Marlon re-imagining music after isolation

Ben McKay
New Zealand singer Marlon Williams is having up days and down days during the coronavirus

Like many, Marlon Williams is muddling through his isolation.

The much-loved New Zealand artist is having up days and down days, staying busy one moment and losing all focus the next.

He fears for his industry on hiatus, but is daydreaming optimistically of what his post-coronavirus gigs and collaborations might look like.

Williams, referred to as a crooner with such regularity it's become a running joke, is also surviving New Zealand's lockdown with humour.

"Yeah that's a homogenisation of opinion," he tells AAP.

"I've had a few jokes put my way about how I've got crooner-virus. And to be fair that's pretty good joke."

Williams, 29, is hunkered down on his own in his scenic home town of Lyttleton, near Christchurch, perching in an old cottage overlooking the harbour.

It's a far cry from his previous digs above the Yarra Hotel in Melbourne's Abbotsford and the times suit it.

New Zealand's brutal lockdown, seven weeks in, has forbidden as-usual socialising, meaning Williams has been largely alone.

For an artist as eager as any of this fans to follow-up his acclaimed 2018 record Make Way For Love, it should be a perfect environment to get to work. Right?

"Have I found it productive? Well, I've found I've had the option of it being productive," he says.

"The option of productivity has been staring me directly in the face over the whole course of the time but its stoppy-starty.

"I've had days of great progress and then days and days of a time where I just watch cartoons.

"It's not easy," Williams concludes, reflecting a common experience of life under lockdown.

"We've all been getting an appreciation for the nuances of social dynamics and how much you need them.

"It's like when you go to a funeral, you reconnect with your family again.

"As a species we've become more protective of our free time. It's a very human progress marker. Free time is how life should be spent.

"Now we're very time-rich and I feel like a lot of people are feeling the heat of that.

"I'm very curious to see how it all washes out."

Williams calls his yet-to-be-realised third album "the elephant in the room".

"I've been wanting to record a new album for a while. For various reasons it's been pushed back and twisted around. That's number one objective of 2020," he says.

New music might not be forthcoming just yet but Williams is releasing a live performance this weekend.

On Sunday, at 10am AEST (midday NZST), the film of his homecoming Auckland Town Hall performance will screen on YouTube for the first time, followed by an online question and answer session with fans.

The 2018 show was the final performance in a long run of dates across the world.

"It was show number 67 of 67 so with a band that's pretty hot, and the biggest headline show I'd ever done," he said.

"So expect to be shocked at how alien it looks to see a room full of people.

"That was the first thing I noticed ... It feels completely out time and phase with the present moment. It's eye-watering."

As with many artists, Williams has turned to virtual performances during lockdown, including a series of Instagram impersonations of students performing in their high school exams.

Cat Stevens, Etta James and Andrew Lloyd Webber classics are given the treatment in a riotous release of lockdown energy that would be normally channelled into his gigs.

After successfully beating back COVID-19, musicians in New Zealand, like Australia, are thinking about a return to performance.

"It's scary trying to imagine what it's going to look like at the end of this," Williams says.

"Both in the music industry and more generally, we're keenly trying to work out whether we want the normal again.

"Small venues are going to be so important.

"In New Zealand and Australia ... there's an opportunity for grassroots touring and for really meaningful musical connections to happen on a wonderful small scale as long as we can keep these venues open to float it.

"I don't think there will be a hesitance to get back into the act of playing and listening to music. It's making sure the infrastructure is there to support it."

New Zealand is likely to lessen its lockdown next week, allowing venues of up to 100 guests to open, but only if they are all seared.

"That's a very specific type of show. I'm curious to see how the industry shapes itself around those restrictions organically," he says.

"As different capacities get unveiled over time. We are forced to think, what does that mean for the artist and concert-viewer?

"And that's exciting at least."

* Marlon Williams premieres his live concert film Live at Auckland Town Hall on Sunday at linktr.ee/marlonwilliams