As told to Paul Little.

For Cantabrians, 2011 was an extremely chaotic year. On February 22 we had an earthquake and the whole climate of the city changed. In some obvious ways for the worse, but there were also some really good, human results that came out of it. It was one of those edifying experiences that you come to appreciate over time.

I was down at the Lyttelton Coffee Company with Delaney Davidson. We were in the early stages of working out some songs that would turn into the Sad but True series. When it struck, I could see all my friends running out into the street. After that, the next few days were a bit of a blur. I was totally in shock. It left me literally dumbstruck.

But it was such an important year for me because out of that I formed or further forged some of my most-lasting friendships. The music scene got a sense of cause and direction. Artists are drawn to a way of finding some sort of practical applications for our art, even if it's just making people get together.


Delaney and myself and a whole host of Lyttelton bands went straight into making albums that we could sell to try to help out. This may sound weird, but that's not something that a lot of musicians get the opportunity to do for their own people.

It's more than trying to write songs to help. It's about having people in the same room sharing something that's not directly related to the trouble you're going through. That's the real sweetness of the thing.

Because I was in Lyttelton and the quake was centred just below the tunnel, we were shut off from the rest of the world for weeks. The tunnel was closed and the army was here. We were sort of suspended in time, with only each other to look after each other.

I still have a sense of danger I never had before the quake. You lose your trust in the stability of everything. That this planet we've been on for our whole lives can do that to us — it shocks everyone of any age. There's no age you get to where you're able to process that any better.

And, of course, the earthquakes didn't stop. It was an ongoing thing that created a whole new atmosphere. There was also a sense of this weird ecstasy — an end of days, carpe diem feeling. I had some of the most meaningful times with a lot of different people. It opened the heart up a little bit more.

Things I thought were pedestrian suddenly took on a sweetness, like any near-death experience might. I remember taking so much pleasure in building fires that winter. The little things you do to help yourself and each other leave you feeling really good.

My parents are separated and live here and it meant everyone needed each other. It was quite unifying and made everyone put down their differences. That's very cliched but it's definitely how it felt. It's a nice thing — just to be huddled with loved ones and to be thankful we had each other.

Marlon Williams' new album, Make Way for Love, is out now.