I recently spoke with the man who is perhaps the second biggest act coming out of New Zealand today, Marlon Williams. Often, and rightly, compared to a young Roy Orbison, his music is richly organic, and when we spoke, he was phoning in from an Austin motel in advance of his appearance Sunday at ACL Music Festival. He had just gotten into town after a late night set up in Boston, all performances in support of his self-titled Marlon Williams album

Amiable, polite, and eloquent, Williams is next headed to LA for a show Tuesday night at The Troubadour, but before that, we talked about the music of his home country, his favorite female songwriters, and how he likes to spend his down time in LA.

I saw you open for Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop at The Fonda back in May, and I’ve listened to your self-titled album many times. Based on my own experience and articles written about you and your music, it seems that there is a consensus that your music sounds like it is coming from another era. Is that a fair assessment? Do you think you have a modern sound?

I think it is a fair thing to say. It’s informed from a lot of the sounds and aesthetics of a time past. But I wasn’t trying to preserve anything. I’d like to hope that it’s approached from a fresh angle. While being influenced and informed by it, it doesn’t tie to the past too much.

Us Americans sometimes like to take credit for more than that which is ours. Do you feel like a part of Americana? Or do you feel like you are a part of something that is bigger than our own national tradition?

I do feel like the term Americana is a misleading one. It’s a music that grew out of America, but it’s been informed by so many old folk musicians from Africa to Ireland to England. It sort of betrays the forward motion of how music works when it’s called “Americana.”


Full disclosure, I could not tell you the name of another musician out of New Zealand. How is the scene there, and who else should we know about?

The biggest export out of New Zealand is Lorde.

Ahh, yes.

She’s a Kiwi. At least in the public’s eye, she is the lynchpin of New Zealand’s music on the world stage. But there’s plenty of amazing folk music and incredible songwriters coming out of New Zealand. Especially coming out of Lyttelton, the town I’m from.

There’s Nadia Reid, Delaney Davidson, who I did a few albums with, and my partner Aldous Harding just finished recording her second album, and it is going to do some really amazing things for her. But not much jumps the ocean over to the States.

Do you feel the music of the Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) informed your music?

The Maori arrived there about a thousand years ago though the South Pacific. Musically, there is a really strong oral tradition running through Maori culture of storytelling through song. As happens a lot all around the world, when paired with colonial guitars and violins, it sort of forged its own brand of music, singing, and storytelling through both of these mediums. It definitely informed me somewhat growing up as a singer and sort of the philosophy of how music works.

Is there anything on your self-titled album that you feel has a piece of that sound?

No single moment that I can pin down, or any obvious ones. But every now and then I will hear a tiny little quirk that reminds me of growing up.

Any recent musical discoveries that you can share or perhaps someone you would like to see at Austin City Limits?

I’ve been wanting to see Willie Nelson for a long time. I think Red Headed Stranger is the single greatest country album ever made. To be able to see Willie live will be a massive box ticked.

I’ve been really enjoying the Sharon Van Etten catalogue, Angel Olsen’s new album, which is a new strong sound for her, so it’s exciting to follow that in real time. There are a lot of incredible female singer-songwriters putting out great music at the moment. Cate Le Bon. Ladies are kicking ass. I’ve been on a bit of dance music kick, too.

Have you given any thought to the next album, what may be in store, or have you been touring so hard that you feel like your mind is still on the last album?

I’m still touring hard enough that I can’t really think about it properly. But the wheels are in motion. I am hoping to be in the studio in late January. I really can’t wait. I’ve been singing these songs for a while now and starting to want to smash the mirror a bit.

I know you’ve been through LA for The Fonda show, as well as The Bootleg Theater and Bardot in years past. How do you like to spend time off in LA?

I really like going up to the J. Paul Getty museum there up on the hill. I’ve done it a few times. When I have one day off, I’ll spend it cruising up there and taking my time. It’s such an amazing gallery. It may well be my favorite. A lot of LA scares me, so it’s good to have a place like that where you can run away to.


Marlon Williams & The Yarra Benders play The Troubadour this Tuesday, October 3, with Julia Jacklin, and tickets are still available.

More information:

Marlon Williams
Julia Jacklin