KRAAK FEST 2023 HIGHLIGHTS: Turner Williams Jr.
Having previously performed under the Ramble Tamble moniker and frequently collaborated with New York guitar duo Elkhorn, the Alabama man Turner Williams Jr. finds rebirth in his God-given name, armed with an electric shahi baaja and effects board which steer the bluesy folksy tradition into trebling psychedelic turfs. Here he tells story of his life and the wild journey that brought him and his tunes from Birmingham to Marseille.
From what we could find, you’re from Alabama, you lived in Brooklyn and now you’re based in France. Tell us your life story, in as many words as you’d like :)
Ok, My Life Story™: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in a suburb like Twin Peaks directed by FOX NEWS. Real culture was college football, church, and deer hunting. In utero, I kicked to the Crimson Tide marching band. Roll-tide-roll. I stuck a fork in a light socket when I was two. Classic Rock radio was my spiritual hymnal. I was tangled up in deep south traditions, rituals, codes, and accents but there also plenty of haunted free space for my imagination to flex. I drank Mountain Dew and drew a picture every day. I tuned every string on my mom’s puff-the-magic-dragon guitar to the same magic note. At the end of the day, I was born to Ramble Tamble, and I love Sweet Home Alabama as long as I don’t live there.
The rest of my life is a just smear of stints: the Midwest and East Coast, then back down South, back up East and then France just in time for Covid. I studied printmaking in St. Louis and the early 2000s noise scene was my night school. In 2007, I scored a bulbul tarang while searching “electric banjos” on eBay. Riding on the Freedumb times, I totally devoted myself to this new kind of axe. I moved to Brooklyn just in time for the 2008 recession and stumbled through all kinds of name-droppy dumb luck. Q Tip from A Tribe Called Quest bankrolled my stillborn fine art career. I was drafted into Guardian Alien by Greg Fox from Liturgy and Alex Drewchin from Eartheater. The band was a three year tour in brutal power jamming and millennial sociology: psychedelic space maines lol. Frank Hurricane shrymped into my life and incidentally introduced me to my wife Mona, a French horticulturist and musician. I dropped out of NYC life in 2013 for a Studio Art MA at the University of Alabama and Mona joined me there. We sweetened Alabama for a few years before rambling back up East for stints in Philadelphia and upstate New York.
When Mona completed her U.S. citizenship, we took her family up on an offer to take care of the family house in Marseille. The time was right, and we arrived 2 months before Covid. That was 3 years ago. I’ve never felt more settled and unsettled. It’s very disorienting and stimulating to be here. Paradoxically nurturing. We have a studio in the basement where I paint, draw and jam. Our zone is full of Mona’s gardening and fermentation projects. The wind here blows my brains out after the sun melts them. I pinch myself every day. Marseille bébé.
You’ve played as Ramble Tamble and also in collaboration with other musicians. What brought on the shift to play under your given name?
More confidence and/or less shame. I improvise in a raw, intuitive way. No theory or musical training. I don’t know what I’m doing but I know I have limitations. However, I’m never really sure what and where they are. So every time I perform, I'm reaching in and out to see what happens. There's a gut feeling that I follow, moment to moment. It’s like biking through traffic in Marseille: a little bit of navigation but mostly body reflex. When I’m playing alone, I can go full gut-mode, and once I go down that road, I can’t hide anything. I’m exposed. It’s intense, and I have to just accept whatever happens. Using my given name is part of that.
Can you tell us about your setup and how it came to be in its present form?
The electric shahi baaja is my primary tool. It’s type-writer keyed electric lap harp that has 13 strings or so. No special tunings or scales. In my music, it’s an expressive physical interface, and I manipulate it's output with a small collection of foot and hand controlled pedals. It’s a setup for four extremities: hands and feet in constant motion. I want to be totally physically engaged. Sounds are generated and processed simultaneously so things get confusing. I'm shadow boxing until I smash through the mirror.
Everyone I’ve played with influenced my solo setup and music. I’ve always oscillated between collaborating and performing alone. All of the little things I pick up from others re-emerge in time. Music is an infectious language. Its social and viral. I think my current approach was shaped by all of the brilliant people I’ve had the fortune to play with.
Any present/future projects you’d like to share?
First off, coming to Kraak this weekend is a big deal for me. It’s a big honor to come share my work. I’m also so excited to experience everyone’s performances and hang out.
My first studio LP is coming out via Feeding Tube Records on April 7.
I’m very proud of this cassette “Landscape Man” that dropped late last year on Astral Editions. My most recent collaboration with my dearest friends in Alabama.
I have a lot of new paintings and drawings that I’m really excited to share - take a peek if you please. I’m looking for places to show and people to work with. Don’t be shy :) Holler!
Turner Williams Jr. brings the Alabama Man to KRAAK Festival 2023 this March 4 at Het Bos. Grip tickets while ye still can!