Alex Worsnip 01/12/2003
One of 2003's great indie discoveries have been Trespassers William, a mellow Californian act that have shot to prominence with their gorgeous cover of Ride's 'Vapour Trail'. Their second album, Different Stars, is currently out on Bella Union and new single 'Lie In The Sound' is due soon, while the band have a UK visit planned for February. GodIsInTheTV catches up with lead singer Anna-Lynne Williams and guitarist Matt Brown...
GodIsInTheTV: Formalities out of the way first: how did Trespassers William come about?
Anna-Lynne: "Matt and I both grew up in Orange County, and had tried a few times with playing with other people. We were introduced by a mutual friend who passed along a tape of Matt's instrumental music to me, and we decided to try writing together. I came with a handful of songs, as did matt, but we ended up working on new material together instead, and wrote Desert, which is on our first album, on our first day of playing together. We casually started playing some coffeeshop gigs, and about a year later started writing more intensively and playing with a full band."
GodIsInTheTV: Where does the unusual band name come from?
Anna-Lynne: "Winnie the Pooh... I was actually reading the Tao of Piglet and the story came up about Piglet's treehouse, so it wasn't something I remembered from childhood, though lots of people do... as a Williams, it seemed all right and a good replacement for "Matt and Anna-Lynne". We were about to release our first tape of music I think and needed a name right away..."
GodIsInTheTV: For those unlucky enough not to have heard you yet, how would you describe the band?
Anna-Lynne: "That's always a hard one, because I feel like as soon as you draw a comparison, people tend to hear that similarity and nothing else... I really didn't listen to Mazzy Star until after Matt and I had been playing for a long time so it's sort of incidental that we may sound like them, but I guess that's the closest comparison. We have some shoegaze and folk elements, but I really think it's more like a full-band singer-songwriter project. Sad, personal, lush."
GodIsInTheTV: Which other artists have greatly influenced Trespassers William?
Anna-Lynne: "Matt and I were both very into U2, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Suede, and a lot of other British rock music when we first started playing music together. Now, some common favourites of the band are Radiohead, Mogwai, Sigur Ros. I've listened to a lot of singer-songwriters like Lisa Germano, Elliott Smith, Ron Sexsmith, Mark Kozelek. But at this point, I am more inspired by what the other people in our band are doing than what other bands are doing. The bands I mentioned are just brilliant bands that we like to listen to as fans."
GodIsInTheTV: Do you feel you're plowing a lone furrow amongst all the other Californian bands that produce generic punk-pop and so forth?
Anna-Lynne: "I feel so distanced from the music scene in So Cal that I don't consider us to be a part of it at all. There's a small little hub of artists in LA, like Aimee Mann and Grant Lee Phillips and Lisa Germano, that are the greats at the top of the little place that I think we more likely fit into. I guess I look at the whole spectrum of music on-line and in my cd collection and don't feel like an outcast in that case, looking through Red House Painters records, and Innocence Mission, Coldplay, etc, bands that have done really well. So i feel hopeful and not very concerned if we don't sound like any of the other bands who play down the street from wherever we're playing."
GodIsInTheTV: You've suddenly raised your profile here in the UK with your cover of Ride's 'Vapour Trail', which many feel has been lent an almost new meaning by your version. What was behind the decision to cover it? Does it have a special significance to you at all?
Matt: "I had been a Ride fan for years and my friend Chris Pearson (who guests on the track) suggested that we do a Ride cover together or get a bunch of bands together for a tribute or something like that. Inspired by this I started tinkering at the studio and home and finished the bulk of the track on my own, not really intending for it to be a TW song but ended up having Anna-Lynne sing on it for fun. After showing it to Simon, he suggested we release it as a single so we developed it a bit more into a full band song. Kind of a happy accident I suppose. For me the song has always been magical, not just my favorite Ride song, but one of my favorite songs of all time..."
GodIsInTheTV: More generally speaking, you've played with numerous UK acts and your sound sometimes appears to mix very American elements with a British twist. Do you feel closer to the current 'scene' in the UK, where melancholic music has been very strong commercially in recent years with the mega-success of bands like Radiohead and Coldplay, than that of the US? Anna-Lynne: "Similarly, since we don't have a little local scene that we're part of, the bands we listen to are equally American and British, sort of inconsequentially. But I doubt anyone in our band would disagree that the majority of gorgeous music has come from England over the last few decades. So i suppose I do hope that England embraces our music, since I wouldn't expect the US to necessarily. But then there are artists like Sarah McLachlan who somehow became famous internationally. I suppose the answer is yes, I feel a bit closer to what's going on in Europe right now and hope to be a part of it."
GodIsInTheTV: It will be perhaps unknown to some of those that discovered you through this single that you are in fact on your second album. Was there a marked progression between the first album and your new material at all?
Anna-Lynne: "I think the material has only slightly morphed from the first album, but our musical sensibility and our abilities to play and sing are drastically different. We just retracked our favourite song from the first album, Anchor, to be a b-side for our Lie in the Sound single - it's incredibly different now. The song itself fits in with what we're doing now, melancholy and sweet, but our choices in delivery and parts are extremely different. I feel that while some people achieve most by exploring many different genres and styles, like Radiohead (and I'm so glad that they have moved back and forth in what they're doing for all of our benefit), there are other people who can do best by trying to perfect the one small thing that is their personal love. I imagine that to people who don't often listen to downtempo and depressing music, my songs might seem very similar to one another. But to me, each one is a very different moment, made similar by the fact that they all came from my memories. I am just trying to get more true and beautiful versions of what I feel. at this point, I have no desire to write fictional music. Back to the question, we are not planning on re-pressing our first CD at this point. When I listen to it, it doesn't even sound like me... though I can still associate with the songs themselves... I think I was so excited to be making a CD at all at that point, but while we were making Different Stars, we were more concerned about making a lovely whole."
GodIsInTheTV: Listening to 'Different Stars', it seems that Matt's song 'Let You Down' stands out beneath the similar production and performance as rather different in style to those of Anna. Do you feel that you approach songwriting in different ways?
Matt: "'Let You Down' came spontaneously out of a very dark moment in my life. I feel I'm a stronger side-man than songwriter, so I don't write unless it bubbles up out of me uncontrollably, which is exactly how the song happened one night. So that's probably the main difference - Anna-Lynne is a very prolific songwriter so I think her material is more complex, varied and subtle than mine."
GodIsInTheTV: You're coming to the UK in February, including a slot in an XPosure gig, the live branch of the show that helped to break you here. What kind of a response are you expecting given the sudden interest in your music here?
Anna-Lynne: "It's so hard to know. I'm not expecting anything more than the better shows we've played out here. It will obviously be a pleasant surprise to be received warmly by cities that we've never played in before."
GodIsInTheTV: You've recently been signed to Bella Union. Were you excited about signing to a label that boasts acts like Cocteau Twins?
Anna-Lynne: "It was an additional compliment that someone who played with the Cocteau Twins thought our music was important. And I already had many of the other Bella Union artists' albums when they contacted us, like the Czars and Departure Lounge who are great, so it definately piqued our interest. The whole idea of being on a record label and having a manager, etc, are very foreign to me, though they're now happening. Music to me is about sitting alone in my room writing music, I think it will always be about that first. So being on a label is exciting and will obviously offer us a lot more opportunities. I'm just trying to keep my head, and keep my priorities where they always have been."
GodIsInTheTV: Do musical tastes within the band differ much? What new music are you all listening to?
Anna-Lynne: "There's a large overlap in all of our cd collections. The whole band went to go see Mogwai, we've all seen Radiohead, etc. But then we all have our own personal favourites as well. I haven't discovered too many new acts lately, I've been listening to a lot of old favorites like Idaho, Lisa Germano, Cat Stevens. Coldplay, Elbow, Ed Harcourt, and Nicolai Dunger are some newer favourites."
Matt: "We all also have some very diverging tastes, which I think makes the band much stronger."
GodIsInTheTV: What's your vision for the future of Trespassers William? Are you content to stay relatively underground or do you hope to break right into the mainstream? Are there any new styles or directions you'd like to explore?
Anna-Lynne: "That's a hard one to answer. I'm not sure that I'm convinced that I could keep writing the songs that I really want to write if we were recording videos and playing huge shows etc. So for now I'm very content. I feel that a good portion of the people who would really enjoy our music are finding us, and that's the important part. I don't want to be forced down anyone's throat and I don't want "being a musician" to feel too much like a job. There are still remnants of the initial magic of having a feeling, and then writing a song, and then singing it to people for the first time and getting so nervous that i feel sick. I'm not sure that I want to lose that simplicity. I don't want to become distanced from the music because of the business. I'm sure there are new directions I want to explore... some new sonic directions, though for now I only feel honest writing about the things that are my personal little shadows..."
GodIsInTheTV: Massive thanks for your time, and congratulations on a great record as well.