A Place in the Sun is the debut solo release from veteran singer/songwriter Rob Williams. Williams, who fronted the ’90’s alt-rock band Joe Buck, Jr., has re-emerged as a solo artist after several years of flying under the radar. The new release showcases Williams’ talent for delivering a rocking brand of lyric poetry that celebrates the mundane beauty and trials of life. Incorporating stylistic qualities ranging from the swinging grit of the Old 97’s to the garage-tinged edge of the Replacements, A Place in the Sun remains true to the personal indie sound Williams has cultivated throughout his lengthy career. We asked Rob a few questions about his music career thus far, and what he has in plan for the future. Enjoy!
Entertwine: Tell us a little bit about your start in music, and what you’re all about!
Rob Williams: I picked up the guitar back in high school and immediately starting putting a band together with a few friends. None of us could really play anything. We were just learning our instruments and I’m quite sure that we were terrible. From the start though we began writing our own songs and trying to develop our own sound. I think that experience paved the way for me to be a fan of songs more than I am a fan of musicianship. I’m a guitar player because it helps me write and play songs, not because I’m a huge fan of guitar playing. Even after all of these years, I’d much rather hear a mediocre performer perform his or her great song than hear a great performer perform his or her mediocre song. I know a lot of people who disagree with me about this. I just find that simplicity is usually my preference when it comes to musicianship.
ET: You fronted a rock band that went by the name of Joe Buck Jr. in the 90’s. What made you decide to branch out and pursue a solo career?
RW: Switching from playing with a band to being a solo performer was a change that really came out of necessity. Joe Buck, Jr. had a nice little run in the 90s and then a few more years from around 2007-2012. The older people get, though, the more responsibilities they have to family and careers outside of music, and the harder it is to make playing music a priority. It’s not a flaw or fault it’s just the way it tends to be. So, I decided that the best and most economical way to proceed was to play solo. It was challenging at first because going it alone requires a whole different approach to performing. You’re on your own up there and you really have to be on your game the whole time. No blaming the drummer when something goes wrong on stage! I’m enjoying this new challenge and find myself getting better as a performer.
ET: Who are some of your influences when writing (and performing), and why?
RW: Friends tell me that they hear The Old 97’s and The Replacements in my songs. I’ll take that. I remember hearing “Waitress in the Sky” at a party way-back-when and thinking “Damn, I wish I’d written that!” I’m also a big fan of Rhett Miller’s solo work. I’ve learned a lot about performance from watching him play. I used to think that solo acoustic performance was characterized by 90 minutes of self-indulgent, introspective drivel from someone perched on a stool quietly strumming an acoustic guitar. Seeing Rhett play live has taught me that solo acoustic shows can be rock shows. Thanks for that, Rhett!
ET: Tell us about your debut solo release, “A Place In The Sun.” How does this work characterize you as a solo artist? What was the most challenging aspect about the album?
RW: I’ve made a lot of records with bands over the years, and I wanted this one to be a little different. I knew that I didn’t want it to be a solo record in the purest sense because when I wrote the songs on acoustic guitar I could hear the potential for additional instrumentation. So, going into the project, I sought out some really strong players to fill in. John Morand, who produced the record, joked that all the additional musicians were so good that they made me the worst performer on my record. I think he was right! Even so, I wanted the record to highlight the songs and not the playing. To accomplish that, I typically didn’t share the songs with the other musicians until we went in to record. It was a risk because studio time is expensive and you’d normally want everyone to know their parts really well so that you don’t waste time and money. But without being able to prepare much ahead of time, everyone kept their parts really simple, which was I what I wanted. No over-thinking anything, and I believe it worked really well. It’s a record with a lot of good performances on it, but none that detract attention from the songs themselves.
ET: What are your plans for 2014? Tours, releases, etc?
RW: I’ve been doing some short regional touring in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic this year. I’m planning to continue that into the summer and fall. I’m not able to get away for weeks at a time, so I’m building up a circuit of places to play where I can go out on the road for four or five days at a time.
The first band I ever played in was with a group of guys from high school. The drummer for that band was Steve West, who ended up being the drummer for Pavement. Steve came to one of my shows recently and invited me up to his place to do some recording later this year. I’ve been working on new material for that. Maybe an EP down the road? Don’t know.