1883 Magazine

Described by The Rolling Stone Magazine as one of Australia’s hottest rising stars, William Crighton continues to live up to this accolade as he tours the UK for the first time. Yet the rock-folk singer, who first found his voice in Church, is no newcomer to the music scene.

At 33, he’s already had an extensive music career. From having toured China with a blues group at 19, he also lived in Nashville for seven years, where he tackled the American folk scene head on. Yet it wasn’t until 2016 that he finally found his own sound, combining these experiences to create his debut album.

Having grown up listening to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, he has absorbed these influences and tailored them into his own style, and it is refreshingly unique. Incorporating unmissable Johnny Cash undertones to his distinct voice and captivating lyrics, Crighton’s talent shines in the release of his second album, ‘Empire.’

We catch up with the singer at London’s Home Slice Pizza in the midst of his world tour, in his first UK magazine interview.

How would you describe your sound and style to someone who had never heard your music before?

It’s a hard question because everyone hears different influences from a vast array of artists. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young made a big impression on me, but I think the best way to describe it is experimental. Traditional music with experimentation. The nuts and bolts of it are song and story with guitar, drums and base, but definitely mostly experimental.

You grew up in a small Australian country town, how did this influence your music? There’s a lot of religious connotations in your songs.

My grandmother used to take my brother and I to church every Sunday. She was part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but there wasn’t one of these where we lived. Going and just sitting in church, the whole thing frames your mind. It’s not all bad, there’s a message of universal love which is a good thing.

Religion seems to be a main theme in your music

I think breaking through the frame that is in our mind is the theme of my music. From when we come out of the womb we are conditioned to believe a certain thing, to think a certain way. There may be a couple of different versions of that but everything you watch on TV or read is all contributing to your experience and framing your mind.

My aim is to break through as much of that as possible, to try and see the truth and try and get right down to the start of things. See where all that conditioning ends. I don’t know if that’s possible, but that’s more of what my music’s about, rather than religion. Religion is something we make as humans and has essentially turned into a control mechanism, which is not what it should be. It essentially is a connection with all things and I crave that.

You initially grew up singing hymns in Church, is that where you realised you wanted to purse music?

I did, yes. Hymns were the first music that I sung and performed, and it made me realise how much music is fused with our soul and being. Regardless of the context, they are powerful, beautiful songs with wonderful melodies. They talk about freedom and grace and love which are all good things. The power of music was very evident to me then, but I didn’t actually consciously say I wanted to purse it. It just never left me. I found I always continued to do music in many different contexts. I went down many a different road before I found the one I’m on now.

You’ve already had such a journey, from being recruited to sing for a blues group in China to moving to Nashville to pursue a career music. How have these experiences influenced your sound now?

I guess they all do, whether its subconscious or not. Everything that I’ve done will come out in my music, and I think you can hear that. I look back on my time in China fondly, because it was completely different from where I’d come from. It was my first time leaving Australia at aged nineteen, flying to Beijing. It was bizarre and very busy, but I like China. It influenced my music because it made me look at things a different way. It made me accept that people live in different ways, but they’re equally as engaged in their life as I am, even though we’re polar opposites.

There are the obvious Johnny Cash and blues influences we can hear in your music, but where do you get your inspiration? What are your biggest influences in terms of artists? 

Definitely from the late 60’s, mid 70’s. American and Canadian sort of folk and the experimental era of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. I love all of that and it’s influenced me hugely. They were all saying interesting things as well as singing beautiful melody’s. Then of course, I got more into the punk scene, I really like Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. Lucinda Williams, I guess is the first person who really opened me up to different music. She was the gateway to all that music. Until then, I just grew up on the radio, listening to that. My dad would play some country music, some Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash in the tractor and you’d hear what was on commercial radio. But it wasn’t until I listened to Lucina and started to read up about what her influences were, that I went on to listen to other music. I don’t regard myself as an Americano artist but that I do like that music.

Growing up in such a small country town, how did you initially get into the blues before going to China and singing in the blues company?

There was a fella called Cole Ray Price who was a local blues musician who loved everything, he was a wealth of musical knowledge from the 1900’s to the early 1950’s. He knew everything, and he would play it. In a place called Adelong, a little place in the hills near to where I lived growing up, there was a taxidermist who had her own shop front. She held a blues night once a month on a Sunday that Cole would take me down to. It taught me a lot. He’d sit up there with his whiskey sitting on the end of the piano and he’d be playing rhythm and blues on the piano. He’d play his dobro and sing all these classic songs. So, I knew a lot of the songs when I got asked to go to China anyway with Sam McNally. That was my education with the Blues.

So, tell us about the new album Empire, what’s the essence of it?

My first album was telling stories about where I’d been and how I got to this point. Empire is more about an experimentation and journey through all those things. I started to pay more attention to the sounds animals make. Incest’s, birds, you realise they’re all communicating and it’s all there for us to listen to. I started to pay real attention to all of that, the phrasing and the timing, the way animals and insects sound. That influenced a lot of the music, I found myself playing along with what was going on and coming up with different chords and melodies. From a lyrical stand point, it was the roller-coaster of anger and joy as I started to learn more about Australian history. You grow up thinking it’s one way and then you need to do a certain amount of investigation to find out it’s not. So, I wrote Fire in the Empire and Devils Tongue and those sorts of things about that journey, my true history. Then there’s the joyous moments, that I wrote about in Morning Song, when I was watching my two daughters play. They’re completely in the present, not concerned with the past or future. They’re in that moment and reacting to each other, which is inspiring. They’re in love and that’s a huge inspiration. But overall, it’s more of an experimentation.

Your wife Julianne sings the backing vocals on some of your tracks and you’ve co-written together. Is it important to play and for her to be part of your experience?

Yeah, for sure. Jules and my brother Luke both have been part of this journey for a long time, one way or another. We collaborate very well together, we’re very honest. There’s a feeling you get when you’re around people you know, you’re not hiding anything and you’re completely open. That carries on in the music and on stage too. So, when you’re playing with people you don’t know as well, I know I couldn’t be as open on stage, which is important. Jules is an amazing writer too, as is Luke, we’re always checking each other’s work and seeing what everyone’s up to.

Do you write with your brother as well?

He sorts of write’s and sends me things and then I put my two cents in. We very rarely sit down in the same room and write together.

You met your producer and drummer, Matt Sherrod (drummer for Crowded House since 2007) in Nashville. How did this partnership come about?

There was a base player, David Labruyere (John Mayer’s longtime bass guitarist) that I’d met in Nashville and he said there’s this fella you should meet. He took us to a sushi restaurant and I met Matt. We just hit it off and started to play music together a couple of weeks after that. He opened a door for me that I had never opened in terms of music. It helped me narrow some things and to look with a wider lens to everything. We moved back to Australia to this place in the middle of the bush. I’d been home for seven or eight months and hadn’t written anything, so when I started, I called him and said you should come out and we’ll make a video of it or something. It eventually turned into my first album. We set up this house as a studio and recorded it there, it took about two weeks. It was the catalyst for the journey that has been the last three years or so, which has been full on. With this second album we worked in several spots. Hunter Valley, his studio in Nashville and my house. He plays drums, sings and contributes to writing.

You’re currently touring, are you enjoying it? How’s the reception been in the UK?

It’s been surprisingly good. I didn’t think it would be, I thought it’d be more of a struggle. We flew in and we went straight to Cambridge Folk Festival and from there on it’s been wonderful. We played a show in London, went to Nottingham and then Boomtown (festival) which was crazy but enjoyable. Now we have a couple more gigs here and then we go to Europe. The whole thing continues on for a few months now, we head to Canada and America. Then we return home to Australia where I’m going on tour with an aborigine artist called Gawurra, which should be cool.

Finally, what kind of albums and artists are on your playlist right now?

Good question. I’ve been driving around and discovering lots of things at the moment. Them (Van Morrisons first band) we’ve been revisiting a lot. You can definitely see the initial routes of where he developed into, there’s some psychedelic blues and Keltic thing going on, it’s really cool. There’s a female singer in Australia, Leah Senior, she’s a folk singer and is amazing, been listening to a lot of her. I investigate too many things, we’ve been going back and listening to Joni Mitchell. I like to revisit things. There’s so much music from the past that I’m yet to discover and then one thing leads to another. I listen to some of my friends who have released music, Yola Carter is a UK artist I just discovered. They’re probably the three I’m listening to the most.

Williams album ’Empire’ is out now and for his latest news head to www.williamcrightonmusic.com.au

Interview by Miranda Bunnis

Photography Anna Urik 

Location Home Slice Pizza, London

Twitter Youtube Instagram Tumblr Facebook

Glam Style