What do you get when a Rastafarian punk rocker and a painter who listens to classical music in the middle of the night decide to have a child?
Apparently, you get Marlon Williams.
That sort of background is truly American—the embodiment of the cultural and ethnic melting pot this nation has always purported to be. And listening to Marlon Williams’ music, you can’t help but be moved by its sheer Americana; its tone, soul, and style are deeply reminiscent of the country and bluegrass music this nation is famous for. So it might be kind of weird to then learn that Williams isn’t American at all.
A native of New Zealand, Williams started singing where a lot of kids do: in the choir. But as his years progressed—and so did his knowledge of harmony and chords—Williams naturally gravitated to music that he felt came out “really naturally, in a folk sense.” Eventually, that drew him to a style commonly associated with American country music.
Williams is all too aware that the common perception of country music—which he says has been “thrown by the wayside in the last few decades”—is that it’s “simple, hillbilly music.” But Marlon’s band mates think he has the ability to change that from the outside in. “There’s obviously a massive stigma around country music,” says bass player Ben Woolley, “and I haven’t seen anyone watch Marlon play country music and go ‘that’s lame’…. It’s all pretty genuine.”
After already playing between 250 and 300 shows on the road in the past few years, Williams and his band mates will be touring across the world for the rest of 2016. They’ve started to enjoy a growth in American popularity thanks to the help of a usual suspect: Public Radio—in particular, Los Angeles’ KCRW station. DJ Chris Douridas, who was first introduced to Williams’ music by a friend, has become a fast fan and avid supporter. “There is nobody doing what he does,” Douridas says.
“The more praise or progress I make,” Williams says, “the more I want to lock myself down and do a bit of work.” But with a touring schedule that won’t be letting up anytime soon, the only chances Williams really gets to take a breath are—oddly enough—on stage. Perhaps one of these days he’ll be able to rest his feet for just a bit, be it here or in New Zealand—knowing that, no matter where he is, he is redefining the essence of American country music.
To hear more from Marlon Williams, be sure to check out the newest episode of Uncharted above, brought to you by Honda.