The making of Marlon Williams

It’s tempting to think of artists and the work they produce throughout their careers as a journey towards self-realisation.

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Ian Laidlaw

With each passing album, a songwriter moves further into focus. As their skills sharpen and ambition grows, their relationship with their audience grows deeper too. But while this much is true, there is no end game for great musicians. No final destination for artistic growth. Creativity isn’t a journey that reaches an end – it’s a continuum. A continuum in which the only certainty is change. For Marlon Williams, change is the defining feature of his brilliant new album, Make Way for Love.

“It's important never to feel like you've arrived at your personality,” says Williams. “It's like calculus – you're always moving toward zero. You never get there, but there's a practical push towards this ideal that's constantly in a state of becoming. I think that's the only practical way of surviving as an artist. It's dangerous to get stuck on absolutes, because you’ve got to shift constantly – and that's okay.” 

Williams caught the world’s attention with an early mastery of golden-era country music, exemplified by his critically-acclaimed debut album. Make Way for Love, the second major installment in the Marlon Williams story, offers something more sonically expansive and exploratory – brimming with deeper layers that reveal themselves further upon each listen.  

While his roots are still planted in a lineage of songwriters including Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, his new album brings these influences into something distinctly his own. It’s a record illuminated with cinematic strings, reverb-soaked drama, and unexpected – yet carefully considered – flourishes.

“I think the new album undoes the work of the first album,” says Williams. “It flies in the face of everything I clung to on the first album. That separation and that distance from the subject matter is completely dissolved in this album. This one's really personal. It’s full of my insecurities, and ego, and desires.”

Williams isn’t wrong. Make Way for Love is the most intimate, personal release he’s crafted yet. Written in light of a breakup with the equally talented Aldous Harding, the album runs rife with evocative streaks of heartache and hope. When the pair trade vocals on the sprawling album highlight, ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’, it’s as devastating as it is beautiful. While the finished product speaks for itself, to craft such revealing music meant Williams first had to reach a level of unreserved honesty within himself.

“This was a really necessary album for me to make,” he says. “There was no me coming to it. It really just laid itself out for me, and I used it to get over — which I've never done before. I've used music to get over things, but I've never written music to get over things. That's a really crucial difference and I'm as interested as anyone in how it will pan out and what comes next after such a thing.”

To achieve Make Way for Love’s all-encompassing sound Williams teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Noah Georgeson, who has previously worked with Joanna Newsom, The Strokes and Devendra Banhart. Along with his backing band The Yarra Benders, Williams and co. jetted off to the States and got to work.

“We recorded it in Stinson Beach, which is in the foothills of the amazing redwood forests of Northern California,” he says. “I've never recorded outside of my hometown before, so there are a lot of unknown qualities at play. A new producer, new surroundings, a new body of work. I had a naive assumption that all producers work the same way, which is of course not true. There were a few growing pains for a while, but we only had ten days to make the album so we had to grow pretty quickly and work it out. It worked out that I was going to have to push things for myself. And then [Georgeson] would homogenise the sounds. He'd make it a unified body of work.”

From here, Williams will take his new album on the road. The prospect offers a fitting release for such a cathartic record.

“Live performances are really rewarding," he says. "There’s something freeing about it. Some artists don't like it, but I really get a kick out of the expressionism of it. We get to rebuild the show completely and I'm especially looking forward to those Australian and New Zealand shows. Hopefully having a fifth member of the band will free me up to be really performative. It's an exciting time.”

In many ways, Make Way for Love encapsulates everything that is magnetic about Marlon Williams. Across 11 brutally honest tracks, it paints a portrait of a songwriter exploring uncharted terrain – both musically and emotionally – all while understanding himself further through the very process of writing it. As Williams will tell you, that's entirely the point.  

“I learned a lot making this album,” he says. “There really is an element of self-discovery and trying to make sense of things. I think I learned how to be alone more. I learned more about my responsibility to others. It's really been a year of learning for me. In terms of what an audience takes away from it, I really don't know yet. I've still got my head stuck up my own arse about it. Hopefully, they'll learn some of the same things that I have.”

Marlon Williams will release Make Way for Love on Friday February 16 via Caroline Australia. He’ll perform with his band The Yarra Benders at The Forum on Saturday May 12, with special guest The Weather Station.