I can’t tell you how unsurprised I was to learn that Church Williams was a musician. Sharp-looking guy, snappy dresser, coolest spectacles I’d seen in some time. Of course he’s a musician. The only thing that could have made me more certain was if he’d been an utter slob.
Well, no. I’m listening to his album Touch the Sun as I type this, preparing to send you on to the interview, and realizing that “slob” is not an option for Church.
My recommendation? Pop that link open and take a listen while you check out this interview.
Theric: Give us some background on yourself and your relationship with music.
Church: Well, my full name is Eric Church Williams. Growing up, friends called me “Church” quite a bit. When I decided to start making music as a solo artist, I just thought I’d use my old nick name. I was born and raised in Cedar City Ut. I’m the runt of four kids. My parents made me start taking piano lessons when I was twelve. Around that same time, my oldest brother had just gotten a bunch of CDs from a music store that was going out of business. He ended up giving me Depeche Mode Violator because I was always wanting to listen to it. I really loved that album. I loved the sounds and always wondered how they were made. Once I got into high school I started playing guitar and writing my own music. After high school I eventually started to get more into sound design, sequencing and programming music. My music now is a culmination of all the musical styles that I’ve written in over the years.
Theric: When I first listened to the songs you have up on your website, the first thing you reminded me of was Owl City. But it’s helpful, I think, not just to know your contemporaries, but also your influences. Now that you’ve said it, I can see the Depeche Mode influence. What other music helped make you into your 2011 self?
Church: Depeche Mode and Linkin Park are probably my favorite bands ever, but I also listened to a lot of 80s music growing up, like Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. Later on In high school, I really started to get into Trance and EDM. In my small town, there wasn’t much access to this type of music so Napster helped quite a bit! My brothers and I all started downloading stuff by European artists that we’d never even heard of before; artists like Armin Van Burren, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk and what not. Obviously, these artists are huge now. Just a few years back, though, they didn’t really seem to be on the radar in Utah. Nowadays EDM is so big that a good majority of people seem to know what’s going on in that scene. I used to get made fun of for listening to this kind of stuff. But, now it almost seems like the mainstream. It’s kinda weird.
Theric: Okay. Tangent time. When I was in Provo there was a guy who occasionally taught elders quorum and who used Linkin Park as his go-to example of all that was wrong with the world. Shortly after we moved to California I heard an interview with a couple members of the band (I thought on NPR but I can’t find it in their archives). One thing they talked about was the lack of “bad language” in their music and taking serious their Responsibility to Be a Good Example for the Kids and that those kids deserved solid, popular music that was clean in its language. Then their new album dropped and included the single “Bleed It Out” which, though hardly shocking, did have a couple f-bombs. I was not planning on asking you any Art-&-Morality questions in this interview, but Linkin Park almost never comes up in my everyday conversations so this is my big chance. As a fan (and as someone coming out of a culture where clean is often [rightly or wrongly] lauded for it’s own sake), can you explain this seeming switch to me? And what do you see as the takeaway?
Church: In Southern Utah, clean lyrics were a huge defining characteristic of Linkin Park. I believe it contributed to their appeal in that area. I still love what they do even though it has evolved a lot. I would like them not to use profanity. Mainly because it fits my image of them, and because profanity usually seems distracting in music. I think Minutes to Midnight was much more of a Rock album, and dealt with more Rock n Roll concepts, like current issues and political unrest. I think their new direction is much more “artsy.” I think that their explicit lyrics have made their image a bit more edgy and rough. I would say the takeaway is that they have become less mainstream (as much as a band like Linkin Park can do!), and they have more of a niche-style that may offend some listeners. I still consider them to be the best current band out there. But I will admit, I prefer their original image and message.
Theric: What sort of image are you working on cultivating for yourself?
Church: This will sound lame, but, the image I’m really going for is me. But a more accented version of myself, I guess. I write music and present it in a way that I think I would personally like, while still attempting to be commercially viable. Unfortunately, both of those requirements aren’t always met with every song I write! I like to write about subjects that reflect my interests. I love the science fiction genre. I love spirituality and introspective themes. I really try hard to make my music sound smart and meaningful. I’d like to represent an image of someone who makes electronic music but with emphasis on the craft of musicianship and songwriting. I love a lot of electronic music out there, but, I feel that a lot of it relies too much on production value, like interesting new sounds and glitchy tricks. I love all that stuff, but I think that good arranging, songwriting and performing is really what makes music timeless. I strive to capture that philosophy.
Theric: This is a question I think about as someone making art myself. Balancing personal passion, craft, commerciality, the “scene,” and spirituality — not always easy. What’s your best-case-scenario career trajectory?
Church: Well, I do think it would be cool to be a solo artist. What that means (and will mean) in the current music landscape is difficult to define. Selling music and records to listeners seems more like icing on the cake for an artist now — the cake being live performances, licensing and partnership opportunities. I’d also like to write music for other mediums, like film, commercials, games etc. I’m currently working with an IOS developer, producing the sound design and soundtrack for an upcoming game. But yeah, obviously my number one priority in life is to be true to the relationships I have. Creating art will always be a huge thing for me, mainly because I feel that art has potential to re-connect us with the divine. Based on our faith, it seems like re-connecting with the divine is a pretty big deal!
Theric: I agree, I agree. It’s a very D&C 130:19 kind of thing. Speaking of, you’re in school now. Let’s leave the long term goals aside for a second and talk the short term. What are the immediate plans?
Church: Ironically, I’ve actually had that specific scripture on my mind heavily the last few weeks. We’re definitely vibing here! I am taking some classes at a production company in San Francisco called Pyramind. Basically just kind of sharpening my saw in terms of being able to “professionally” deliver audio projects. I’ve been producing music for years, but have largely done it in a vacuum. I’m mainly out here to be around like-minded folks.
My immediate plans are to keep establishing relationships with the music and audio community in this area. I’ve just started writing again too. I took quite a few months off because of work and other things. So yeah, hopefully I can start getting more into creative ways of performing live while I’m up here too.
Theric: It’s not a bad city to look for exposure. Incidentally, this seems like a good place for you to plug your website and whatever else you have to peddle.
Church: San Francisco is cool, for sure. Hopefully these next few months bring some new things to the table.
My website is http://churchwilliams.com/ Obviously, you can find me on Facebook and all that good stuff too. Other than that, just keep your eyes open!
Other people you might see around the Bay (or, proof someone in this post might be cooler than you):