Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders

Earlier in the week, I spoke to New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based crooner Marlon Williams about playing at WOMADelaide, meeting his band, and freaking out about fellow WOMAD performer John Grant.

Are you looking forward to WOMADelaide?

MW: I'm very much looking forward to coming to WOMAD! We've got one over here [in New Zealand] too, which I've also never been to - I've always been jealous of all my friends, musicians and punters alike, who go along to it, so I'll finally get my chance.

MW: And I'm a massive John Grant fan, so being able to see John Grant is just going to be the crème de la crème - he's probably in my top 3 acts to see live, that I haven't seen! I haven't even got a chance to check out the schedule - I saw John Grant and it just pushed everything else out of my mind!

I'm sure the day before, I'll just look at the schedule and freak out that I'm not going to be able to see all the shit that I really want to.

How long have you been performing with the Yarra Benders?

MW: Well - as the Yarra Benders, about a year and a half or so; but I've been with the bass player - we've been playing since I was 13, on and off.

Wow - it's the same group that you've been playing with across all that time?

MW: Yeah - there's been a couple of changes, but it's settled now.

How'd you become involved with those guys in the first place, then?

MW: Well, we joined the school choir together when we were 13, and then started playing Beatles songs together, and eventually started playing together in a band called the Unfaithful Ways, out of high school.

Then there's Gus the drummer, who's from Adelaide, and I only met when I moved to Melbourne about three years ago. He rung me up, and he was working at the pub that I lived above, in Melbourne - so I met him there, and he started playing with me in the house band when I did a residency in that bar.

And then Dave Khan, who's the multi instrumentalist, he plays guitar, mandolin and violin, and sings too. He's a bit of an Auckland one-man institution, musically; and I've known him since I started touring around New Zealand when I was younger, and I've played with him in various things. I finally convinced him to come over and play with me in Australia, and join the touring band.

That's such a long time, to have worked with the same group of people!

MW: Yeah, it's really important, I guess, to have that kind of bond - it creates a special kind of organism that you don't get from just hiring top guns that you've never met before.

When you're singing live, you sing very soulfully, you're very invested - what do you think about when you're singing those songs?

MW: Well, I mean I try to approach each line as though it were brand new. It doesn't always work, but you kinda have to - it has to have a sense of newness with every phrase, when you're singing the same songs. I've worked hard at trying to look at things with fresh eyes, as I'm singing, and try to go along that path of discovery with the audience as well.

You're 25, and I guess that's quite young to be singing about a lot of this really heavy stuff - heartbreak, love and loss. How do you connect with those songs, especially when they're not songs you've written yourself?

MW: Well, it's about storytelling. And I feel like everyone gets a sense of what that stuff means pretty early on, whether they've directly experienced it in an explicit way, or whether they're just witnessed other people go through it.

I feel like people in general aren't given enough credit for their emotional maturity - you've got to remember that a lot of these songs were written by very young people. Hank Williams died before he was 30, and he's seen as the benchmark of the weathered country tradition, so he must have had some inkling of what it all meant pretty early on.

Is there a common thread that ties together your choices?

MW: I'm sure there is - but there isn't consciously, it's all about what it feels to me, or what appeals to me as a songwriter. And that's generally about the darker things, but I always try and temper it with a bit of humour, and mix the light with a bit of darkness too. So it's always a balancing act between the two.

Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders are playing WOMADelaide's Novatech Stage today (Sunday) at 6:15pm, and Stage 2 on Monday at 4pm.

(Or you can always try to find Marlon in the audience of John Grant, Monday 6pm.)