As a musician, Roy Williams comes in many forms. There’s the gypsy jazz and western swing guitarist of Roy Williams and the Human Hands, a group of string players from another place and …
As a musician, Roy Williams comes in many forms. There’s the gypsy jazz and western swing guitarist of Roy Williams and the Human Hands, a group of string players from another place and time—specifically, the year 1931 in a dark, smoke-filled Paris bar where Ernest Hemmingway shares a drink with Pablo Picasso.
In another dimension of the same universe exists “Brother Roy,” a rock n’ roll bard who sits at a piano, cranking out country-fried licks as he blends fiction and reality, reciting tall tales about characters like Crazy Bill or lost loves like Ruby Begonia.
Still there’s Roy Williams and His Orchestra, whose crisp, wandering bass lines, double-tracked vocals and harmonized guitar solos construct melodies straight off the cutting-room floor of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” sessions.
After years of freewheeling musical exploration, the Scranton, PA-native wants to collect the many incarnations of himself, put them all under one roof and make it possible to find everything he’s produced by simply searching “Roy Williams” on platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.
“There’s so much stuff scattered around out there,” he said to me before shooting his video for The River Recordings series. “Anyone who’s a fan is used to being confused by me.”
Getting it all into one place seems fitting; while the styles are vastly varied, the majority of his music originates from the same cozy home studio in Williams’ Scranton apartment. When listening to his most contemporary-sounding work in a project called Heavy Blonde, it can be hard to believe that such a panoramic soundscape—full of heavy guitar tones, echoing vocals and cutting synthesizers—all came from what would be a tiny living room, were it not lived in by a musician.
“There’s so much you can do yourself these days,” he said. “You don’t need to spend all your money on a big expensive studio if you know what you’re doing.”
Williams’s do-it-yourself attitude carries over to the instrumentation as well. Referring to his projects as “groups” is sometimes a misnomer, as Williams often plays all the instruments on the tracks himself. He draws a comparison to Paul McCartney's song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which McCartney completely self-produced.
“Maybe the piano [on “Maybe I’m Amazed”] doesn’t sound quite as great as the piano on ‘Abbey Road,’ but when a song is that good, who really cares?” Williams said.
Though self-described as “obsessed” with the recording process, Williams is out gigging all the time as well. He squeezed in our own recording session between a mini-tour of Massachusetts that he had just gotten back from, and a gig he had later that night with fellow Scranton-area musicians, which includes some of the members of the popular bluegrass and folk-rock band, Cabinet.
“The band I’m in now is in a really great place,” he said. “We’re all kind of over that ‘trying to get famous’ phase and just focusing on creating good music while we’re here.”
Williams will bring some musical-friends with him to Honesdale to perform his live River Recordings showcase at Here & Now Brewing Co. on Friday, January 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. The River Recording series is sponsored, in part, by A.M. Skier Insurance.
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