An Interview With the Punk Empress of African Rock, COLE WILLIAMS!
Posted On 16 Jan 2018
The self-proclaimed “punk empress of African Rock” Cole Williams recently premiered her brand new single titled “Free.” This single follows the release of “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke) from earlier in the year, and showcases Williams at the top of her game.
Huff Post has called the song “a gift…[a] singular touching performance” and credited her for her “powerhouse vocals and empowering lyrical stance.”
Williams had this to say about the track: “That song is a collaboration between myself and French producer/musician Pierre VEUILLOT while I was working in Paris. It was an incredible experience to create music with someone I could barely have a conversation with. This song is about me and my right to express my voice as a woman, Jamaican-American, musician, educator and human. At times, the music world can feel more oppressive than the “real” world, and you feel like you are fighting to be heard. This song is my statement, my personal mantra and my gift to everyone that wants to be free.”
“Life is a stage,” says Cole Williams, who is more than just a singer/songwriter/producer/composer. Cole has expanded her repertoire to reflect an increasingly eclectic assortment of creative endeavors. Model, WWOZ New Orleans radio host, community worker, and more. Since moving from her native Brooklyn, Williams has welcomed New Orleans with open arms, taking it’s eclectic spirit as an influence, and leaving her own creative and singular stamp on the city. Blessed with a powerful voice and superlative musical instincts, Cole is forging a “fearlessly original sound that is as eclectic as her outré fashion sense.”
Cole’s stage presence has been likened to Grace Jones with a girl next door flare bends and melds sound breaking traditional genre distinctions, making her a unique musical entity, comfortable singing rock ballads as she is reggae or a blues tracks. Williams studied voice with Ankh Rah Amenhetep (Making the Band) from 2000-2002 to develop her vocal personality, and soon began writing and recording demos in some of NYC’s top studios.
To stay current with all things Cole Williams Band be sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or her official site www.colewilliamsmusic.com.
Learn more about Cole Williams in the following All Access interview:
Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
Hey, Happy New Year to you too! At the moment I’m at the House of Cole in New Orleans.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career? What are you most excited about for this year? Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
2017 felt like a whirlwind. It was intense in every way and my music is the victor. I feel like for the 1st time in my career I am very sure of my path and I’m open to taking a lot of risks and trying out new musical ideas and developing more musical collaborations. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do create yearly themes. My theme this year is Love.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
Growing up never seemed like a reality- I always went in the direction that felt right for me and I loathed structure and other people projecting themselves onto me. Music has always come naturally and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been playing and training in classical piano since I was 4 years old. As a first generation American I wasn’t raised in an environment where being an artist was a viable career choice, and music was given to me to make me well-rounded, not a career choice.
My earliest musical memory is singing a gospel song “Tomorrow” in my church when I was about 8 years old. I remember feeling so nervous and shy but I sang in key, so it wasn’t that horrible, haha.
I actually thought I was going to become a psychologist.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today? How did moving to New Orleans from NY change your sound and ultimately, who you are as a musician?
I am definitely a Jamaican-American Brooklyn girl to my core. I grew up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn which is pretty much like mini version of the Caribbean. It was a super strict Christian upbringing. I was in church 2-3 times a week, piano lessons, band, cheerleading, never a dull moment. The pace in NYC is very fast and there is so much diversity and cultural cross pollination that gives you a good perspective of the world. I’ve always infused my gospel, classical, Jamaican and urban roots into my sound in an honest way and moving to New Orleans has allowed me to delve deeper into myself as a percussionist and storyteller. In NY I chose to become a singer, and my experience in New Orleans has taught me that I was chosen.
Let’s talk about your newest song, “Free.” Where did the inspiration for this track come from? What was it like working on it with your French producer/musician Pierre Veuillot? How do think it compares to anything else you have put out?
Hmm, that song was created in the moment. Pierra, and I were hanging at his cousin’s home in Paris and we were all chatting about everything. We’d talked about creating a new song together, Pierra had his guitar and I had my computer. We recorded Pierra’s guitar and I started singing the first verse’s melody and the words just flowed. We both ended up finishing our respective parts in our own homes over the course of a few months, I believe. It wasn’t my first international collaboration, but it was the first where I was able to be a storyteller and a singer. “Free” is more than a song to me, it’s a resolution.
What made you decide to release a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic song, “A Change Is Gonna Come”?
Sam Cooke is one of those artists that has one of those voices that delivered a powerful song. I remember always loving the song and never felt confident singing “A Change Is Gonna Come” or any cover song for that matter. One day I realized I could sing the songs because I understood the song. Singing at the Marigny Brasserie in New Orleans on a Saturday night, I meet a lot of people from everywhere. And whenever I sing this song people stop and come together. I recorded and released my rendition of this classic because it felt like it’s message could be heard now.
You have performed with so many incredible artists and at all the top venues around the world so I am curious to know what show has really stood out the most to you?
I think one of my favorite memories is performing on the Jools Holland Show with Little Jackie. We were in a circle with 4 other artists which included TV On The Radio, Boy George and the Kaiser Chiefs.
I understand that fashion is something else that you are very passionate about. How do you think music and fashion go hand in hand? What do you think are a few key items that everyone needs in their closet today? How would you describe your personal style right now?
That’s an understatement. I believe in personal style and expression as much as I believe in Jesus. Fashion has always been the sister to music, just look around. Every lady should have an everyday faux fur, a luxury bag, a catsuit and pair of fierce heels. Hmmm, I’m in the middle of style phases right now so everyday it’s a little different. I think for these chilly winter days I’m feeling inspired by the 60’s retro vibe
Where do you find that you at your happiest- on stage performing, in the studio recording music, writing songs or elsewhere?
That’s a really good question because I really enjoy the full spectrum of being a musician. Performing is where I explore the most. It’s live, anything can happen and mistakes have to become magical moments. It’s a rush that I enjoy.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
There will always be some sort of unrest in the world as it is now. People now are beginning to “wake up” and sometimes suffering together is what allows us to heal together. Music has always been a healer, so I know there are a lot of artists out there creating music out of love. It feels good at the end of a how when a fan tells me how inspired my music makes them feel, that’s real joy.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Bob Marley, Family Man, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Lauryn Hill, Mahalia Jackson, sister Gertrude Morgan, Donny Hathaway, to name a few plus more. Meshell Ndegeocello and Raphael Saadiq are two of my favorite modern musicians.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
I hope my fans feel inspired and empowered by my music. My songs are based on personal experience and observation. As an artist I’m current and speak to the times we live in while projecting the power of creating your own reality.
Where can fans see you perform next? What are some of your first few tour dates in 2018?
I’m at the Marigny Brasserie in New Orleans every Saturday night at 9pm for #AfricanRockSaturday, #FirstFriday at Roux Carre and have a residency at the Maple Leaf coming up in March. There are some other things coming up but I have to keep it a secret…