Listen to the live interviewEpisode #447 Behind The Music with Jacqueline Jax http://tobtr.com/9894775
GETTING TO KNOW THOMAS WILLIAMS
by Jacqueline Jax host of A.V.A Live Radio
I’m optimistic about the fact that there are some glittering beacons still making and pushing new, interesting music. But on the whole, I don’t see the industry as filling that role anymore. The art of music has given way to the commerce of music. It’s hard to make music which is important, which actually speaks to people and challenges people’s perceptions, when the whole industry seems geared towards making the cheapest, catchiest and hence, most derivative and formulaic music possible to sell product.
And it used to be that artists could scrimp some savings in sales and radio play, and invest that in their work. Now of course, with the advent of Pandora and Spotify, as soon as you write music, you have to give it away, practically for free, otherwise you get even more drowned out by the sheer numbers of everyone else who is. It’s a larger scale equivalent of that old chestnut of being asked to play a gig for free for “exposure”.
The upside to that is when you find some kindred spirit who believes in what you do and wants to do their job well to help you. And of course, the real reward for making music is the work itself. That, and the connection you make with listeners.
The three biggest influences on my life, without question, are cosmologist Carl Sagan, physicist Richard Feynman and musician Roger Waters. All because they’ve changed my perception of what’s important. They continue to teach me the fun of becoming a better person, of connecting with people honestly, of genuinely trying to learn why people think what they think, and of improving other people’s lives.
It’s really all about empathy and humanitarianism and doing what we can for each other. In a world run by greed, and manipulation, where it’s so easy to be fed lies, it’s so important to keep an open mind and to reach out to people. I make myself remember that every day.
This one’s quite a straightforward song, for me. I usually write in metaphor, but this is a plain story. It’s an account, fictional of course, of one girl’s personal journey through the music industry. She gets to where she wants to go, (she becomes successful, that is – I don’t think fame is a measurement of success, more a by-product of it), and she finds that by riding an image to the top, she has pigeonholed herself, and as she struggles to deal with the invasion of privacy that comes with her position, she realises she has to either conform to the desires of the market, and continue as a parody of her own artistic vision, or she can stick with what she wants for herself, and risk losing it all, which she does.
Like a lot of my favorite songs and albums, the ending is ambiguous. The takeaway is either that she lost everything, and goes back to living a normal life as a failure, or that she succeeded in staying true to herself, and that’s the important thing. Regardless of whether the gamble works out for her, because I’m a generally cynical person, the summation is in that final line: “Not everybody wins a prize, but everybody pays to play the game.”
In other words, you’ve got to put yourself out there to be appreciated, not just as an artist, but as a human being in general, and it’s always a risk. But it’s one you have to take.
I recorded a demo of me playing all the parts, and then when I could afford to go into the studio, I rerecorded everything myself again, and got a friend of mine Wade Francis to record the drums, because I don’t own a kit! I remember the format of the song, basically just a list, is something I learned from Roger Waters, and I suspect that, since this one is told as a complete fictional account, rather than a polemic, I was probably listening to Mark Knopfler at the time as well.
I try to be idiosyncratic to the best of my ability, because I get bored too easily by music which is too derivative or which rests on being catchy instead of meaningful. I am primarily interested in art, music included, as a way of relating to the artist, and the whole process mirrors all personal interaction. I tend to like art which is led by one creative force, because retaining the clarity of one person’s vision paints a clear picture of who they are, and I like that, it’s like getting someone’s life story and motivation in minutes if they do it properly. I just saw Logan as I write this, and that’s a perfect example.
I hope if you listen to my music, you could expect to hear some interesting sounds and arrangements, but I think its music for people who care about a connection to the art on more than a superficial level. I have a very strong personal investment in my lyrics, because I think that, as long as we can’t trust governments and salesmen to breed empathy between us, it’s up to the artists to do that job.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is always talking about “raising consciousness”, in other words, educating ourselves as a public, so that we aren’t so easily taken for a ride by those in power, that’s a very important part of the role of music as I see it.
If I could have (or could have had) five minutes…
with any one of them. I’d hope I could thank them for making me a better person, and for using their status and influence to improve the lives of others. That’s a very important quality which is sorely lacking in the world, in my opinion.
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