Vinyl Williams

by Charlie Latan

Los Angeles-based electronic-musician/digital-artist Lionel Williams’ fans might not remember playing Myst on a Power Macintosh, but when they watch him perform a Vinyl Williams set, they’ll get the gist. The “transcendent pop” group, helmed by Lionel (guitar/synth/vocals + visuals), fuses Eastern concepts (drone, serenity, subtle microtones) with regional indie appeal (they just got back from a tour with sweet guitar/synth outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra). But transcendence isn’t just emptying marketing jargon; Lionel Williams is a hyper-versatile 3-D digital artist who creates colorful, kinetic virtual spaces that he plays during select VW sets (some venues don’t provide him with the requisite equipment—projectors, cables that reach the stage and soundbooth, etc.). VW audience members, though technically standing still, feel like they’re pushing through topsy-turvy, hallucinatory spaces.

“It’s basically many metaphysical levels of interfacing that allow these things—” Lionel says, adding that he doesn’t code himself, but instead creates sequential layers of UI.

“The entire template is open source, because then you don’t need to build it from the bottom up. It’s already there. So yeah, it’s definitely a breeding ground for allowing artists to emanate from culture and express freely their spectrum of that culture.” A semiotic decoding of his chimeric, protean visuals might yield “Lewis Carroll fuking wit Google Maps street view Persia endless zoom-in on bejeweled mausoleum.”

The title of Vinyl William’s second album, Into, articulates its ethos wonderfully, though: bits and pieces broken up and reassembled into its own coherence: four members, synth, two effects-laden guitars, bass, and a straight up rock drum kit isn’t a new setup. They’re neither indulgently-indie nor drone; Lionel’s voice floats in and out of head and falsettos melodies. VW aren’t minimalist; the whole set’s a maximal neurological orgy. And even then, they’re not art rock; Lionel airs no pretense in interviews or casual conversation. And sure, they’re krautrock-ish, but not in a Popol Vuh spiritualized-moog-with-bombastic-drumming way; Amon Duul’s too acid-headed; Can’s too pissed off and Tangerine Dream’s too urban industrial. A closer comparison of VW might be where pop and krautrock meet between Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac. Though VW dives into a wormhole, discovering more contemporary chillwave vocality plus a firm reliance on sustained synth chords. The culminating experience hyperdrives beyond whatever local language might describe it.

“You can’t just ‘be’ an artist, it can’t just be easy,” Lionel insists. “There have to be obstacles and suffering involved to make something that can make an impact and be beneficial, ultimately for humanity. Success is the ultimate goal. I’m just trying to figure out how to balance the aspects of making it easy for people and allowing an infinity of possibility as well.”

And while Lionel’s voice isn’t his strongest asset, it never obstructs the sacred journey he’s mapping. VW isn’t a project out for instantly recognizable hits, it’s about sculpting something multidimensional, all its own.

Photographer: Eddie Chacon at Metropolisofvice.com.

Stylist: Sissy Sainte-Marie at Sissysaintemarie.com.

Groomer: Traci Barrett for Therexagency.com using Oribe.