RHYS WILLIAMS OPENS UP AHEAD OF HIS NEW ALBUM
...and about his new single 'Lighting' which depicts the end of the world
Firstly, wow, you’ve played flute for Morrissey! How did that come about? I went to university in Sheffield and was in a band called The Ankle Stars. The singer from The Ankle Stars met Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer at a T-Rex convention (where else?) and handed over a demo for him to listen to. He turned up at a gig we played in London, then offered to manage and produce us. I left the band when I moved to London but stayed in touch with Boz. I was recording at his studio in West Hampstead and took a flute along to play on one of my tracks. When the time came to record the You Are The Quarry album, he remembered me and got in touch to ask if I’d play flute on I’m Not Sorry. So I went along to Hook End studios in Berkshire and recorded three takes – they used the last minute of the last take on the record. Then I played the song live at Morrissey’s Manchester comeback gig a few months later (wearing a gangster suit). Thinking that my mother would take now my music career seriously, I showed her the DVD. She said I looked like Tony Blair.
Why did Rhys Williams decide to go into music – lifetime love? I’ve always loved music for as long as I can remember. My parents had four albums when I was growing up – the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and Abba’s Greatest Hits. It’s no surprised I turned out the way I did. The next stage of my musical journey was obsessing over the charts, which when I was a kid were a real melting pot of every different kind of music. I started playing when I was 10 – within a fortnight, I’d already written my first song.
Your new album is called ‘We Are Climbing Angel Mountain’, interesting title, where did it come from (what’s the story behind the album)? Angel Mountain is Carn Ingli, a mountain in the Preseli hills in Wales. The Preseli hills have an ancient and mystic aura – that’s where they got the stone to build Stonehenge (which means they walked those giant hulks of rock all the way to Wiltshire). When I was a kid, we spent most of our summers in a caravan park at the foot of the mountains. All of my happiest childhood memories are there.
In 2014, my mother died. She told us she wanted to be cremated and that she wanted us to scatter her ashes at the top of the mountain. So that’s what we did. On her birthday in May that year, I climbed the mountain along with my brother and our wives and children. It was a really special family moment. That’s what the title track is all about. Lots of the other songs are about grief and loss too, plus all the reflection and change that comes with those big events in your life.
Having listened to the album (it’s great by the way), your lyrics are very honest and diverse. Where do you get your inspiration? Thank you. I’m glad you like it. The inspiration comes from everywhere. I read a lot, I watch a lot of TV and films, I listen to loads of music and I’m a magpie when it comes to words and phrases I hear in conversation. I bank it all for later. It mixes up in my imagination when I’m doing other stuff, and then comes out in new combinations.
Your last album scooped a lot of great reviews from the likes of Q and Uncut. How do you think this new album is being received? It’s early days still – it’s not out till March 3rd so most of the reviews are still to come. But everyone who’s heard it has been really positive about it. I think it’s a much more mature and meaningful record than the last one – I’m older and wiser and a lot more troubled water has flowed under my bridge!
Who did you work with on the new album and where was it recorded? In terms of musicians, the personnel is virtually identical to the last album – I’ve been playing with the same band for nearly ten years now.
This time, I produced the record myself, along with Mark Ferguson who plays bass in the band. Mark suggested we go to RAK Studios, which is a really lovely creative space with incredible equipment and people. Their then head engineer Richard Woodcraft recorded the album along with Manon Grandjean. Richard’s been nominated for engineer of the year at the Music Producers’ Guild Awards this year, while Manon’s been nominated for breakthrough engineer of the year, so we were working with the best!
We recorded the bass, drums and piano in two chunks, six months apart. I wanted to do it like that because I always find recording really inspiring, and end up writing my best songs during the process. In the past I’ve held them over to other albums, but this time I wanted the freedom to record songs I came up as I went along.
Once those initial recordings were done, we decamped to our friend’s studio in North London where we recorded all the vocals (usually late at night). Then we went back to RAK to record the strings. They were arranged by Sally Herbert, who I think can take a lot of credit for how the record sounds. She did incredible work.
Finally, Richard mixed the record in his home studio, and we went to Abbey Road to master it with Frank Arkwright. The whole process took about 18 months. However hard I try, that seems to be the standard speed at which I operate.
The new single is called ‘Lightning’ – what’s it about? Lightning’s about a gigantic party at the end of the world. In the song, I imagine some man-made catastrophe which sees us all off. The human race’s first reaction is to disbelieve everything. Then we party as hard as we can. When we’re partied out, we stand in silence as everything ends. I’ve set this to the jauntiest possible musical backing – cheery disco strings and very loud handclaps. I find this sort of contrast deeply entertaining.
And the new video for that single – it’s a compelling ‘watch’, tell us about it. Thank you. It was directed by Sian Cross, who sings backing vocals on the album and who’s a brilliant singer-songwriter in her own right. It’s her first video. She got frustrated making videos with other people that never quite matched up to her ambition and vision. So she decided to start producing and directing them herself! I was her first client but I think she’ll get lots more after this. I gave her total creative freedom. What’s the point of collaborating with people, if you’re just going to foist your ideas on them?
In terms of the concept behind the video, it’s telling a parallel story to the one in the song. There’s no catastrophe, but we find the characters leading fragmented, lonely lives at the beginning. Through the video, we see them coming together to find some meaning through connection with one another. We were trying to find a more positive spin on the meaning of the song. Both are about people sharing an experience, but in the video, it’s music that brings them together, rather than something horrible.
Delighted to see that you’ve opened up your album launch to the public, what can we expect to see at that? We’re going to play as much of the album as time will allow. It will sound just like the record, except wilder and more wanton. The show’s at The Crowndale Club in Camden. You can get tickets here: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/385772.
What’s next for Rhys Williams – the big plan? Next will be a tour in the summer, I hope. There may be another single from this album. After that, I will go back to writing songs and plotting my next record. I’ve also got some exciting co-writes coming up too. The big plan is the same as it ever is – keep making as much music as I can, at the highest quality I can muster.
Any final messages? No matter how bleak and uncertain things appear to be in the world at the moment, things will always be better when we come together. I believe in the human race and I know we’ll bounce back. Also, keep your teeth clean.
For more information visit: www.rhyswilliamsmusic.com
Album Launch Gig: Wednesday 1 March: The Crowndale, Camden 7pm: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/385772
February 11, 2017 11:49am ET by The PR Stable