Name: Paul Williams
Occupation: Film maker
Current Release: Dead Rider Trio Featuring Mr. Paul Williams on Drag City
Recommendations: The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck / Sister Obliqua, Tim Harries, Paul Williams & friends
If you enjoyed this interview with Paul Williams, check out his website www.burning-bridges.com for more information about his film, music and art projects.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I came to actually making music very late… I was 24 and living in Boston, Ma, on couch tour and bumming around the various art scenes in that town for a few years. I then bought a guitar from the profits of some shady deals and began playing Neil Young covers really badly, and then silly joke songs about sex and drugs I’d sing at parties which helped me make a series of very nice connections with some very bad girls.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Still in Boston I stole a copy of a book called The Banquet Years by Roger Shuttuck and this helped me immensely towards my finding of a direction and for a voice. It was learning about the life and work of these four people - Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, and Guillaume Apollinaire - that inspired me to try and live like all four of them. Like an artist not tethered to anything but an outpost. Which has not been easy, and with only certain successes along the way. I then moved out of the USA back to the UK, which had to happen pretty rapidly as I was being chased by small fry members of the South Boston mob and some interns in the FBI for that deal which purchased me that guitar. I think I was a test case of sorts and for what I don’t really know, thankfully. Hair-raising though!
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Not being very talented, I guess. It has always been the case and remains to be the case to this very day. This challenges every aspect of an art and music life!
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I have never had a studio and only now have an old harmonica in C.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The banality that comes with technology has always meant I keep it at an arms distance… I mean, I use the internet and have a computer at the centre of my work and productivity as a filmmaker (which I am now) but I am much more interested in the primitive and the homemade. Other people I work with do the technology. But in saying that… I really love books. I do also love the idea of the post human condition though. It’s a term bandied about so often these days. The idea which is proposing we are all transitioning towards being a new kind of beast, and one that may be wired and connected in a new way, hopefully becoming a less arrogant creature! I hope it’s aimed to one future that may use its tools to rejoin a nature we have over joyed in kicking in the face.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I’m a writer of words for seemingly difficult art music projects and I produce documentary films about art, music, artists and musicians. I write, research, watch, listen and I organise. Feeling where you are at any one time and the subsequent relationship with getting yourself royally and swiftly kicked in the pants by greatness is what I require to work well. The tools are the experience of surprise… among other things!
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
My projects made with my dearest friend of all, Tim Harries - Sister Rotunda & Sister Obliqua - which are the projects Todd enjoys very much and made him interested in duping me in to making this record - are the result of many years talk and a few years of recording and having a lot of fun with disrupting any previous clue we may have had with what it is and why we are doing it. My preferred way of engaging with collaborators is with red wine and hash & tobacco cocktail cigarettes. And there’s a thing! I actually really was duped and fooled in to making this record… and had no idea when I visited Chicago and Todd asked me to deliver my drivel in to the microphone that it would become a publicly available record. I’m not sure he did really have this in mind either though… so he may be innocent. But he probably isn’t. Commercially available product is the very last thing I’m interested in for my engagement in musical enterprise. It was great fun though. That was a fantastic trip to Chicago in June 2016. I do love Todd and those days we had together on the road with US Maple changed my life. It all became easier after surviving it! And it has to be said that I can’t thank Drag City enough for being so completely bonkers as to put this album out in to the world. Here’s hoping it doesn’t break them.