Moving out …

Pub date September 26, 2007
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Imagine this: You’re enrolled in an educational program that requires you to move around from city to city, taking short-term jobs related to your field. Within a span of two years, you bump around between New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, subletting rooms and taking on bizarro living arrangements, never staying in one place long enough ever to feel settled in. Due to these circumstances, you rarely have a moment’s peace. Amid all the bustling, your number-one goal remains the same: record an entire album by yourself at home — wherever that may be. And while you’re at it, how about making sure it sounds like a fully realized studio creation?

Impossible, you say? Not so, says Joe Williams, the twentysomething visionary behind the White Williams moniker. The ’70s- and ’80s-flavored one-man band recorded the entirety of the forthcoming debut Smoke — out Nov. 6 on Tigerbeat6 — in exactly those conditions, digitally laying down tracks whenever he had an empty apartment. "Because of the situation, I’d say probably 80 percent of the material was done quite quickly and decisively," Williams explains over the phone from a New York City coffeehouse. "It had to be. The remaining 20 percent was where I had a chance to be more objective, to look at what I’d done."

A heap of credit should be given to that 20 percent. Williams’s aim was to deliver a studio-as-instrument aesthetic — similar to the spirit of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and the early Iggy Pop solo albums — and Smoke is a rousing success, especially given the absence of a traditional recording studio. Many of the vocals and guitars have been repitched or drastically edited, and the odd whirs and blips of synths bring to mind a modern take on his heroes’ fertile mid- to late-’70s period. If this sounds like damaged art pop to you, you’re right. "Danger" wobbles with a mind-altering tang of 3 a.m. funk, while "Fleetwood Crack" is the less-troubled cousin to Pop’s "Nightclubbing," opting for similar sparse atmospherics but sparkled with warmer keyboards and the faintest hint of rockabilly guitar. Then there’s my favorite, "In the Club," which answers the question "What would have happened if T.Rex had teamed up with Brian Eno?" Laptop swagger rock, that’s what.

In the end, the limitations of such an itinerant lifestyle proved to be a blessing in disguise. "I discovered that I really enjoy having to solve things entirely by myself … just my mind and the computer," Williams confesses. "And despite the bit-by-bit nature of recording, I’d say it was pretty smooth sailing from start to finish."


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