(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY SIDE OF HER")
MARLON WILLIAMS: (Singing) I can see that it's time for her to go and take her party out on the road.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That's the voice of Marlon Williams. And he may sound like a crooner from the bygone American West, but he's really a 24-year-old from New Zealand who fell in love with the music of Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan. His new self-titled album is a country-forward blend of rock and American roots music. He joins us now from the studios of Radio New Zealand in Christchurch. Marlon, thanks so much for being with us.
WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: You grew up in a place called Lyttelton, New Zealand. It's a small town. Tell me about Lyttelton.
WILLIAMS: Lyttelton is a working port town about 20 minutes outside of Christchurch. It's a town of about 3,000 people. And it's a very fine blend of the blue-collar port workers and a thriving artistic community.
MARTIN: And did I read that - your dad was a musician, right?
WILLIAMS: Yeah. My dad was a punk singer in the '80s and '90s with a band called the Boneshakers.
MARTIN: And here you are firmly ensconced in what can be described only as Americana roots country music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO MISS LONESOME")
WILLIAMS: (Singing) Hello, Miss Lonesome. I see you're back in town...
MARTIN: How did you find your way to that genre?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, my dad was always throwing different stuff in front of me. And he'd do this thing where he'd trade in - he'd buy me a CD and then he'd trade that one in. And the next week, I'd have a different one. And he brought home Gram Parsons's "GP." Something about the simplicity and the straightforwardness of it really got to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO MISS LONESOME")
WILLIAMS: (Singing) The king in his castle and beggar on the street. Miss Lonesome's in the eyes of almost everyone you meet.
I had just started writing for the first time. And country music just seemed like the most obvious way to communicate.
MARTIN: So what's the scene like? Is country music popular in New Zealand?
WILLIAMS: Well, it seems to me like country music's - and folk music, more broadly - is having one of those recycles at the moment - that it's always seemed to do all over the world.
MARTIN: Is it American-centric to kind of claim it? I mean, I'm about to ask you what it means to you as a New Zealander to play this kind of music. Because it does have - at least from our vantage point, it has a very particular connection with American history and identity.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. I guess, you know, if you look back along the history, you know. It's Irish and English folk tunes played on African instruments in a new land. And that's - while, certainly, the genesis of - you know, and - well, the synthesis of those things are identifiably American, it's a never-ending journey. And it's bound to become geographically decentered again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I WAS A YOUNG GIRL")
WILLIAMS: (Singing) When I was a young a girl, I used to seek pleasure. When I was younger I used to drink ale straight out of the alehouse, down to the jailhouse.
MARTIN: You don't live in the town you grew up in anymore, but I understand you recorded this album there - at a studio...
MARTIN: ...That was close - three doors down - from your mom's house (laughter). Why? Why was it important for you to go back there?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's - so it's my first solo album, but it's my fifth studio album. And I've always only worked with Benny Woods (ph) who was the engineer and producer in Lyttelton.
MARTIN: And you've known him a long time, right?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I've known him since I was 16. We first recorded - my band The Unfaithful Ways, in high school, first recorded a little four-song EP there. And then, you know, we've been through a lot together with the earthquakes, you know, destroying his studios. And it was this crazy story about him going into a condemned building in the red zone in Christchurch after the earthquakes and being allowed five minutes to get whatever he could carry out of his studio. And he got his granddad's guitar and his wife's guitar amp and the one master copy of our album.
WILLIAMS: There's a lot of - lot of very - lot of pathos and, you know, history between us.
MARTIN: Marlon Williams, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. His new album is self-titled.
Thanks so much. And we'll talk again, I hope.
WILLIAMS: I hope so. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARK CHILD")
WILLIAMS: (Singing) My little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy, one day you'll grow up and be distressed. One day, you'll grow up and reject...
MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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