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Trespassers William - Interview

  by Sarah Mwangi

published: 1 / 12 / 2009

Trespassers William - Interview


Sarah Mwangi speaks to Anna-Lynne Williams and Matt Brown from Seattle-based post rock group, Trespassers William, about their recent EP and first release in three years, 'The Natural Order of Things'

Like the stories that influenced their name, Trespassers William offer escapist, comforting and inspiring ideals. From personal experiences, their stories are written and expressed in prose and melody respectively. Unlike the Winnie the Pooh tales however, Trespassers William are able to explore emotional themes like love and melancholy so earnestly that they find a home in their audiences’ lives. Most importantly though, the musical outfit consisting of Anna-Lynne Williams and Matt Brown and which was formed in Southern California but is now based in Seattle, are hard to imitate; unlike the various forms of Pooh Bear located in toys stores. Trespassers William, who are named after the character of Piglet's grandfather, have now released three albums, 'Anchor' (1999), 'Different Stars'(2002) and 'Having' (2006), and this year put out a new five song EP, 'The Natural Order of Things'. Pennyblackmusic caught up with the duo on their current tour to discusa the themes of ‘The Natural Order Of Things’, their love of music and their future plans for the group. PB: ‘The Natural Order of Things’ came out earlier this year. Was it an easy EP to record and make? ALW: 'The Natural Order of Things' was sort of a rocky road... we were working on it as a four-piece for a long time, redoing some of the songs several times, mixing things in the studio and then again at home. It was intended to be a full album, but we realized that by cutting four of the songs there was a more effective whole product. We shared one of the cut songs, 'Blue', on-line and it was released on a compilation. The other songs are underground. I personally feel attached to the songs that ended up on the EP, and I like the fact that it catalogues the line-up with Nathan Skolrud and Ross Simonini who were at that point in the band. But the band has undergone a lot of changes over the past year and I feel like what we do next is going to be a lot more seamless and painless. PB: Did you have a theme or concept or did the songs just follow each other as you created them? ALW: These songs were written over a fair space of time, and weren't written to be specifically paired together. I actually wrote 'Sparrow' for another project I was working on, but it ended up sounding really good when the rest of the band tried a live arrangement. But we did intend from the beginning to have primary colours in our artwork, and wrote two songs, 'Red' and 'Blue', to be counterparts to each other and to act as interludes during the album. But only 'Red' ended up on the final product, and it is more of a centerpiece than an interlude now. PB: What where your inspirations and influences when creating ‘Natural Order’? ALW: We had just moved to Seattle when I started writing and tracking some of these vocals. 'The Lids' is one of the first things I worked on after we'd finished 'Having'. I don't think there was a specific type of music that I was listening to particularly, or emulating. I was just writing about what was going on with me... and was excited to have my own recording set-up at home for the first time. I tracked some of the vocals with the guitar effects pedals that I use on stage, and did more layering, as I had the luxury of taking my time in my own space. PB: Do you ever think about how a song is going to be played live when recording it? And have you ever thought twice about recording or altering it? MB: I used to think about that, but now, for the most part I feel that a good song will hold up in any context - be it stripped down and acoustic or densely arranged and heavily produced. While I'm recording, I want to make the best document of the song that I can. While I'm performing I want the emotion and feeling of the song to come across as purely as possible. Sometimes that means that the live and recorded version will be very different. Sometimes they are very close. Now with our two person (plus friends) live arrangement we have to be even less married to the recorded version when we perform, as we never know who will be joining us on stage and what they'll have to offer. PB: Do you write/develop the songs individually or together? Who brings what to the table? ALW: More often than not, I write the songs at home, separately from our band rehearsals. I write a lot of songs that I throw away,but the ones I love I would typically bring to the band to see if they all wanted to write parts around it. This is even easier lately, with just Matt and I writing together. I just bring him everything I have and keep trying different things until we are both doing something significant that we both love. We've always had everyone play whatever they are moved to play, to come up with their own parts and change them if they started to get tired of something. It's not until we're recording and mixing that we start shaping the whole sound together. Sometimes someone in the band has a really specific idea, so we try that and see if it works for everyone. PB: What is the most difficult part about making music? MB: It can be difficult to negotiate the music business, for sure. That would probably be my least favourite part. ALW: Playing live used to be the most difficult part for me, because you have so little control over how everything comes across to the audience. Especially being the vocalist and acoustic guitarist,which means everything I play runs through a P.A. which I have no control over, and might have a blown speaker or be placed somewhere inappropriate. But when we play pared-down like we have this past year, with Matt and I able to hear each other so well on stage and truly respond to each other, my attitude toward playing live has completely flipped and I love being on stage. Which means I guess I like everything about making music. PB: And what do you love most about making music; in essence, why do you make music? MB: That's a big question! I make music because I have to. It helps me express the inexpressible and when everything goes right makes me feel a connection to other people and the world in general that I cannot get in any other way. I get close to it when I experience the great art that others make (film, music, art, etc...), but there is nothing compared with the moment of creation when you create something of your own that unlocks those feelings. ALW: Yes, I think the ultimate moment for me is when I'm in the writing process. The melody and the words come together and I know just where the song want to go... and I know I get to play this song for people when it's all finished, and that it will always exist. It's an amazing feeling. PB: Can you see any difference or growth from this EP and your earlier releases? MB: We got really interested in sonic manipulation and using the recording process as an essential tool (starting with 'Having') and I think the EP is a continuation of that spirit. I feel that we've exhausted that a bit and I'm more excited to return the more immediate and direct quality of our earlier recordings. Hopefully the 'experimental' phase of the band will tastefully inform the new recordings too, creating a new sound for us. PB: I find that, as beautiful as your music is, sometimes it can be relegated to background music unless the listener gives it their full attention. Is that a conscious decision? And do you have any thoughts on the idea of being background music or a soundtrack to someone’s life? MB: Not a conscious decision at all, although I can see how it can come off that way at times. There are subtleties in the songs that seem very dynamic to me that clearly require a little more attention to grab. I'm glad that we have many fans that are aware of those subtleties.I would much rather be the soundtrack to someone's life (which suggests a strong emotional connection) than background music. Ultimately you can't tell how people might enjoy what you create and I'm happy that it's out there. PB: I often discover the lyrics to your songs after I’ve listened tothe album. At first listen, it’s usually a case of; it’s not what Anna-Lynne sings but how she sings it that’s captivating. Is that a conscious choice to make the vocals as an instrument with the lyrics as its extended part? ALW: It's not a conscious choice, although we do sometimes keep the vocals at a quieter place in the mix than a pop band would. And I think part of it is that when I write songs, I consider the melody before the words. So some words get fragmented or elongated in ways that might make them hard to decipher; they get all these extra syllables... Someone can read along and find out what I'm saying, butI am more than happy if someone just listens to the sounds and the notes. I like being thought of as an instrument. PB: Are the lyrics drawn from personal experiences or works of fiction? ALW: Almost all of the songs are based on things I've felt or wondered. Often a film or book will remind me of something, and theywork as my muse in that way. But it's always personal. PBL Anna-Lynne, you have had a book published, 'Split Infinitive', a collection of your poems and songs. Do you see another book release in your future? How did you find that experience? ALW: If I put out another book, I hope it's a novel. I feel astrong desire to write a proper novel but I don't plan on tackling that for a few years, at least. With 'Split Infinitive', my original intention was just to have all of my writing in one place so that it wouldn't get lost. But I ended up feeling extremely flattered that anyone would sit down and read things I'd written. Listening to music is something that gives most people a lot of pleasure, but reading is a lot of work. PB: Trespassers William is now a duo. What was the reason for the change and do you think that Trespassers William will have more members in the future? MB: There were a few reasons for the change. Mostly it came down to different issues we've had with various band mates in the past, and realizing that Anna-Lynne and I have been the constants in the history of the band. Though we've had some lovely and talented band mates, we realized that things would go much smoother with just the two of us.We also realized that as a duo we could invite our ridiculously talented friends on stage and in the studio much easier. Having Robert Gomez and band on stage for our last west coast tour and having Richard Knox and the Glissando crew on stage in Europe has been somuch fun that I can't imagine doing it any other way. It makes me very excited for the recording process as well. PB. Both of you have been involved in other projects, Lotte Kestner and Disinterested. Do you see yourselves developing those projects,starting new ones or concentrating solely on Trespassers William? MB: Right now Trespassers William is my focus. I would like to make another Disinterested record, but I see it more as a collaborative experience next time, which means more planning, etc... ALW: With a new album to record and SXSW coming up in a few months, I think this winter is going to be all about Trespassers. I do have a handful of Lotte Kestner songs to record, but that is something I do when I have spare time of my own and doesn't tend to interfere with my other projects. And last year I started a new collaborationcalled Ormonde with Robert Gomez. PB: Is there a full length album in the works? MB: Yes. It's mostly written. It's just a matter of how we're going to go about recording it... PB: Finally, do you have a secret stash of music you’ve created (individually or as a group) that you’ll never publically release,whether good or bad? If so, why wouldn’t you release it? Or if you could, would you release everything you create? MB: Oh sure. If I haven't released it, it's because it's bad! The world is better for it, trust me. ALW: I've been pretty thorough about releasing covers and b-sides in the past year. And I've even posted a bunch of home made videos on YouTube. I don't have very many secrets. PB: Thank you.

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Trespassers William - Interview

Trespassers William - Interview

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