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Exclusive Interview: Vinyl Williams Embraces the Otherwordly

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Celestial pop artist, Vinyl Williams has been making gravity waves throughout the ether of psychedelia since 2013. After spending three years writing and recording new music, Lionel is ready to unveil his newest album titled Azure, which is set to release on June 5th.


Based in LA, Vinyl Williams is the brainchild of Lionel Williams, a celebrated visionary artist among the worldwide psychedelic sphere. Working with artists like Toro y Moi, Morgan Delt, and Spaceface, Lionel has gained acclaim for his otherworldly musical and visual abilities. The man has synesthesia, so it's no surprise that he can cleverly craft virtual realities that compliment his acid-washed, angelic soundscapes.

Vinyl Williams continues to gain recognition with each release and has created tight bonds with art collectives like Non Plus Ultra and the highly anticipated experimental festival known as Desert Daze. His earlier projects like Into and Trance Zen Dental Spa paved the way toward reaching the transcendental moment of auditory bliss that he captures in his recent albums Brunei and Opal. So far, Azure is a bit of a mystery in terms of how it'll sound as a whole, but nothing less than exceptional is expected from this sound wave sorcerer. A few weeks ago, Vinyl Willams released the single "LA Egypt" to quench your musical taste buds. Prepare your mind and start salivating.

We had the chance to have a chat with Lionel on Instagram live last week.


Here's what he had to say:

Q: (Both) How’s it going? 

A: Good, I have a lot of stuff I have to set up since I’m doing a set for UMS which stands for Underground Music Showcase. It’s this Denver festival we usually play every year. It’s an actual festival, but now they’re just streaming so I’m going to be doing my set on their Facebook. 

Q: (Danny) Is this show with UMS your first streamed concert?

A: I did a few so far during this quarantine at Non Plus Ultra’s Instagram and Twitch as well as the Vinyl Williams one. I haven't really done any concerts though. It’s mainly just me and Craig, my roommate and best friend. We have a new band called The Emerald Isle. We’ve just been messing around, singing over things we’ve already recorded. It’s not really a show, but this one will be the first real one I’ve done. 

I’ve been producing a bunch of other live performances on the Non Plus streaming platform with a bunch of different artists. It’s been fun, but not a lot of people know about it outside of LA. On weekends it’s super awesome, we use our VHS camcorders and a visual synthesizer and we run it all to digital so it looks like an old broadcast TV show. It’s super wacky. 

Q: (Spenser) So you’ve recently released a single from Azure called “LA Egypt”, is there any sort of concept behind that song?

A: Well, I was listening to Arthur Verocai a lot and I made it before I saw him perform at the Lodge Room here in Highland Park. His music just resonated with me more than anything. I didn’t really let the Spotify algorithm show me any music that I didn’t select for over two years, so I didn’t go to the Discover Weekly, I didn’t go to the Weekly Playlists, I didn’t even let Spotify play a song that it thinks I might like. Not once, for two years. It built up the algorithm so perfectly to understand exactly who I am. The first time I let it play a song I didn't select, it was Arthur Verocai and it’s like the quintessence of everything I love. 

The algorithm actually understood that, so I guess that kind of goes back to the “technology is sometimes a good thing” conversation we were having before. So I found Arthur Verocai and I was obsessed with it and tried to collage this one melody of his that was stuck in my head forever. Then I changed the key, changed tempo, changed the lyrics to where I made a new thing out of it which turned into an entire song. 

Even though it’s just the chorus of Verocai’s song, the rest of the song is based off an earlier demo called Street Stars which is a totally different version of the song. So the rest of the song was just improvised on the drums. I had nothing written. I just recorded the drums, hoping I could record something cool there and it just turned into this crazy wormhole Thai funk section. 

That song is an amalgamation of ideas, probably like ten different ideas put together in one song. That was the first song recorded for the album and it’s been a three year long process, finishing that song. I finished it probably around January this year, but I started it in December of 2017 or something. (laughs) Oh my god, yea it was a long process. I actually wrote the lyrics around 2017 as well.

Q: (Spenser) Have you heard much about chaos magic?

A: Kind of, are you talking about Robert Anton Wilson’s type of chaos magic? Oh totally, William S. Burroughs cut and paste, collage, chaos magic. 

(Spenser) I feel like that song could be an example of it.

Yeah you take a thing that you love, you know it works and it gives you that feeling that you can’t describe every time and you recycle it into a new thing. You can change all the variables as long as that essence of what you love about it is still there. You can change the key and it’s a totally different thing. You play with it and see how the feeling it brings changes. You just listen to that tickle in your heart. Basically, that’s all I’m doing. 

Even though I’m not looking at anything when I’m listening to it, I like blur my eyes and wait for that tickle feeling as I’m fucking with it and whenever it happens, I’m like, “that’s it, that’s the right one”. You just listen for that moment where the most bliss is, but yeah it’s totally chaos magic. That one specifically is such a combination of crazy elements. I was also listening to David Axelrod and that Capitol Records sound of the 60s is just amazing. 

I mean Les Paul who created the multi-track recording device, nobody really credits him for it, but he invented the multi-track recorder and he’s also the creator of Les Paul guitars. He’s an acoustician and he acoustically tuned the Capitol Records Studio in the 50s or 60s. The shit that you hear in there is just unreal, like “Songs of Innocence” by David Axelrod. When I first heard that  sound, it goes back to that Icelandic cliffside, like “oh my god it’s so textural”. 

There’s so many fractals of texture in there that you can’t get with a digital sine wave. Well you can’t even make a perfect sine wave ever, it’s a total theoretical thing. Once it goes through speakers, it distorts and turns into something else. So what you wanna do is distort it as much as possible and that’s what Capitol’s studio sounds like but in a room. I try to get that sound from that song with tons of reverb, all real spring reverb on the drums, percussion, the vocals, everything. There’s different types of spring reverb on everything and it gives it that ballroom like sound. 

So I tried to create an environment with this song while recording it in three separate rooms. No other song on the album has that kind of habitable exoplanet paradise Goldilock zone, which I think Brazilian music nails more than any other music. They’re just all making space paradise music from another realm and no one else was doing that. 

Although another huge influence for the album is Basil Kirchin who’s a British experimental film composer. He was the first person to ever go on tour with his own PA system in the 50s. He also had all these like self recorded tapes of his own experimental ensemble and when he was moving from somewhere to somewhere across the British Channel, the ferry dropped all his tapes into the water (laughs) all of them were gone forever. If you read on Basil Kirchin’s Wikipedia, it says ”he was always troubled by this moment, forever. For the rest of his life,” but he was a genius. He was like one of Brain Eno’s favorite orchestral composers of that era. So yeah, Kirchin makes these magical orchestral realm sounds, so I tried to get that type of sound without an orchestra just using a Casio and uh that’s it. (laughs) Oh I used a bit of a Crumar which is a tiny beautiful Italian string synth machine from the 70s. You can get that kind of air quality synth sound. 

Q: (Spenser) Back when we met at Desert Daze in 2017, you were describing those paradise-like sounds as multi-harmonies, did you have a certain word you used for that?

A: I’ve been playing around with the idea of aesthetic melancholy. Whatever the fuck that means is what I use to describe it. Melancholy is sad, but aesthetic melancholy is like a very active positive form of melancholy and that’s kind of the closest description I can come to that feeling. Something like that, but there’s also emotions that I can’t even reach to yet like rapture. I think we’ve talked about that before, but you know all these higher levels of emotions that we’re trying to reach for that we don’t experience in normal day-to-day life. If there’s species that are billions of years more advanced than us, they’re probably already in that state of mind or way beyond it, all the time in a pure state of 360 degree timeless rapture. 

Ya know (laughs), if we’re going to eventually speed up our evolution, I feel like that reaching for that feeling is a helping component to help people’s work get better. Because I’m not really doing any advanced work in any way or any field that’s really advancing the human race, I’m just a tiny little component that helps people do it themselves. Hopefully that reach can translate to the listener and cause them to reach in their own work a little bit. I haven't gotten there yet ya know, but there are these explosive moments of seeing the white light in the near death experience. Like at the end of “LA Egypt”, I try to do this thing that’s literally like going through the wormhole between life and death. It’s all about impressions and trying to encapsulate that feeling. 

It’s really hard because when that feeling, that aesthetic melancholy is plateaued, then you stop feeling it. It has to come out. It has to not be there, to be there and that’s really fuckin' hard to do. The restraint of that is the hardest thing. If you just have a country song with major chords for the first minute and you’re like well fuck this, then all of a sudden it goes into a jazz major seven, you literally transcend when that moment happens.

(Spenser) Oh yea, King Gizzard does that a lot.  

Exactly, they’ll just do pentatonic blues for like five minutes and then all of a sudden they’ll just go into this amazing progressive chord arrangement. Yeah, they make you wait for it. What I personally want to hear is what you’re waiting for becomes the most insane moment, but the whole time is insane (laughs). It still has to have inclines and stop, so that’s all important. I always go back to Once and Future Band because every single moment of their music, you’re on this perfect roller coaster. 

(Spenser) I feel like all of the visuals you create for your music adds another dimension to the experience. 


Yeah when a minimum of three senses are engaged, your mind believes it’s real. So I’m just missing one, I really need to have wind or something flying at the audience or some kind of fragrance. If you feel the touch while you’re looking and hearing, you’re completely immersed. Your body thinks you're in some other world, ya know. We’re getting this light board setup right now from my friend Javen who’s worked with Non Plus Ultra for some time. He builds modular light boards that can fit together in a bunch of different styles, sizes and arrangements. He’s making a big light board for us, for when we go on the road again this or next year. We’re going to have this enormous screen that’s going to be like all that you can see, so you’ll just be there. 

That's what I kind of want it to be to where you just see this IMax-like other realm, but it’s going to take a lot to get there. But yeah, it's a really important part to the set. Sometimes it doesn’t really work out. You know, I don’t have a video tech live, so I have to do it all myself.  It’s a lot to focus on making the sound sound right without a sound guy and getting the video without a video guy. It’s definitely stressful, but we’re going to be working with more people in the near future so it’ll relieve all of that for sure. Ya a lot of things are lining up when things can’t actually work now. It will soon so it’s fine, but yeah I hope we can play in SLO soon like early next year or something. 

Q: (Danny) So are there any promising plans for the rest of the year?

A: Yeah I mean there are ten shows booked right now for October in Sweden, Norway, England, France, all over the place. They’re so excited to get us over there, but we really don’t know we’re just going to be rolling with the news of whether or not it’s going to be happening. Flights right now are $750 roundtrip to Europe which is so cheap. If i were to buy flights right now, it’d be pure magic but I probably wouldn’t get a refund and they’re probably going to have to be rescheduled. I’m excited for the potential, you know, but I’m kind of this blindly optimistic person to where I’m like, “yeah let’s just go for it.” 

When really if I was smart, I wouldn’t even take that chance to go to Europe. I’d just be super safe about it because if anything happens while we’re there. Like if they start opening up clubs when we get there and the virus starts spreading more, they close everything down and we can’t leave. There’s a lot of logistics. I’m a very irrational person, but over time I’ve become more rational because I had to in life. I’m 30 years old now, but still what outweighs all that rationality is the ability to play for people, especially when they haven't seen a show for the entire year of 2020 and then everything opens up again and we get to play in Europe. Ya know, I’m down to do it. It’s funny because it’s so paradoxical since I’m very susceptible to illness, especially respiratory illness. 

My whole life, I’ve had respiratory problems like asthma. Everything, all of the above, so it’s really not smart for us to even take that chance over there. I really know how powerful psychosomatic willpower is and that’s kind of what I run off of, ya know. All of the times I’ve been so sick on tour or just in life, I always get through it because I stay positive and I don’t worry about it. It’s fine and it always works out. My life kind of runs on that which is really like a non-adult way of operating. It most likely won’t happen, but we’re still going to be attempting to fill out the rest of the booking schedule and we’ll see what happens. We’ll be posting it publicly if it is going to be happening. That’s basically the only thing. 

Ya know there’s tons of other possibilities, but nobody wants to book in the US for another year. So I’m just going to be focusing on making new music. I already have so much new stuff, like I’ve got a new band The Emerald Isle. We’re going to be releasing stuff in May even before Azure comes out. We’re going to be releasing some songs, so that’s a whole other project and then hopefully next year we’ll be able to play shows as The Emerald Isle. We’re also going to be doing livestream shows because Craig and I live together in the same house and we can do that, but he can’t really play my Vinyl Williams songs. It’s a lot harder to do that, but yeah we’re going to start doing those a lot.

I think the Emerald Isle music is the best music I’ve ever written in my life. I think it’s the best music I’ve been a part of, ever. Not only is it Vinyl Williams, but you add comedy and zannyness in there. That’s what you get, The Emerald Isle. It’s just crazy careless British punk shit, completely out of key and really funny lyrics about getting made fun of for wearing sandals at a tavern here in LA. You know, just hilarious stories about Craig’s life because he’s the singer and he’s insane. It’s just a whole other level of approachability even though his vocals might not be as nice as mine, they’re just hilarious so it doesn’t matter.


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