ATX Culture Interviews Music

William Harries Graham Chats Music Movement and His New Album “Jakes”

Austin-based indie artist William Harries Graham recently released his newest album, “Jakes,” recorded and mixed by platinum, Grammy-award winner Stuart Sullivan at at Wire Recording. A second-generation Austin musician, William Harries Graham has been making music since he could walk. Though young, Graham has already made strides in the music industry and fans can’t wait to see him grow even more.

Graham’s official album release show was held on Saturday, March 30, at Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden (my FAVE!), located at 121 Pickle Road in Austin.

Doors opened at 7:30 p.m., and Graham performed his new album with band members Chris Searles (drums), Bobby Daniel (bass) and Abra Moore (vocals and keys).

We recently had the chance to sit down at Cosmic with Graham and chat with him about his movement through the music industry, his works, and what’s next for him.

Photo by Leigh Kettle

To begin, can you share your story about how you got started into music?

Graham: My dad is a professional musician, so I grew up with music always being in the house. It was never a question for me, it was kind of an assumption that other people had of me. It was more something that I fell into. The best way I say it is that I broke my first guitar jumping off the bed when I was one. That’s where it all comes from. It was natural in the beginning for me to go into that. I was writing songs since the beginning and was never really covering anything. It naturally evolved for me.

Where would you say that you get your inspiration from?

Graham: For me, a lot of my writing is subconscious. When I’m writing, it tends to be something that I can’t force. The initial bit of it comes to me naturally and then I can build something off of that. If I sit down and say, “I’m going write about this specific thing,” I won’t be happy with it. What it comes down to for me, is stuff that I rebuild through subconscious things. It’s stuff that happens in my life naturally, that I observe through friends of mine, or just sitting in a coffee shop reading. I’m a book worm and I love to read.

Sometimes, a year after writing a song, I’ll realize, “Oh, I know what that song is about now,” and it clicks. A lot of people ask me, “What is this song about? Because it means this for me.” That’s what I really strive for, is a degree of ambiguity. When I’m listening to someone, I really connect with a musician or song when I can impress either my own experiences or my own identity onto the song. It’s like a reflection where you can see some kind of familiarity in it. I really strive to have some some ambiguity in my songs for reflection.

Can you share a bit more on what your creative process is like?

Graham: It’s a lot of writing at four in the morning, because that’s when it usually comes to me. All of my music, I write it all on acoustic guitar. Throughout the day I’m always picking it up playing a little things. My phone is full of music memos, just little 10-second snippets that I’ll keep on going back to. When it’s a full song, that usually comes out really late at night, at least after 10:00 p.m. I think it might just be that the walls, the subconscious walls, start to breakdown the later it gets. It’s just a more naturally creative flowing time for me. Usually music comes first, or music and lyrics from the same time. It’s usually just the beginning of the song, or one verse and the chorus of the song. It’s usually just one part of it, and then I have to spend a little time pulling the rest of it out based off of that beginning.

Sometimes I’ll go back and really workshop it for a while to get what I really want out of it, especially if I’m not really happy with it. But then it really doesn’t become fully developed until I bring it out with the band. I run all the songs live first. A lot of people record in the studio and then it takes them a couple of months to really figure out how the song is going operate live. For me, I prefer to figure out what the feel of it is going to be live first. When I’m doing my recordings, I really like to catch the feeling the energy from it being performed live. So I’ll bring it out with the band, and they will never have heard it before. We play it live, feel it out, and then we’ll all talk about it. It’s a very loose process, and all of it kind of moves and changes.

Photo Courtesy of William Harries Graham

What message or feeling are you’re trying to communicate with your music?

Graham: I think there’s two answers to that. The first part of it is that everyone writes songs differently. For some people it’s very message-oriented and very story-centered. People like James McMurtry, Gregory Alan Isakov and Gregory’s writing partner J Wagner, he’s also a phenomenal songwriter in that same sense of being very narrative. It’s very story-telling, and that’s something that I try to pull from. I try to show more imagery through my music. When I’m writing something and I know there’s something that’s really going to click with me, it creates an image in my head when I start to play it. That’s where a lot of it comes from, is a scenery depiction. I think there’s that half of it, and then also it’s just on a song to song basis. A lot of it for me, does come from my personal life experiences, so storytelling is really what I’m trying to impart.

How would you say your music has evolved since you first started writing?

Graham: Songwriting develops the older you get, the more you read, the more you talk to people and the more you interact with people. But also for me, the thing that really changed was the way I went about writing songs and pushing myself more, pulling stuff out more than just waiting for it. Then also, the feeling I’m going for with a song. Growing up, I listened to stuff all over the spectrum, which is why my sound is harder for me to describe. I listened to The Stones and the old rock and roll, but then I also listened to Gregory and others a bit more folky. In the alternatives sphere there’s Matthew Ryan, who is a phenomenal songwriter and has been a huge influence on me. Where I originally developed came from more of a rock and roll influence, like what my dad does. With the first album and some of my first songs, it definitely had more of that spirit to it. I still have that in the new record, but it also has a lot more nuance to it, and I’ve definitely developed more towards quieter songs and taking it slow on some things.

Especially now with the way that I write, I have the next two records written at this point, and a lot of it shifting the way that I used write, putting spins on, or figuring out how can I push myself out of what a traditional song’s structure would be. A lot of popular artists, like The National and Bon Iver are really starting to do these different things. I think it’s really interesting to play with, pushing outside of what we traditionally think: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. I’m trying to find new and different ways to approach songwriting and music.

What has been your favorite memory or highlight since you launched your music career?

Graham: It’s hard because I’m young, but I’ve been doing this for so long now and there are a couple that really stand out. The first one was when I played at the Austin Music Awards when I was six, I was invited to do it. That was my first experience actually playing a show in front of 20,000 people. It was kind of crazy and stands out to me as my first shove into the world. It was kind of my start, but when I really started taking it seriously and professionally, I performed at Alejandro Escovedo’s United Sounds of Austin. I think it was the first year he did it, at Moody. I played that, and I covered an old True Believer song called “She’s Got,” which was on my first record as well. That was a turning point where I really started taking it seriously and pushing harder. I was a far more mature musician at that point.

Another one would be the first time I played with Abra Moore, who has become super influential for me. I listened to her growing up a little bit since she was in the ’90s music scene, but then she kind of dropped out of the scene. Then Austin musician Todd Wilson invited both of us to play together one night, and that was when Abra and I met and totally clicked. That was another shifting point for me. It helped me open up into more of the ambient sphere because she started doing all these crazy cool vocal things, which was brought in on the new record. Bringing her in was like adding an new instrument in itself. That was another moment that stood out to me, given she was someone who I listened to for forever and then within an hour and a half period of time became a collaborator. She plays with me at almost every show. Making connections like that really stands out to me.

Can you tell me a little bit about the process behind your new album “Jakes” and how you feel putting it out into the world for everyone to hear?

Graham: I feel very happy. I don’t want to say relieved, it’s not quite the right word, but it’s the best I can come up with for it. Before you record you do a lot of writing and developing. At a certain point you just really want to get it out there into the world because you’re kind of tired of sitting on it. It’s always a really great feeling when you get it out, it’s thrilling. You have all the control over forming this thing. You developed it, you record it, you mix it, you master it, and then you set your baby free in the wild and have no control over what happens. I think that’s always thrilling, and I love it. The process behind recording was very natural. We recorded all of the tracks, the vocals, the bass, the drums, all live in a room. Which is really what I’ve done for everything because I like having that feeling of it not being a perfect-to-a-T track. I like to have that movement inside of it too.

The record was recorded at Wire Recording studio right outside of town with Stuart Sullivan, who was my neighbor growing up, and I have a great relationship with him. I was originally going to record with George Reiff, who is a phenomenal bassist who passed away two years ago from cancer, unfortunately. He was like an uncle to me, and I’d spent some time talking through the record with him beforehand. Stuart picked up where we left off. He helped me figure out what I wanted out of it and saw the picture. He talked about it more like a co-producing, he was a shaman for me and guided me through the madness of what I had in my head. I definitely felt very at home.

What’s next for you after this album release?

Recording more! We’re working on my third record, which I’ll be recording later this year. I’ll also be touring this summer. Just pushing myself to work more, and at this point, I’m really ready to get back to the studio. It’s always hard waiting after you’ve finished something because you’re writing all this new material. But for now, I got to give this record its lifetime.

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