Uber-musician and freelance writer Kevin Williams released his solo debut "Hollywood Endings" in March 2010. We at UberProAudio were really excited to get the inside scoop on what Kevin did to help shape his sound and find his voice on this studio project turned live endeavor.
UberProAudio: Can you tell us a little about the impetus for "Hollywood Endings?"
Kevin Williams: For a while I was trying the "playing music for musicians" kind of thing in the Providence music scene but I started to realize at some point that you can't just be a good player and expect that things will happen or that people will listen or care. Sure, someone who plays guitar sitting at the bar may or may not be impressed but that doesn't mean anyone else is going to pay attention to what you're doing. People like songs. People like melody. People like music they choose to listen to. People want to see that you're doing something unique and honest to yourself. Most of all, people aren't stupid. If you're up there playing in a band wanking away in a way that says, "Look at me, look at me" and that band is mediocre at best no one is going to remember you. It sucks but it was a hard lesson for me to learn. So about 2 years ago I quit the band I was playing guitar in called Fate's Cruel Joke and started playing bass in a band I'd always really admired called Hemlok. The guitarist has (literally) about 18 pedals and love them or hate them, Hemlok was a band that you remembered because they were doing something special, unique, and honest. But there was more than just psychedelic prog rock in my heart and I'd had a couple songs I recorded a few years earlier just sitting around and more bouncing around in my head that wouldn't fit in the Hemlok setting. Plus, I was missing playing guitar. Initially all this started off as, was me recording ideas that had no other home for my own creative amusement, but it developed from there and songs I'd never intended to share with more than one or two people suddenly found themselves on a CD alongside songs I wrote after I decided to make an album. That's why this was so big a deal for me; it was like my own evolution on a disc.
UberProAudio: From our professional relationship with you, we've learned that you're pretty discriminating as far as guitar tone goes. So what did you use as far as amp/guitar combinations on "Hollywood Endings?"
KW: It was pretty straightforward. The main guitar on the album is my PRS Custom 24 but there are a couple here and there's as well. The guitar sound on "Might Be Bold" was a Washburn Strat knockoff I've had for 15+ years and the heavy sounding guitar on "The Prophet" is a Jackson DR-7 seven string. I wrote most of the album on a beat up dreadnought cutaway Washburn acoustic I've had about as long as the strat knockoff. She's nothing fancy but she sounds sweet as pie. The only exception to that writing rule was "Annie Wheaton." That got written at a piano. As far as amps go, I didn't use one single, actual amplifier. All those sounds are generated using a Line 6 Pod XT Pro. It really did anything I needed for the recording and I'm a firm believer in amp modeling if it's done right. You get a clean signal and with a great guitar and a decent ear you're going to get a good sound. You can spend time getting what you want to work right rather than spending hours on end with micing techniques, etc., etc. The 4 amps that had my go-to sounds were the models they used for the Plexi 45, Dual Rectifier, the Fender Deluxe, and the Budda. Anything else was a spur of the moment, "Okay, yeah that sounds cool for an overdub" kind of idea.
UberProAudio: You did some acoustic overdubs. What was your preferred method of recording those?
KW: Some of these tracks are old and were ideas I started tinkering with well before I knew what I was doing as a producer. In those cases I just went right out of the preamp on the acoustic. There are only a couple of the overdubs that were mic'd but for that I used a Groove Tubes GT55 tube mic aimed at the soundhole. For "Scarecrow Man," even though it was one of the last cuts I recorded, I went direct out of the preamp because I liked the sound of it, but I spent a decent amount of time tinkering with the signal to get the sound I wanted. The earlier tracks like "About You" and "Hollywood Ending" were really never intended to be released on a record so going direct out of a preamp for acoustic overdubs wasn't that big of a deal; I didn't think anyone else was going to hear these tunes other than maybe some of my closest friends. I started writing this whole thing for no real reason at all but as I wrote more and more I started to think I might have something here. So, as it is I left even the stuff that I may have done differently given more experience but to me these earlier tunes were snapshots in time. I want to be able to look back and remember where I was when I started this journey as a singer, a guitarist, and a producer.
UberProAudio: Any piece of gear you couldn't have done without while you were recording?
KW: The Blue Baby Bottle microphone. That thing is unreal. I used it for all of my own vocals and pretty much for any other band I've ever recorded. I also used the Waves Reverb plugin for all my reverb on the record.
UberProAudio: Tell us about your studio set up.
KW: The studio is pretty modest. It's in my house so there's no fancy iso-booths or anything like that. It's pretty much a PC with Sonar 8 producer edition. My outboard gear is simple. Just a MOTU 896 HD for my audio interface, my Line 6 Pod XT Pro, a DBX 266 XL dual compressor/gate, a DBX 215 15 band EQ, and an ART DPS2 Mic pre. The last three pieces of gear are in the signal chain for the vocal mic on the way into the MOTU interface. My Pod goes right into the MOTU, I don't use the outboard stuff for that. All my effects are either written in the patch on the Line 6 or I use stereo busses in Sonar. The only two tracks not recorded in Sonar were "About You" and "Hollywood Endings." I was still using Emagic's Logic 5 back then but everything else was the same.
UberProAudio: This being a studio project you probably used technology to your advantage throughout. Does production play any sort of role in your writing?
KW: I think when you're doing your own producing it does so inevitably in a couple of ways. You get an idea for a sound or something and you just kind of run with it. Mostly this record was written on an acoustic but the tunes were developed in the studio. You can't NOT have production influence it in some way then. I think the most direct way that I'm making use of the studio is to help me with my arranging. Anyone with any concept of how editing in a DAW works can chop up .wav files and put them together. I don't give this much thought too often but when I get some ideas for music before lyrics or melody I find it helpful to push a song towards the finish line. That's how "Scarecrow Man" came together. I wrote the music and then recorded some ideas and pieced them together. Later that day I sat with the "demo" I'd recorded and finished the melody and the lyrics and rerecorded things in a manner that suit what I'd come up with.
UberProAudio: What about the drums on the record? What did you use?
KW: I used a few different loop libraries and pieced the drum tracks together. They're actual drum patterns played by actual drummers. John Vital, who played with John Lennon did one of the libraries I used more prominently called Vital Drums. I also used the LA Drum Sessions Volumes 1 and 2. Really good drum sounds, I didn't do too much other than compress and reverberate them accordingly.
UberProAudio: Having had these songs evolve in the studio, was live performance something you thought about? There can be some serious frustrations when something turns from studio project to live outfit; especially if you're really relying on studio magic. Are you playing live at all?
KW: Yes I am. Like I said, I actually never intended to do anything with the first few songs but it just kind of snowballed. I tried to avoid the whole "can it be done live" caveat by writing on an acoustic but naturally the studio can take over; especially if there's not an initial intent to perform. The biggest challenge in that regard was "Scarecrow Man" and everyone who's seen us play it (strangely) seems to really enjoy that number since we debuted it in May. Back in October before the record was done I was really getting itchy. I've been playing bass and doing production for the Providence based psychedelic prog band Hemlok for over two years now but this stuff was so different and I really missed playing the guitar. It's my first love. It started pretty casually, but I got in touch with my friends Ron Pacheco and Adam Chamberlain about some ideas I'd had brewing that I wanted to take to the stage to see what the response was. If there were any musicians who were going to be able to make this stuff work live it was these guys. Ron is a great bassist who plays in a the Providence prog metal band Octopus Triangle but he's also got a jazz/funk group I play with sometimes called The Seven Below Band that plays some of his own tunes. He can play pretty much anything and I thought that this stuff would really stretch his playing because it's way simpler than what he's used to. He really liked the material and he's a good friend so that worked out nicely. And Adam is probably one of the best drummers I've ever worked with. He's got the finesse and subtlety that this stuff really needs to work live but again, he's a guy that can play anything. I wasn't sure at our first gig how far we were going to go with it but that night went exceptionally well for a band that didn't really exist so we've started playing a lot and haven't looked back. We booked the first show as Kevin Williams and the Invisible Orphans and the name just stuck. The kicker is that the "Invisible Orphans" tag was actually a reference to these songs I never thought would see the light of day; not the guys I'm playing with. Ironically though, I have so much faith in their playing live that I almost forget they're there sometimes, so it's kind of like they are invisible in a way.
UberProAudio: So how does your live rig compare to your studio set up?
KW: Live I'm pretty basic. I see a lot of guys show up to gigs with half stacks and ridiculous rigs and stuff but I like to keep it way simpler than that. I've found that if you're too loud on stage you get no juice through the PA and nobody can hear you, so I leave the half stack at home and favor a Fender Deville. I play the same PRS into a Line 6 Pod XT that gets plugged right into the Fender It's a real nice translation. I actually just bought a Gretsch Electromatic that I've been playing live too on some of the tunes as well. It adds a different dynamic to the live sound. Ron's bass setup live is pretty monstrous with Octopus Triangle but he scales it back for the Orphans' sets. Sometimes he'll play my Fender Bassman 250 that I use in Hemlok or he'll use a Peavey head into a 4x10 cab. He plays a Conklin 7 string and a Fender P-bass with us and he just goes right into whatever amp is on hand. I'm not certain what kind of kit Chambo plays but I do know that he tunes his drums pretty meticulously and they always sound solid live.
UberProAudio: So where can we find more info on your live schedule, upcoming releases, etc.?
KW: I use ReverbNation for just about everything. You can visit me there at www.reverbnation.com/kevinwilliams where there's streaming audio and video, some free downloads, show schedules and tons more other stuff. You can actually stream "Hollywood Endings" in its entirety right on ReverbNation but it's available on iTunes by clicking on the address http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hollywood-endings/id366406955
UberProAudio: What's next for Kevin Williams and/or the Invisible Orphans?
KW: Just keep playing. I've got a lot of material that I wrote while recording "Hollywood Endings" that's surfacing here and there with the Orphans and at some acoustic shows. I'll be doing a radio appearance on Max Bowen's Citywide Blackout which is a Boston based radio program that I'm really psyched about. He's going to have me on and ask some questions about "Hollywood Endings" and have me do a few acoustic numbers. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm trying to enjoy the ride and that gets a lot harder to do if you have too many expectations. All I want to do is play and see what happens.
Photos provided by Cummings Photography .