By the end of this month Warren H Williams may well be crowned the King of Tamworth 2012 – he’s certainly going to be just about everywhere when the festival kicks off later this week, playing shows with The Wolverines and Ted Egan, for a total of 17 shows in eight days.
What is your earliest memory of playing music?
I would have been about six years old when I started playing – playing the guitar, just playing along. It was just amazing – when you’re teaching yourself to play something and it feels good. I’d play along with Dad and the band.
And did you start singing at that age too?
I used to hate my voice. We’d sing along with Dad – he’d strum along on the guitar – but [I didn’t do] much singing, as such. My singing probably came in the ’90s, that’s when I really started getting into it. But my singing wasn’t all that good.
What changed? Because listening to your singing, I find you’re a really warm singer – it’s almost comforting listening to you sing. So it sounds to me like you enjoy singing.
Oh, I love singing. It’s probably because when I was growing up, my grandfather and my grandmother – my grandmother was a really religious woman but my grandfather was a traditional man. So I would hear hymns being sung and all sorts of traditional songs too, like before I went to bed. And my grandfather would sing all night. His singing would put me to sleep. So I felt safe, you know. I knew that someone was always there to protect me when I was asleep.
That actually explains a bit about how you sing now, because to me, as I said, it’s a comforting feeling listening to your voice. Listening to your album, my first impression of it was that it was a road-trip album, in a way, but I then I thought, ‘No, I could cuddle up on the couch to this album.’
[Laughs] Oh, that’s good! For our people, singing is keeping people safe – that’s what the community is for – it’s to keep the community together, singing has always been part of that, so probably subconsciously I do it without knowing, you know.
So when you sing, do you feel like you’re part of a tradition? Or not even a tradition – that it’s such an intrinsic part of you that you can’t deny it?
Yeah, yeah – like, it’s just me – I’m singing to comfort that people who is in front of me. I’m trying to make sure that that person is feeling all right with my songs. I want to make that person feel all right. I don’t want to scare them. I want to tell them that I’m here. Like, ‘These Eyes’, one of the first singles, it’s about me telling them these are my eyes watching you, and my arms, they will always be here – if you want a hug, I’m here, I’ll hold you.
As a performer, there must be some times when you’re playing in front of a crowd when you think, ‘I really don’t care if I’m making you feel safe or not, because you’re being really ornery’. Is there ever a time when you think, ‘I don’t know that I can do this’?
I think about it right at the beginning, if I can hear – before I go on stage – people shouting and making noise, and I think, ‘How am I going to do this?’ but as a singer, it’s your job to make them happy. Because they came to see you. So as soon as I get up there – as soon as I do the first song – that’s it, I’m with them.
In country music it seems to be easier to make people happy, because the audience comes with an expectation of being happy. They don’t come thinking they’re there to be cool or trying to impress anyone.
Well, most of them are pissed anyway! [laughs]
I’m sure that’s not true of the Tamworth audiences!
There are … I’ve travelled with John Williamson for a long time and we did a lot of theatre shows, and theatre shows have a different sort of people – they come into a theatre and they sit down and don’t make a noise. They listen to you. They listen to everything that you say and do, and watch everything that you do. At a country gig in a pub or something, people are just there to have a good time. And lots of the people who come know your music and try to sing along with you.
Is it intimidating or hard when you have an audience that just doesn’t make a sound? Do you feed off the energy when there’s a more active audience?
You know, the best audience for me is about ten people. I don’t know why. It’s always been like that. The lesser the crowd, the more I give.
I think some people would find ten people really hard to play to, because they’re all there looking at you.
Yes, but that’s a good thing, because they’re watching every movement you do, and that’s the best way to hone your skills, in a way. It’s made me a better entertainer. The less people I have, the better the show. It’s more snappy. I still put on a good show if there’s a lot of people, but I don’t know what it is … The most terrifying shows are the home crowd people – because if you make a mistake, you’re still at home! If you’re on tour, you’re gone the next day.
But I would think for you this is a conundrum now, because as you become more well known, your shows are invariably going to become bigger.
Yeah, I’m … I really enjoy playing, There’s nothing like [that] natural high. And when I’m on tour, I get that every night. It’s something I just can’t put my finger on – you can’t describe how you feel – when as soon as a show starts, all of a sudden something kicks in, and bang, it snaps, and it’s like, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for’, you know? But the thing about it is, at the end of the night, when you have to come off it, you can’t sleep and you’re watching television and you’re still awake in the middle of the night, that’s the problem – it’s very hard to get off a natural high.
Was it always like this for you, performing, or was there a point at which you realised that you were getting this natural high?
No, no, it was hard work. You have to work very hard to get it. Before, I didn’t feel it. Before I met up with John [Williamson]. Because he’s been at it for a long, long time, John showed me how to entertain, and sometimes when you entertain properly you get it, you get the high. If you entertain people properly, they will give you more back.
It’s definitely that idea of the exchange. You draw on the audience and they’re happy to do it when they’re having a good time and you’re having a good time.
Yeah, and you’ll feel it. They’ll give it back to you and you’ll go, ‘Wow, this is what I want.’ Because when I first did it I said, ‘I want more of this. I want it.’ [laughs]
It’s a good thing you can pick up a guitar and go on tour, then!
I can’t wait to go to Tamworth. Even just walking around, Tamworth is like a big candy shop. [laughs]
To read the rest of this interview, please click on the following links:
Warren H Williams’s official website: www.warrenhwilliams.com
Gig guide for Tamworth: www.tamworthcountrymusic.com.au