If last year (and the year previous) is anything to go by, the tail end of January will be the real start to the year, in music. 2018 really kicked into gear when the hangover of the new year subsided, and this year Holy Roar have something a little bit special to ease you into the dawn of spring. Look back at any of our previous Holy Roar love letters and you’ll see grim, grit, and grind; but not today. The debut EP from A.A.Williams is about as far from sludge or noise as one can physically get, but this chilling, blissful and, in parts, gothic ‘Americana’ release more than earns a place in the revered chapters of this feature. Read on.
Admittedly, I had to ask some of the more musical minds at Heavy Blog for other artists that belong somewhere near the serene smokiness of A.A.Williams (thanks Nick), so if you’re the type that needs strong-armed into a feature, think of Chelsea Wolfe and Windhand‘s adjacent projects. Listening further to them I can see why those comparisons are appropriate, but there’s something more complete about these four tracks, in my wizened, morose eyes.
While strings, guitars, bass, and drums provide the lavish backdrop, often entering into an expansive, often cinematic territory, you’ll be bowled over by the power and emotion behind this young, incredibly talented artists voice. Powerful in even the softest moments of “Cold” and hair-raising with intensity in the crashing closing passage of “Control”, I’ve hit a wall in trying to describe how the words and sounds make me feel. Nominally, I like screeching and wretching but there’s something totally arresting in this music and it’s knocked me for six. If you survive on blast beats and HM-2 tones, it would do you a great service to sit and listen to this sombre slice of bare, exposed soul.
My ramblings aside, A.A.Williams was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine. Letting us, the patient observers, into the processes behind the music and being one of the more “gentle” members of the rowdy Holy Roar roster. The EP will see the cold light of day on January 25th, available through the most powerful Holy Roar themselves.
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Structurally, your music feels very vast and almost cinematic, from the patient build up in “Control” to the slow-burn serenity of “Belong” – but your words and the textures you create with your voice feel incredibly personal. We, as listeners, don’t know exactly what your songs are written about but that doesn’t matter because the music carries it’s own emotional heft, so to speak. How does one build on top of words that clearly come from the heart without overpowering them?
All of my songs have humble beginnings, starting life with a guitar and a notebook. The text emerges as I form the melodies – typically individual words fall into place to fit rhythms, and a lot of thought goes into suiting the right syllables to particular melodic content (matching vowel sounds with longer parts of a melody for example). The result of this is that the text is physically fairly easy to sing, which in turn facilitates singing it powerfully at times.
In terms of building up instrumentation, it’s a slow and methodical process to get the component parts out of my brain and into a song. Beginning with a recorded ‘map’ of the song (usually just guide vocal and guitar/piano) I’ll begin to add layers – generally bass and percussion first, then backing vocals and strings with electric guitars last. It’s incredibly important for me that there is space for the text to breathe and for instrumental parts to shine through – adding them step by step means that I can give each one the attention it needs. Of course I’ll go back to reassess things later on to amend or remove the odd thing, but generally speaking this layering process seems to be the simplest yet most systematic way I’ve found to write.
The Holy Roar roster (family) is hands down one of the most exciting talent pools on the planet, from crusty noise and atmospheric extreme metal to the lighter tones and sounds on your EP. When the time to make a decision came, how did you feel knowing your name would soon be printed next to some of the most prestigious underground talents in music?
I’m so excited to have signed with Holy Roar – I’ve been enjoying their artists’ work for years and it’s a real honour to share a roster with them. Alex, Justine and the team have had such faith in these songs and have been so supportive, they’ve put in so much work to help this EP get out into the world, and to be included amongst their pool of artists and to be able to work alongside them has reaffirmed my faith in independent music.
Even though my music is ‘softer’ than a lot of Holy Roar’s back catalogue I certainly see similarities with many of their artists. I think there are a lot of ways in which music can be heavy – I think a lot of it is about speed, subject matter, harmonic choices and delivery. Slow music can have some serious weight to it if there’s enough space in there.