David Williams is on Twitter. This is a recent and somewhat bizarre development for someone who doesn’t have a landline, much less an iPhone application for maximum tweeting proficiency. The local musician has a laptop, though, and he keeps in touch with “civilization” from his desert home in Torrey. Williams moved to Wayne County 10 years ago to get away from it all, but with a promising sophomore album in the works, he’s ready to take his music to the next level. If that means jumping on a trend potentially as concrete as Crystal Pepsi, so be it.
Ideally, Williams would never need to leave Torrey—a place that’s “mysterious, beautiful … indifferent to human beings.” Some have made the trek, including a handful of national bands Williams booked at the Rim Rock Patio after testing the waters with local acts.
“Personally, I love stopping in small towns when I’m on tour. Glade [Sowards, who plays with him in The Black Hens] calls them ‘Quality of Life Tours.’ I just wasn’t sure if I could attract artists who are accustomed to an urban setting,” Williams says. “I was pretty certain that, once there, bands would ‘get’ it, and really enjoy themselves.”
Portland’s Laura Gibson showed up first on the Patio’s calendar, followed shortly by fellow NPR-approved artists Blitzen Trapper, Horse Feathers, David Dondero, Wye Oak and Nick Jaina. “Suddenly we had a great lineup of shows all summer long,” Williams says. “I felt pretty lucky.”
Besides holding court to a series of intimate performances, Williams spent the season working on material for his forthcoming LP, tracks he took to Portland in November for recording sessions with Adam Selzer (The Decemberists, M. Ward). The two worked for 10 days, meeting each morning over coffee at 10 a.m. then working at Type Foundry studios in eight- to nine-hour stretches. Williams bookmarked the job with regional gigs, driving map-less in circles around the Northwest. One night—election night, actually—he slammed his old Subaru into a median, blowing out a tire and fixing it in front of a strip club as the nation watched Obama sweep McCain. Williams also broke down outside a small town in Washington, and when he returned to Portland, his alignment was off. He came down with a cold and now his hearing is off, too.
For all the minor calamities, Williams is thrilled with the results of his and Selzer’s labor. “I would have regretted it had I not gone up there,” he says, adding that he had the extra incentive of following through, thanks to a friend’s generous $1,600 donation toward the album’s completion. Such support is not uncommon. People believe in Williams. They’ve witnessed his virtuoso guitar skills, closed their eyes and ruminated on his honest lyrics. Williams writes beautifully understated folk with soul to burn. You can hear it on his stripped-down home-recorded debut Summer, or on the limited run EP Wyoming which he distributed to a small crowd at a recent loft concert. Ticket proceeds went—you guessed it—to offset Williams’ recording costs.
The six-track release features a version of “Echo,” a song that Band of Annuals covers, giving him credit—and exposure— with each live rendition. On Wyoming, “Echo” is buoyed by Laura Gibson joining Williams on vocals and trying her hand at drums. Micah Rabwin also adds a slightly unsettling theremin to the mix. Copies of the album are still available at Williams’ live shows. You can catch him on any given week performing solo or with The Black Hens. He makes the 250-mile commute from Torrey to Salt Lake City several times a month—more so in the winter when the tiny burg enters its off-season.
It’s worth considering a trip down south, though. Torrey is the place where Williams first found his sea legs, so to speak. After perpetually playing in someone else’s band, he took a risk on this singular creativity.
“Really, I just wanted to see if it was possible.”
David Williams performs with The Black Hens, Band of Annuals and Magnolia Electric Co. May 21 at the Rim Rock Patio.