January 25th, 2008 | Interviews

By Nikki Darling
Photo: Johnny Misheff

White Williams aka Joe Williams got his start in the Cleveland underground noise scene in the early 2000’s. His music harkens back to the early days of such fuzzed out seventies electronic solo artists as Bowie on Reed, John Cale, Brian Eno and others. He has since gone on tour with good friends Girl Talk and Dan Deacon. He is now on tour with the band Ecstatic Sunshine promoting his first solo album Smoke. He speaks with buddy Nikki Darling about 400 pound sound guys, Mousetrap and drums that sound too “Bright.” He plays this Sunday at The Echo.

Are you the one that dropped the glass of water on the head of Lloyd Banks in Girl Talks dressing room during the MTV awards?

Oh man, did Frank and Greg (Hearts of Darkness’s) tell you that? I don’t know who it was, it was definitely not me because I wasn’t even there, they dropped some water on 50 Cent or something and they got kicked out right? I’m surprised to hear that’s all that happened to them.

What’s your favorite show to watch late at night?

Um, probably, the most watched is Late Night at the Apollo. Growing up I watched that one lot, it was on after Saturday Night Live, amateur night or hour or whatever it was. They had all these weird rituals like rub a tree stump, or tree trunk-weird mixture. The crowd control is what was fun to watch, like everyone going nuts if someone was about to get kicked off.

I was expecting you to say The Drew Carey Show since you rep Cleveland so much.

Yeah, well I think I watched it to try and see if there were references to Cleveland but they got boring and repetitive. It is sort of weird to see someone rep their city so hard, that’s kind of unique, its kind of like rap. Like, Drew Carey raps for Cleveland. That’s cool.

He yells it out at the end: Ohio! So is it weird that I’m interviewing you?

Yeah, it’s pretty weird, yeah. I think all press is sort of surreal to me still though. I think its still sort of, were starting to understand it a little more I think.

What’s been the best part of being on tour so far?

It’s been awesome. Certain shows have been really great, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, that was a great turnout. The band were touring with Ecstatic Sunshine, is really great, it’s less business when you’re on tour with a band you like and can hang out with. The relationship with the band you’re playing with is usually like, okay here’s your hour, and you just get to say hi and bye, but um, we’ve been hanging with Ecstatic Sunshine and so that’s been really fun.

How many people have compared you to Brian Eno?

Oh man. Some people, I get the most random things, hip hop was the most recent and we did some hip hop shows in Chicago and people started asking me what I thought of being described as hip hop, and I’m like, hip hop? Have you listened to the music? Marc Bolan, comparisons are crazy. There’s not a lot of modern music, and actually a lot of times the music I am influenced by never comes up. I was just reading an interview with David Byrne in Wire and he talks about how Thom York made a comment that the first person who gets to write about you says a bunch of stuff and sort of sets the record for what other people are going to say. That that sort of sticks with you like telephone, and I’ve seen things written about me where they like switch David Bowie’s name with Mark Bolan’s, but its like the same thing. But I know different people read it, so, I guess its okay.

Okay, then use this opportunity to set the record straight. Who are some musicians that you’re influenced by?

John Cale and Iggy Pop, Lou Reed. Before that I was kind of listening to Kevin Ayres and English stuff like Soft Machine. There’s been a lot of solo artist stuff that I like, and also a lot of modern music, Warp Records, I like all that stuff. Modern rap music, stuff that I hear on the radio.

Whoever people say you’re influenced by it’s always these seventies electronic solo artists, I mean, with obvious reason. Why does your stuff sound so much older than the music your peers are making?

I definitely pay attention to production quality of all music, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not I pay attention to how it’s recorded. I definitely have affection for music from the 70s or 80s in protest to modern rock. Like the drums sound almost like they’re in a cave, not enhanced. All the production today is sort made to make the artist sound more huge than they are, it’s a level of execution that has made modern rock music sound real stale, its so bright sounding I cant explain it, I like drums that sound like you can hear them in the room, not so, bright and blended, I hate that.

Did you know that Rolling Stone was going to be at the Halloween show you played with Telepathe and Hearts of Darkness’s?

It was kind of like a few days before it actually happened, they came to Webster Hall, it was kind of a surprise to know they were interested because the record, I mean I didn’t have any expectations good or bad for it. But yeah, I found out a couple days before hand that they would be there, so I had to show up and be on time and all that stuff.

What are some of the reactions you get from people when you come offstage? Because half of your audience at shows has probably never seen or heard of you before, they’re there to see someone else and see you too.

Definitely. Um, I’m still impressed with, a lot of time people say they liked it, a lot of people request songs from the record, that’s kind of strange because I’m not expecting people to know it, it hasn’t been out that long. A lot people recently have been complaining that I’m not playing long enough, but I hate being on the other side of that when a band plays too long, like when you go to a fest or a big arena rock show. Plus the record isn’t that long; there aren’t that many songs on it. I mean, I only have one record.

Okay, what’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

I like Kashi Good, Heart to Heart cereal. I know that’s not the best cereal answer, Trader Joe’s food too. That s the kind of food I like.

Organic mom food?

Yeah, well Lucky Charms as a child.

Favorite board game?

I played Life a lot as a kid, I think before that I was really fascinated by Mousetrap, but I wasn’t that interested in the game I was more interested in setting up the trap and I guess, Guess Who.

Coolest moment on tour so far?

Oh man, okay, during the Girl Talk tour people had sex on stage, in Philadelphia. That made a Rolling Stone article. In Montreal our friend tried to make us break into a cemetery and the police came and followed us. Our friend Naomi ran away and gave the police double middle fingers and drove away like seventy miles an hour. On this tour one of the sound guys was a weed dealer and he grew up as a carny and he smoked us out and this other guy who worked there, one of the sound guys, he was leaning on 400 pounds and this guy, he kept talking about the color of crank in Fort Lauderdale, it was straight off the boat and how yellow it was and he also said that two bumps of cocaine was like chugging a Redbull. Like he was telling the other guy, “I quit coke” and the other guy was like, what about those two lines I saw you do and he was like, “oh that’s like chugging a Redbull.” That night in Montreal was definitely the most fun we’ve had on tour.

Best movie you’ve seen recently?

Um, probably The Ten, the David Wain movie. I just saw 2001 from start to finish, that was awesome. But I’m a super David Wain fan; yeah he’s my favorite. The Baxter sort of freaked me out it was so subtle, but it didn’t compare. Wainy Days, his online show is so good. We want to ask him to do a video for us, I think Animal Collective asked him but he couldn’t do it because he was busy. So were gonna get em.

He’s your favorite member of Stella?

He’s my favorite member from The State.

Oh I see, you’re hardcore.

“New Violence”
[from Smoke; on Tigerbeat 6]