… And also the difference between sampled sounds and live instruments is interesting to me ant the moment. There are so many possibilities to explore. You were talking about Cluster, they are so still live. They use CDDJs live and they’re just sat there picking out different samples, occasionally playing an instrument. I’d love to do that, have a band completely sample-based. It makes sense, its way more honest, it’s how the last record was made anyway. It’s refreshing but the problem with playing with a computer is that there’s no flesh and blood involved. The other thing is space in venues; I’d never thought about that. There’s so much to think about regarding space, real active space.
One thing with a band; it would be good to call upon other people I’ve played with…. Working out with them before-hand how to present the music. I mean I like going to clubs seeing people deejay and stuff, looking at the sound-systems, seeing how the bass sound is monitored, stuff like that. That relates to the craft aspect of playing. I think about this stuff all day long; I want to be further along than I am, and it’s driving me mad; I just have to accept that I have to wait. Record companies…
IN: It amazes me the pace some acts have to work at to keep in tandem with record companies, especially when you think of the market in the ‘60s. A band like the Beatles, 2 LPs a year, with one at Christmas, 3 or 4 singles which would guarantee their live booking slots… madness. And all this stuff had to be done in a studio
JW: I know! I wasn’t really working in terms of records before; it was just one song then the next song then the next… with the next song being informed by the previous song.. I can’t do that anymore. I’m given advice…
IN: Record companies always seem to be slightly sinister kindergartens, you are kept under control and allowed out into the yard now and again; it’s a strange way to nurture an artist really. They should be a little more honest.
JW: They get involved with all kinds of stuff now, where the record should be recorded and what engineer you should use, not exactly forcing their opinions on you, but it certainly makes you feel uncomfortable. But I like to be influenced by anything. I like the way Holger Czukay samples, I like the way that he shows that it’s not important to have to sound like another band on your label, or another band who is around.
Words: Richard Foster