Marlon Williams (NZ) talks new music, international attention & celebrating his birthday at the Falls Festival

Trying to snag some of Marlon Williams’ time off road this year been a bit of a task. For the Lyttleton native with the voice that has captivated audiences around the world, his tour schedule has gone from an album tour here and there in Australia, to a full blown foray into the international scene. His return to Australia in July for a Sunday afternoon set at Splendour in the Grass was very well-received though there was no time to get comfortable – the UK came calling on the Monday.

When we caught up recently, Williams was back home in New Zealand, a rare window of time off before he and his band, The Yarra Benders, head back to the US and Canada for their own headline tour alongside Sydney’s Julia Jacklin. Having relocated from Melbourne back to Christchurch has the band slightly more spread out, but they’ve made it work.

“I’ve got the boys coming over in a few weeks,” Williams mentions. “[We’ve got] some rehearsals and a quiet show here and then we go over [to the US] and do some headline stuff.”

Together, the group have experienced some massive achievements this year; nailing their first SXSW tour, locking down debut television appearances in the UK and the US (Jools Holland and Conan respectively), not to mention extensive tours with Iron & Wine and frontman Sam Beam‘s tour with Jesca Hoop through Europe and America. Says Williams of their year so far, it’s helped that they’re also an incredibly tight-knit group of friends.

“It totally is a load shared.” He says. “Everyone in the band is very caring for each other and very watchful, making sure that we’re all still doing it for the right reasons and are relatively mentally stable.”

“It feels like a step up since the Iron and Wine tour,” he says of their upcoming September & October dates. “It’s had some sort of effect, which means we might have a shot at half-filling some of these venues!”

Maintaining some semblance of normality going at home when spending increasing amounts of time on the road hasn’t been easy, but Williams notes that he’s beginning to balance the madness out with rare moments of time-out with family and his partner (fellow musician Aldous Harding).

“It does get harder,” he admits. “The more cumulative time you spend on the road, you notice how different things are when you get home and that does grow every time. It’s just something to try and be aware of and try to develop mechanisms for, being able to switch off and find routine.”

The next time Australian fans will be able to see Marlon and The Yarra Benders play will come at the end of the year, as they join the Falls Festival tour down the east coast over New Year’s. Some might wonder how alt-country and a twinge o’ bluegrass fits in on a line up that also boasts the likes of Childish Gambino, Alison Wonderland, London Grammar, Illy and Jamie T but if you saw Marlon and The Yarra Benders make their Splendour in the Grass slot their proverbial bitch back in July, their programming on more and more festivals of this kind, not only in Australia but abroad, is kinda perfect.

“We’re gonna be out there for a good time, definitely.” He enthuses, noting that his birthday also falls on New Year’s Eve. Between now and then, the band have some impressive US venues and festivals lined up. They headline the likes of New York’s Bowery Ballroom and The Troubadour in LA, while spots at this year’s Americana Fest and both weekends of Austin City Limits are also calling.

I guess the question now posed is: where does new music fit into it all? As of now, fans have gotten a taste of new material from Williams in the stirring “Arahura” and when we last saw each other, writing was definitely on the cards.

“It is becoming more difficult,” he admits. “The scarier and bigger it gets, if you leave it for too long. It’s about digging in and forcing yourself to do it, really. It’s gotten to that point where I have to just actually play out the mechanics of writing a song; I’m so bad for writing a few sentences and leaving it and never touching them again. I’ve got them all over my life! There are little bits of scribbled, useless phrases!”

Spending time away and further developing a live show that has continued to flourish one a variety of stages in different cities around the world now has come with its advantages though, a changed perspective when it comes to making music.

“I think it comes from being open minded,” he says. “First of all, it’s just singing and that’s all I really think about; it leads you into all these different places. It’s the most immediate point of contact with every person on the planet, so it just keeps things open. Just on a curious human level, moving slowly through different musical landscapes, it really does give you a nice view of the world and it makes you feel like it’s somehow worthwhile. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing some good things sometimes.”

“To be part of that world and to see it from the inside, and then to be able to come home and listen to albums I really like, it totally gives you a bigger view on things.”

Marlon Williams and The Yarra Benders are part of this year’s Falls Festival at the dates below. To view the full line up and buy your tickets (Lorne and Byron Bay are completely sold out), head on over to their website HERE!

December 28th – December 31st: LORNE, VIC | 18+
December 29th – December 31st: MARION BAY, TAS | All Ages
December 31st – January 2nd: BYRON BAY, NSW | 18+

To check out Marlon’s international tour dates, visit www.marlonwilliams.co.nz.

Header Image: Karin Rasch.