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Feel Something: A.A. Williams On Writing As Therapy and 'As The Moon Rests'

Tuesday, 04 October 2022 Written by Will Marshall

A.A Williams’ music is heavy. Not in a crushing, noisy sense, but in terms of the emotional currents that run through it. It’s heavy. Speaking a few days after her headline show at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, though, she’s decidedly warm and upbeat, and with good reason.

It’s a few weeks prior to the release of her second album ‘As The Moon Rests’ and she’s just played it in full to an auditorium that sat in awed silence, bar polite applause after her songs and a standing ovation at the end. If you’d talked to her even five years ago, she wouldn’t have believed that this is where she might end up. 

“I didn’t grow up in a musical household,” Williams says. “I was a very shy child and my mum thought a creative kind of expression, an outlet, would be cool. There was a piano teacher who lived opposite my school and she thought, ‘let's give it a try.’” 

The rest, as they say, is history. Williams found that the piano was something she understood quickly. Surrounded by her parents' love for classical music, she learned to express herself through her instruments. Later, she concentrated on the cello at university and then, one day, she found a guitar left on the path near her house. “I thought I’d try and write some songs as a way of teaching myself the guitar,” she says with a shrug.

Those songs became ‘Forever Blue’, her debut LP. Released in 2020, it was a stunningly wrought exploration of her struggles with anxiety and depression. She’s previously described herself as being, at least in general terms, less happy than other people. She explores that rhythm through her work, which constantly challenges her own abilities and creativity.

A metal fan since her early teens after falling for Cult Of Luna’s 2006 album ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’, her own work might not conform to that genre’s blueprints but it is certainly metal-adjacent. She recorded ‘Forever Blue’ in her flat, layering cello parts to create orchestral post-rock swells atop guitar crescendos and her own distinctive croon. 

This time around, her viewpoint has shifted a little. ‘As The Moon Rests’ isn’t just informed by her own world, it also takes influence indirectly from the enforced lockdowns of pandemic life. During that time she created ‘Songs From Isolation’, a selection of covers suggested by fans that she then reworked into her own style, as well as a reimagining of her debut EP that she called ‘Arco’, which spread the songs among a 10-piece orchestra. 

The creative evolution behind ‘As The Moon Rests’ was born in these experiments. Describing her sonic change, Williams explains: “It’s easy to forget that when someone releases their debut album, it’s the beginning of your journey. You’re not done. It’s the starting point for you to explore your own writing, but also the textures that you use, your instrumentation and how that translates live. This is the beginning of your baby.” 

When I query if there’s a creative throughline from ‘Forever Blue’ to her two pandemic projects, she opens up further on them. “They’re both products of the pandemic in terms of the logistics, the reason they were made, to be able to release something during that time but working within the means I had available,” she says. “I like a musical challenge.” ‘As The Moon Rests’ is the next step. “For Nothing, on the new album, is a perfect example,” she observes. “I basically went, ‘I wonder if I can write a song that doesn’t change chords for five minutes.” 

Describing the thematic shifts between the two, she thinks of them both as new ways of her managing her own internal dialogue. “I’m still bothered by it in ‘Forever Blue’, everything’s looking inwards,” she says. “Everything is trying to find something to fix, trying to scrub it out, erase it and start again. Whereas, if you look at the new album there’s a bit more of an acceptance element. It’s not just about trying to find flaws and scrub them away. It’s about finding them, embracing them, understanding them and trying to manage them.” 

Williams’ set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was remarkable for a number of reasons. Chief among them, perhaps, was the fact that it was attended by fans who bought tickets fully aware they wouldn’t know the majority of the songs. People want to be a part of her world—the rapturous applause following the final note only confirmed that. “People are crazy,” she exclaims. “It blows my mind—I’m the person standing in the middle of the stage, at the microphone, not hiding behind a curtain somewhere. Introvert teenage me would be like, “What are you doing, woman?’” 

As she gets a text letting her know dinner’s ready, we prepare to wrap up. Before leaving, I ask what she wants her music to achieve. Williams gives a characteristically understated answer. “The only goal I ever have with writing is to make people feel something,” she says. “Quite often at my shows, I see people having a little cry. It’s an opportunity for them to let out a little bit and let their emotions do their own thing.”

A.A. Williams' 'As The Moon Rests' is out on October 7 via Bella Union.


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