Mutual Frustration: The January 20th(???) White Williams show

Justifiably bitter. Those two words sum up Sunday’s White Williams show at the Triple Rock Social Club. Or was it Monday’s White Williams Show at the Triple Rock? Ah, therein lies the problem. Due to botched advertising by the venue, the general Minneapolis public was largely unaware that White Williams was in town on the Sabbath. As a result, Sunday’s show drew a painfully sparse audience. This snafu resulted in an interesting night for both show-goers and the band.

First, let it be known that Joe Williams, the songwriter/composer/engineer/sole entity behind White Williams, is not an ass. I had the chance to chat with him for 20 minutes prior to the show, and we discussed a litany of topics ranging from Big Boi of Outkast to chemical warfare. If Joe seemed irritated throughout the course of the show – and he did – those feelings are wholly understandable given the circumstances. But the thirty or so people that did make it to the Triple Rock enjoyed a stellar, albeit brief, show.

Hailing from Cleveland, a town notorious for rock, Joe Williams began drumming in hardcore bands at the awkward age of fifteen. Williams then became enamored with the glitzy world of synths, samplers and drum machines. After hastily assembling a band, Joe found himself performing his newly crafted electro-pop in front of relatively massive crowds during an opening stint for the sneakily popular Girl Talk. If Prince had a vasectomy that left him less hormonal, began collaborating with a non-folky Beck and had a firmer appreciation for Kraftwerk, you’d get a general idea of the White Williams sound.

The following is parts of a dark and noisy exchange Joe and I had minutes before his set:

MD: So, how’ve the shows been so far?

JW: The shows have been great. Yeah, great turnouts

MD: Is there a literal meaning behind your song “New Violence”?

JW: The lyrical themes of that song are meant to be interpreted by the listener. I’ve gotten all kinds of things like chemical warfare Ö sexual connotations. The more varied the interpretations the better. It’s a symbol for many things. You can harm people with information, harm them by spying on them, or harm them by hurting them

MD: You were in noise-rock bands growing up?

JW: Yeah I was the drummer for a hardcore band in 1999 – I was fifteen at the time. It was heavy; we played songs fast and quick.

MD: How’d you make the transition into electronic music?

JW: By the time that (the earlier band) was starting to split up I was getting more and more into effects, samplers and electronic music. I think it has less to do with an impact on my music than the time period between that band splitting up and now. I witnessed a lot of new music and cool people and that was impactful. My tastes changed. That was eight years ago, I was into music like that back then (noise-rock), and I still am in some ways.”

MD: What kinds of music are you into these days?

JW: I’m into all kinds of music. I like rap music on the radio. I like a lot of 80’s German; stuff that kinda turned into industrial music. I like old music and new music. I like the new Panda Bear record a lot.

MD: The cover of the record depicts transsexual nightlife celebrity Sofia Lamar. Can you explain the cover?

JW: My friend and I heard this story about a girl crying and smoking weed, so we tried to do this concept thing featuring that. By the end it changed so much it had little to do with that. The art kept changing. Sofia Lamar is a striking individual so we thought that’d be cool.

MD: How did last fall’s Girl Talk tour go?

JW: We went on tours together years ago. We’d make electronic music together when we were eighteen in Cleveland. The early tours no one showed up. Greg is way popular now, selling out two/three thousand person venues. I didn’t even have a band three weeks before the (most recent) tour. I basically went from my bedroom to opening for these huge audiences. It was huge and abrupt.

MD: Would you please tell me the story behind the photo I saw of you with Outkast’s Big Boi?

JW: I met him on the (Girl Talk) tour. He was in the D.J. video booth with my friend Andrea and I. We were like, “Let’s get Big Boi to do the visuals!” It’s really simple to do; it’s just pressing buttons on a laptop to cue up different scenes. So we got him over there and he did. It was surreal.

MD: Looking forward to any new records in ’08?

JW: The new Girl Talk record.

MD: Can you tell me what mash-ups he’s doing for the new record?

JW: He’s supposed to do a remix for us. He’s been doing a lot of No Limit stuff, like Silk tha Shocker. I think there’s an Of Montreal one.

MD: This might be a little out of your realm, but do you know if Greg (Girl Talk) has an honest respect for the artists he mashes up or is it more of an openly ironic thing?

JW: I don’t think he thinks about either of those notions. If he did, he’d be too self conscious. He just wants to experience mixing through different forms.

MD: How did the cover of “I Want Candy” come about?

JW: I just did it for fun. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the record; but the label liked it. The experience of doing it, that’s why I did it.

MD: Are interviews starting to get draining at this point?

JW: There’s more important criticism than journalism. I think journalism can be pretty lazy. It’s not the questions or the act of having an interview, it’s the way things are changed and manipulated. That’s the thing that I don’t like; it’s not so much the frequency of the questions.

MD: Thank you very much for doing this and have a great show.

JW: Great to meet you. No problem. Thank you.

As for the show itself, White Williams was in fine form. The two gentlemen playing guitar with Joe had pitch-perfect tones and were effortlessly inseam with Joe’s electronics. Meanwhile, Joe was at the helm of his laptop and a synth where he conducted the music with liquid ease. His vocals are the icing on the White Williams cake. It’s almost as though his airy yet emotive voice is an extension of the electronic orchestra he’s singing in time with.

While the quality of the performance was commendable, the band’s irritation with the turnout was evident. Out of approximately thirty attendees (which left the venue depressingly bare), upwards of five danced. The sixty or so hands in the building did their best to clap, but the result was underwhelming. So when Joe chose the bitter and sarcastic “Thank you all for coming out on a Ö weeknight” as nine of the few words he spoke the entire evening, no one could really blame him.

Thirty minutes later Joe muttered, “This will be our last song” and three minutes after that the evening came to a close. Musically, the show was a success that demonstrated the considerable talent of White Williams. But White Williams didn’t get the audience size they deserved, and the audience didn’t get the lengthier show they deserved. Justifiable bitterness all around.