At a time when a straight edge razor drawn across the cheek of Karl S. Williams would have collected no follicle, the young musician heard music that sounded like where he came from. The gently undulating fields of Australian sugar cane, tea tree-logged river banks of his childhood and the dark lush rows of coffee plants stood before him as a working man seemed reminiscent within The Song.
Can one feel nostalgic for a place they’ve never seen? What was it about this music that recognised a fresh-faced loner on the other side of world, so new to the pursuit of The Song that he hadn’t taught himself to play guitar yet?
Music like this – that embodies Karl S. Williams – is evoked at the mention of a certain place and time. It was born there, crushed from human experience, distilled with universal soul; shone with the essential human spirit to where it is at once unadorned and yet staggeringly beautiful. Like hope. That Williams couldn’t play a tune – and didn’t come from a family that knew how to make one – was irrelevant. It was too late. It was unavoidable. It was life and death. He recognised healing, and sought to know it backwards. He could do no other thing. Karl’s voice is made from that music; he is a conduit that freely bellows, whispers, soars and intones, across so many octaves, stories of yours and experiences you survived. He has no other choice.
While initially music was a pure solace for Karl, after a decade as The Song’s pursuer there are worn strings of exploration, documentation and healing in the artist’s bow. We say we will “go and see” a performance. “Have you seen him?” we say. But your eyes can’t be trusted, here. Your ears alone, at home with Karl’s debut album Heartwood , might better appreciate the situation, as did venerated music critic Noel Mengel who called it “so good it might even save your life.” But on stage, the way music comes through Williams, mirroring your own love and anguish, is a deeply personal experience for anyone.
What an artist like Karl S. Williams proves is that despite birthplace or position, colour or intention, music affirms the notion of universal soul. There is a common thread that binds us and Karl sees it; feels it looped around his wrist, rubbing at his back, spun lightly between his fingers. In the dark and by sunlight he follows it: into people’s ecstasy, across their despair, underwater with their fear, and across the long, dry, plains of their heartbreak.
As Williams plucks that thread – whether with a feather touch or anguished grasp of desperation – and lays the sounds on the stage, he delivers an opportunity to transcend. Without question, you accept that place from which all unessential things have melted away, and dwell in the heart of something greater. There are no boundaries between Williams and you, yours and his experiences. He goes there, for himself and for you, into the worst of it, and finds the most fascinating parts. He shows you how he understood, how he negotiated his way back. Karl holds up the beauty in it; says it is worth wading into the darkness in order to better experience the light. He made it out. You will too.