As a teen in Cleveland’s industrious DIY music scene, Joe Williams had a knack for organizing impromptu shows and bombastic house parties. He played with an array of obscure bands and electronic projects, but now at the age of 23 he has emerged with the electo art pop of Smoke, his debut under the name White Williams. In support of this album he will spend much of this fall on the road with old pals Girl Talk and Dan Deacon, the former having been a huge supporter and mentor to Williams while the two were just getting started. “My first real tours were with Girl Talk,” Williams recalls, “No one cared about us AT ALL. It was just a bunch of kids from Ohio crammed into a station wagon driving around the country and putting on disastrous shows to no people.”
Smoke casually references a decade that Williams is barely old enough to actually remember and reflects his shifting musical interests. “I was really into noise when I was a kid,” says Williams. “My very first show was opening for Black Dice when I was 15. It’s weird, I still listen to Black Dice, but somehow my own music totally morphed into something else.” After years of studying the sounds and style of his favorite old records, Williams deftly channels early new wave and ’80s synth pop, and even approaches a little ’70s classic rock on the Tusk-sampling “Fleetwood Crack.” Recorded in four different cities over the course of two years, Smoke eschews the obvious routes of the Skinny Jeans Dance Nation—cowbell party jams or sampledelic overloads—in favor of smoother, synthier slap-and-tickle jams.
After two beers and two hours of fidgety conversation, Williams was preparing to head back to his Brooklyn rehearsal space to meet with his newly assembled band. While early incarnations of White Williams saw the singer performing behind a white screen accompanied only by moving cardboard shapes, the uneasy frontman is now prepared to put on a more traditional show. “When I was making this record I never had any notion of playing these songs live,” he says. “I’m getting better at it, but I don’t really get off on the idea of being a lead singer. I’d be happy to just mysteriously play behind a bunch of cardboard mannequin versions of me.”