Marlon Williams talks sloth, pride and being an enthusiastic eater
You have described yourself as a "passive drifter". Does that make you slothful?
Sloth is the most interesting sin because it's the only sin that is a sin by omission. It's the most slippery of all the vices. People relate it to depression but I feel like depression is an active thing while sloth is a complete absence of the will to live. As a passive drifter, sloth is a terrifying and pretty present thing sometimes. The danger is that you lose all sense of when to start rowing [your boat]. Your sense of aesthetics or taste becomes unimportant if you stay in the stream too long because you don't have to make any decisions. In art, choosing is important. If you're not in the practice of doing it, you find you don't know what's worthwhile and what's not.
You have made both music and movies with critical acclaim. Do you ever think you should focus on one of them?
If I am pushed to say, music is the main thing for me. I'd rather put out a good album than a good film. In high school my teachers were always telling me not to spread myself too thinly, to spread myself out of existence. So it's definitely something that's always resonated and been a bit of a problem for me. You end up feeling paralysed with indecision, and the more time spent stagnating the harder it is to get out and that leads to depression.
Do you suffer from depression?
I don't go through dark swings or anything. There is definitely anxiety but I feel lucky not to have been through that in my life.
You were good enough at opera to study with Dame Malvina Major but chose country. Was that a tough decision?
I wasn't that skilled at opera. I struggled in my year doing classical singing, being able to straddle the two worlds and keeping the discipline of what it takes to do classical singing. I feel like it wasn't too much of a hard decision. My prospects in opera were not as great. Choosing country meant I was able to go and hang out at bars with all my friends; it was the more fun option. I was really starting to get the writing bug too and the avenue for creation, as opposed to the sometimes stale world of opera, was more enticing at that age.
For a very long time, country music in New Zealand was seen as naff. Has that ever been an issue for you?
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I have really cared less and less about it the older I get and maybe that's because I am less overly country in my music than I was five years ago. Genre is something I have tried not to think about at all; as a creative it's not a very helpful heuristic. It's very limiting. But it has been interesting to watch country music ebb and flow. I feel like we have gotten through a revival wave, so maybe it's had its day again and will dip back down again for a while.
Why did you choose pride?
Pride is the top dog, it's an intersectional sin, isn't it? It cuts across a lot of them, all the other ones spring out of it in a way, except for maybe sloth. New Zealand pride is such a nuanced thing. Pride and humility are bedfellows and there is the paradox of Kiwis being super-proud of their humility, which has always made me laugh. The problem with being such a small country in the middle of nowhere is you have to find ways of stamping your identity, you have to yell for people to hear you. I think New Zealand is far more nationalistic than it might look on the surface for a fairly progressive country. The fact that we cling to national pride in such a way is very impactful on the way we treat each other and the way we treat ourselves on the world stage. I remember saying to Delaney Davidson once that I didn't really have any pride and he openly scoffed at me and it made me rethink what pride means. Pride isn't necessarily loud and boastful; it can be stubborn and bitter. It has far more faces than I once thought it did.
You are an enthusiastic eater?
I often find myself ignoring whatever troubles I have in life because I am fixating on the next satisfaction I am going to get in food or drink. It doesn't seem that sinful on the face of it, but if you are getting all your excitement from the next meal - there is more to life than eating. Vietnamese food is my favourite but if I am stressed enough anything is exciting.
Do you feel a lot of stress and pressure?
I think I internalise a lot of stress, which leads to behavioural eating. I suffer a normal amount of stress but I don't know that I deal with it well … I have been hunkering down in Lyttelton for the last few months trying to find the next thing music-wise, doing some writing, being quiet for a bit to get some input before the output happens. I am pretty eager to have new music out, so there's a lot of internal pressure there.
- Eleanor Black