A star has truly been born right in front of our very own eyes, and this time we’re not talking about Ally Maine… New Zealand’s very own Marlon Williams has been captivating audiences worldwide with his distinctive angelic tunes and charmingly awkward demeanour for some time now. Hailing from Lyttelton in Christchurch, he’s Kāi Tahu through his mother’s side and Ngāi Tai through his father’s. It was harmonizing in the car with his mum as a kid where his passion for singing first began.
“Me and mum spent a lot of time in the car trying to nail harmonies before we got to the hui and had to do it for real. We’d listen to recordings of the waiata that we’d have to sing.”
Fast forward two decades later and he’s won Album of the Year, Best Solo Artist and Best Video at the New Zealand Music Awards, taken home the APRA Silver Scroll, performed on multiple late-night American TV shows, been on headlining tours around the globe and made a cameo in the Hollywood blockbuster film “A Star Is Born”.
Marlon Williams had no idea what he was about to discover at the delicate age of 10 when he decided to join his school choir simply to skip science class. “I’m very lazy and I found music was the language I understood best… I wasn’t a very articulate child, so it was a way of me having simple communication. And I got out of class.” It was there where he became drawn to writing his own music and knew he would be able to better express his personal stories with a guitar in hand. After teaching himself how to play and forming a band with close friends in high school called “The Unfaithful Ways” it wasn’t long before they garnered national attention. Everything that Williams touched turned to gold – his next move saw him partner up as a duo for three albums with Kiwi country singer Delaney Davidson in 2013.
It was then time to try things on his own and in April of 2015, Williams released his debut self-titled solo album to critical acclaim. Rolling Stone Australia called it “captivating” whilst Metro Magazine titled it a “revelation”. His heavenly voice is often compared to the likes of Roy Orbison or Elvis, telling tales of personal heartache through tender croons and hauntingly beautiful choruses. His follow up album “Make Way For Love” released early last year is a record that elegantly articulates a fractured lovesick romance. A press release describes it, “like the best breakup records, “Make Way For Love” doesn’t shy away from heartbreak, but rather stares it in the face, and mines beauty from it.”
It is evident that he has endured moments of devastation and loneliness, showcasing them in a raw vulnerability that others can relate to. The album derives its inspiration from the split of his long-term girlfriend and fellow Kiwi musician Aldous Harding, with all 15 songs being written in less than a month – “That’s part of the awful nature of what you do as a songwriter, I guess, personal pain becomes a kind of fuel.” The lead single “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore” is a duet with Harding who agreed to be on the song despite them going their separate ways, their voices mesh together in a sonic blend of sombre pining. Williams knew the song would not work without Harding – “I know how it looks but it’s such a natural and important part of our relationship anyway, it didn’t feel strange to use music as a way of understanding.” The song quickly became one of those career-defining moments for Williams and went on to win the prestigious APRA Silver Scroll award for songwriting.
A typical day in the life of Marlon Williams now ranges from being casually called up by Bradley Cooper, opening for Bruce Springsteen, performing a duet of his own song with tour-mate Florence Welch or singing on stage with Willie Nelson, Matthew McConaughey and Marcus from Mumford and Sons (yes, all at one time).
“Things like that, you just think, what a crazy day.”
Marlon spent the first month of this year touring Australia with the legendary Florence + the Machine. In Sydney, frontwoman and queen of our hearts, Florence Welch, called Williams up to play an intimate duet of his song ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’ – Florence had nothing but love for Marlon during her introduction, “I would now like to welcome a very special guest to the stage. We’ve had the pleasure of touring with him and his amazing band this whole tour and we love them.” Will never be able to get over missing seeing this in the flesh but at least we can watch the clip below on repeat.
Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore. Performing with @MarlonWMusic, live at Sydney The Domain. Thank you to everyone who’s joined us at High As Hope Australia and New Zealand shows ♥️ https://t.co/sYxcXRZAR2
— florence welch (@flo_tweet) January 30, 2019
As for his cameo in “A Star Is Born”, well, Bradley Cooper himself picked him for the role after hearing his song “Dark Child” on the radio whilst driving along California’s Pacific Coast Highway. “Then, in really old-school fashion, he [Cooper] came along to hear me play live at The Troubadour in LA, and we thankfully played a really good show that night.” Williams show was so incredible that Cooper called him up straight away to offer him the role. Marlon’s country singing character was appropriately named after himself – “Yeah! How weird is that? I think that was Bradley Cooper doing me a little favour, really, by helping get my name out there. That was really good of him.” As if one couldn’t love Bradley Cooper any more.
There’s no better time for Marlon Williams homecoming, and there’s no doubt that the New Zealand audiences will show him the appreciation that he deserves. Don’t miss out on seeing him this summer. These one-of-a-kind shows are definitely going to sell out!
Marlon Williams – The Tūrangawaewae Tour
Williams is supported by his own band, the Yarra Benders, with support from Don McGlashan and band + Emily Fairlight.
For one very special show in Auckland only, Marlon will play alongside the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra at the gorgeous Villa Maria Winery.
Listen to Marlon’s latest (surprise) release – Live At Auckland Town Hall