by Silke Hartung

Q & A: Chris William

by Silke Hartung

Q & A: Chris William

With his debut EP ‘Out Of Sight’ due on August 17, Christchurch musician Chris William is a fairly new name, despite having a broad range of musical experience. He’s happy to have his music described as pop music with left field influences and is about to head out on an EP release tour that will see him playing in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. In this time of societal division and ready criticism, the single Out Of Sight has an inspirational origin, as Chris reveals.

Can you tell us a little about your background? How does music fit into your days?

By day, I teach music at schools. It’s a 50/50 split between teaching bass guitar and teaching music production. By night, I play music in bars around Christchurch and occasionally musical theatre gigs and cruise ships.

What were your first steps into music, was there a ‘moment’ when you knew you wanted to take it more seriously?

Music was very much a part of my childhood – my sisters and I all learnt piano from a young age. My passion for music really took off in my last year of high school when I started playing bass in a band. We wrote some songs and entered Rockquest. Through that, I discovered the joy of musical collaboration and bouncing ideas off other musicians. It came full circle a few years later when I was drawn the opposite way: writing my own music and pursuing my own musical vision.

Did you study music at any tertiary institution? 

I studied bass and composition / arranging at ARA Music Arts in Christchurch. There I learnt that music went a whole lot deeper than I realised before. It was great to meet like-minded people who were focused and dedicated to music. That community has been really supportive of me, I still play and write with many people I met there.

Being an indie musician from Christchurch in 2018, what are the main challenges you face? 

I think Christchurch is in an exciting time, we’ve made it through the dark years of demolition, and now things feel more optimistic. And I think Christchurch is an ideal size. You get opportunities to play a wide variety of music, whereas in a larger city you’d have to specialise more and carve out a niche.

I’ve found that being an indie musician requires a lot of work on the non-musical: admin, an avalanche of emails, messages and to-do lists etc., as you can’t afford to pay someone else to do these things for you! I don’t think these skills necessarily go hand in hand with being an artist, but you have to do it.

Your latest single is called Out Of Sight – what it is about?

Here’s what I wrote about the song before I released it: One morning last year, I was woken by two police officers on my doorstep at 6am. My car had been stolen and they had caught the thieves. A couple of months later, I was invited to attend a restorative meeting with one of the culprits at the youth justice facility. I didn’t plan to go, but on the day I changed my mind and drove out there, with no idea of what to expect.

There I met a young man of 16, and gained insight into a life far less privileged than mine. He had experienced tragedy, addiction and had been in and out of custody for much of his life. My stolen car swiftly faded into insignificance as his father, caseworker and a police officer desperately tried to form plans to alter his trajectory – if his offending continued, he would be heading for the Men’s Prison at 17.

This song is for him. I still think of him and wonder where he is now. “Cleansing of the spirit by the waters” is translated from the youth justice facility’s name: Te Puna Wai o Tuhinapo.

It’s the first single of your upcoming EP of the same name – who did you work with and where did you record it? 

I recorded most of it myself, with the help of my friend Ben Delany, and I had Shannon Fowler (Tom Lark) mix it. Originally I planned to mix it myself, but the process took me a lot longer than I expected, so it was great to send the songs to someone with a fresh set of ears. Plus he got things sounding much better than I could have myself!

What were your aesthetic goals with the production?

I had a pretty clear idea of the overall sound of this EP. I wanted it to be centred around acoustic piano, drum machine, bass guitar and layered vocals. These limitations helped move things along in the end. As my first solo project, I learnt a lot by trial and error and developed it slowly and sometimes painfully. I think my next collection of songs will come together easier, as this time, I really had no idea how to get it all done.

Who do you think might enjoy and embrace your music?

My drummer recently described my music as pop music with left field influences, and I think that sums it up. I’m trying to get my thoughts out in a way that people can connect with in a pop song format, but I’m into all kinds of music and I think my music may reflect that. I spent lots of time listening to jazz, but right now I’m more interested in electronic, R&B and pop music; anything that makes me feel something, really. I hope that my music conveys feeling to listeners and takes them on a journey.