AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM HINSON
William Hinson is a pop soloist from Asheville, NC. He and his team of many artists focus on the unity that they find within their local music scene. William Hinson's latest EP, Elevator Music Vol. 2, is an example of that unity.
The first cool September evening of the year rolled around on the night that I met William Hinson at the UNCA Highsmith Student Union in Asheville, NC. I had been to his EP show the previous week, and acquainted myself with him there, but as we spoke on his ever-growing career, the funk undertones of his latest EP, Elevator Music Vol. 2, and rising to success in the music industry, I felt as though I truly met him.
HEY WILLIAM! HOW ARE YOU DOING? HOW WAS YOUR ELEVATOR MUSIC VOL. 2 EP RELEASE SHOW?
Good. It was great, I had a lot of fun. I can’t believe that so many people came out, and I can’t believe that so many people knew the words. That was very different, very cool though.
THIS RELEASE SHOW WAS YOUR VERY FIRST TIME PLAYING LIVE WITH A BAND RATHER THAN GOING SOLO WITH AN ACOUSTIC SET. WHAT WAS THIS LIKE FOR YOU?
My whole life, I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. I always felt that if I asked someone to be in a band with me and play my music, then I was just a burden to them. I’m more established now though, because [before,] I’ve played shows as me. When the band came in, it’s not like a “Hey, we are this band that’s backing up.” Playing solo shows is more of a presentation, whereas playing with a band is more participatory, and people enjoy that much more. I’m playing so much more because people are standing up, and people are willing to stand up. People stood up for 45 minutes. They were standing there, watching me play music. If it’s just me, and I’m up there telling everyone to sing “Why Won’t You Be My Girl” with me, then people are less inclined to be interested in that.
THE AUDIENCE SEEMS LIKE THEY ARE PART OF IT WITH A BAND!
DOES THIS EXPERIENCE REFLECT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ELEVATOR MUSIC VOL. 1 AND VOL. 2 IN ANY WAY? DO YOU THINK THAT YOU'VE MATURED BETWEEN THE RELEASE OF THE TWO EPS?
What we wanted to do with Vol. 1 was just establish what it was: an awakening. A brand new style of production, and it was much more grown up. It was the first one that was made in a real studio in Lipinsky [Hall, UNCA], and it was a whole new thing. Then, I was trying to separate myself from earlier works that I had released, and have it be under this “Elevator Music” blanket. It’s been incredible because I released Volume 1 on March 3rd, and in six months since then, we’ve seen this exponential growth. It’s unreal, but it’s tangible. And that’s because the principle is tangible. I love elevator music. I love that. It’s so cool, and the music fits with my frame of mind, and it fits more so with relatability. People can truly relate to it. The live show illustrates that this is me and Blaine, my manager, and everyone involved. It’s Claire, Will and Dylan, the other band mates. And Josh Garrett, who is my art director. It just shows the growth of the organization. I used to think that this was a thing where you were just Chance The Rapper, and you made something in your bedroom, and you release it, put it on Soundcloud -- or you splurge and put it on Spotify -- and people were just supposed to listen to it because you are Chance The Rapper and that’s how it worked. Or, I suppose, you were William Hinson, and everyone that knows you knows that you’re a musician. Everyone that has known you knows that you write songs. You are that kid with a guitar in high school. So, we know you until we’re supposed to know you’ve released a new album. We’re supposed to love it -- and that’s just not the way that it is. It’s really not. It’s a self awareness thing. It takes a team. The full band shows, the progression of hard work, it doesn’t showcase me as much as it showcases the work of everyone else. It’s weird, because I am him, I am William Hinson, but I don’t think of what we do as that. I don’t think, “Hey, you need to do this for me so that I can get what I want.”
IT'S A COMMUNITY OF ARTISTS. WELL, I NOTICED, AT YOUR SHOW, THAT YOU WERE CONSTANTLY THANKING EVERYONE, WHICH IS SO AWESOME. THAT'S VERY COOL THAT YOU'RE AWARE OF THAT, BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO AREN'T.
People who don’t understand the music industry, they grow up and they look at Mariah Carey [or whomever] and they’re like “That’s gonna be me. I’m gonna be them.” With me, it was John Mayer. I was like “oh, how am I supposed to be that person? “ It’s like you’re transitioning into the philosophy of being in mass media. Those people are just characters. It’s interesting for me because I’m me. And it’s weird because I’m very much me but I’m also very much whoever I want to be, I suppose. This interview is going to make me seem like me, and it’s going to also contribute to the legend that could be me.
YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR SOUND COMPLETELY AND PEOPLE WILL INTERPRET YOU AS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON.
With the people who grow up and they’re like “I’m going to be Britney Spears,” those people never make it. They don’t understand that either a) it’s because you have crazy parents that are going to put you into situations in which you become a Britney Spears, or b) those people are just going to fail. Because everyone goes on American Idol. That’s such a sham because they don’t understand the principle that you’re not just a talented person, you go out, and you sing at a fucking Karaoke bar, and then everybody’s like “WOAH, my GOD!”
THEY NOTICE YOU, AND YOU'RE DISCOVERED, AND YOU BECOME BIG. EVERYONE JUST DOES IT FOR YOU. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS.
Yeah, I think that being discovered is still very much a thing, and that will never change. Ever. But now we live in such a saturated market that to be discovered takes years.
TELL US ABOUT THE ASTOUNDING DIFFERENCES IN COVER ARTWORK BETWEEN ELEVATOR MUSIC VOL. 1 AND VOL. 2. BOTH ARE BEAUTIFULLY DONE, BUT VOL. 1 SEEMS TO REFLECT A DARKER SIDE. COULD YOU EXPLAIN THIS TO US?
The general differences between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, sonically and artistically and visually: with Vol. 1 it was more of a re-emergence, it was a new thing, this new era, so to speak. I love the fact that the only thing that we have left as artists --- because Joe Shmo Shmuck or whatever can go write some song in his bedroom and he can record it into Garageband or Audacity or whatever and put in on Soundcloud and that can go viral and it becomes this whole big thing, blah blah blah. But then, what happens? Then, the next Joe Shmuck can do the same thing. It’s so saturated. Albums are released every day. The only thing that you control truly is anticipation. So, with Vol. 1 we hyped it up for months, we started recording in August and it didn't come out until March. We started advertising in late December.
IN ELEVATOR MUSIC VOL. 1, CLAIRE HOKE WAS AN ADDITION TO THE ENGINEERING TEAM AS WELL AS A WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTION TO BACKUP VOCALS IN ONE TRACK ("I.B.W.O.Y.F.S.L."). IN VOL. 2, SHE BECAME AN IMPORTANT PART OF "PENDULUM."
She’s a very important part of my life.
RIGHT ON! SO WHAT'S IT LIKE ADDING A LARGER VOICE AS A FEATURE IN YOUR NEWEST EP? ALSO, I'D JUST LIKE TO ADD, YOUR VOICES GO VERY WELL TOGETHER.
I met Claire last year. I spent months courting a friendship with her. Turns out she was gonna be a music tech major, and we had this friendship. My best friend Nick is an engineer, and we work together. Whenever Nick was not available, though, I started to be like, “Hey, Claire, you live on campus, could you come to the studio? I need to track this.” So with Volume One, we were pretty much all the way done except for "IBWONFSL" and polishing up. One night I was in there working on some vocals for "IBWONFSL," and it originally ended after the 2nd chorus, and I decided to put in an instrumental and go back to this refrain, of sorts.
She just has the best recorded voice I have ever heard. Thousands of times better than mine. Naturally sounds good on a record. It’s incredible. We started working. So for Volume Two it was just like “ok, let’s get started.” and I was ready to go, I had my songs. Then, I wrote "Pendulum" during [production for] Volume Two. And it was this song about, y’know, just two people and they were going back and forth. Everybody feels that feeling a lot where it’s just like, “I like you, and you like me, and I know that you like me, and I know that I like you, but there’s so many things that, for some reason, we can’t meet in the middle.” I love a lot of that song. I love double entendres, I love when you can say “pendulum,” but then apply it to a relationship. That’s the best. So, I had it, and then the 2nd verse is, word for word, a text message that I received. I changed maybe two words to make it rhyme.
“I wasn't put in an easy situation because I was your friend and always saw your relationships end/
I saw how you hated your exes,/ and all the people you texted.”
That was from a girl that I am now friends with, but it never worked out. So I wrote this song, and we went in there, and I was like, “Claire, can I get you to sing some oos?” Because, Claire has the best oos. They’re phenomenal. Then, she did some oos, which I then reversed, and did all of the fun things during the beginning. In there, were singin’ “why’d you never call me back?” and then it was just like naturally you were supposed to [echo] “call me back.” You get wisps of sound while you're sitting in there, and it becomes “duh, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to go!” So I said, “can you sing ‘call me back’, and can you harmonize with that line?” We recorded six of those, and I was like, “dude, this is the best. This is so great.” So I was listening to it, and I was like, “where the hell did this girl come from?” If you’re listening to it. . . and some girl just randomly comes in, what the fuck?
So I was like “wait, what if it, then, became a conversation, because I’m literally having a conversation! ‘It always happens when the midnight day ends/ you text me once for a conversation like/’” quote, “‘hey, miss you, you wanna talk about my issues?’” and then the whole rest of the line is just a quote! So I asked [myself], what if this was just a duet? This would work out perfectly, and it would explain why she was in the song.
I remember [asking] her, “I would like for you to feature on Pendulum, would you like to do that?” And she said “What? Yeah, for sure, but, why me?” Best person. And, yeah. I love people like Claire because I want to just give to them because they don’t take from anyone. Claire, being like, “what, me?” and me being like, “yeah you!” And if it wasn’t for Claire, we wouldn’t have this fucking record. The amount of times that we recorded the verses for “Why Won’t You Be My Girl,” astronomical. Had to change keys, went through so much. Claire did engineering work on every song, was there the 3rd to last overnight. We were getting really close to the end, and I still didn’t have the perfect vocal for “Why Won’t You Be My Girl” and Claire had an exam the next day, at 8am. I was like, “I just need someone to engineer for me. Please. It has to happen tonight. We don’t have time. Can you just come for like 30 minutes and we’ll knock it out.” We recorded the entire song, vocally, in 30 or 45 minutes. We had spent months doing this. I recorded those verses thousands of times. We knocked it out in the last minute -- fairly confident about her exam, I suppose. I hope she got a good grade on that.
TELL US ABOUT THE BEATLES, JOHN MAYER, AND THE 1975.
I grew up listening to The Beatles, my mom is a huge Beatles fan, but then it’s one of those things where there’s nothing like the Beatles. There was and there will never be anyone else like the Beatles.
I found John Mayer when I was in the 4th grade. I remember I heard Waiting On The World To Change on the radio, and I asked my mom to take me to Best Buy so I could buy the album, and I bought it. That was even before I had an iPod, I listened to it on my little SanDisk thing. From a very young age, I was watching videos of them performing live, all the time. And that was in elementary school.
As far as the 1975 goes, they’re the only one of my favorite bands that I remember listening to the first time that I ever listened to them. I remember where I was and I remember what I was doing. I was a sophomore in High School, and I was driving home from church, and it was on Ryan Seacrest, top 40 or something. It was “Chocolate”, and I was like “ooh, the 1975, that’s such a crazy band name, but okay. . “ and then, I just remember looking them up and I immediately bought the album on iTunes. The first listen, I didn’t like them. Then, the second listen, I was like “Dude, this is amazing.” I got super stunned and listened to them and then they changed me.
Not to be a stupid hipster or whatever, but I remember listening to them before any of my friends did.
HOW HAVE THEY INSPIRED YOU MUSICALLY?
With the Beatles, and with The 1975, they are so practiced. The Beatles were so good because they had their 10,000 hours in very early on in their career. There’s a general rule that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you have mastered it. They crossed that threshold really early on because they were playing eight hours a day, in Germany and in the Cavern and stuff.
With The 1975, I think they inspired me because. . . it’s both complicated and very deeply artistic. Also, harmonically simple and accessible to really anyone. I’m on a quest for accessibility, because that how people care. If they can listen to something -- not just, the first time, and they’re like “okay, this is good,” but they listen to it the fifth and sixth times, and they’re like “wow, this is fire,” The 1975, and The Beatles, especially, and John Mayer, especially. A good record is something you can listen to in all seasons. I listen to The 1975, probably every day. I listen to John Mayer every day. I’m a very addictive person. Sometimes, I feel like that's a fault. I’ll listen to something and I just love it so much so I’ll only listen to that. Then, I’ll get instilled in those values forever. Values meaning I get instilled in only that music forever. But I think that so many people, especially going to school and stuff, people tell you to reach outside of your general music realm, and listen to a bunch of things that you wouldn’t like. And I agree with that, but I think that people take that way too seriously and end up abandoning what they truly do love, and they’re lost because they have so many references of what they could do, but not what they want to do.
YEAH, IT SEEMS LIKE THERE'S JUST SO MUCH MUSIC IN THE WORLD, AND NOT ENOUGH TIME TO APPRECIATE IT ALL.
Mm-Hmm. I like what I like and I love it. Really really hard. I think that has made me a better musician because I can listen to a bunch of different things and try to pick out little things from those things that I can emulate. Because, I mean, everything that has been made has already been made, musically. You can only make subgenres now. Our job is just to make it better. That’s my prerogative. Take what I know, and make it better.
WHAT DO YOU WANT OUT OF MUSIC/ THE MUSIC INDUSTRY? WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Influence. Okay, so you have indie rockers that are chillin on bandcamp. I don’t want to badmouth them because I love them. It’s like they have dreams but there’s such a differentiation. There’s a few kinds of people. There are people who are doing it for fun and doing it for the kicks. There are people who are doing it for money, and those people lost their souls a long time ago. And then there’s people like me. Yes, fame is something that consumes every person in their own way. Whoever says that they don’t care about fame, all of those people still have Facebook. All of those people still have Instagram. So, they’re famous in their own right, with their 100 followers or whatever. I feel like money is a fleeting thing. The coolest thing would be to have people want to make YouTube covers of my songs. That’s an influence thing. Whenever it’s not just “I’m not here to make money”, or “I’m not here to have X amount of likes or followers,” and you can influence people in so many different ways. This is such a big thing for me because it’s what I wanted to do my whole life, prior to social media. I’ve been passionate about being a musician since the 2nd grade. And this is still what I want to do. Every single day, this is what I think about. I think that that’s. . . I don’t know. I don’t want to come off as pretentious, and “all of these other people are fake,” and that’s just not the way it is. You can pick up a guitar today and be really famous in two weeks. But I think that what I want is just to influence kids in the way that my idols influenced me. If you’re not out here to influence the next generation, then you’re just thinking about yourself and where you fit in within your own social hierarchy, then what are you doing?
BASED ON THAT, HOW HAS YOUR LOCAL MUSIC SCENE CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR OVERALL GOALS WITHIN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY? IN YOUR OPINION, HAVE YOU BECOME AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE D.I.Y. MUSIC SCENE IN ASHEVILLE?
It depends. I [generally] take more from others, and I get influence from the Asheville scene more than I influence it at the moment. People don’t market their stuff. Everyone [here] releases an album every 5 seconds but they’re not all about it. But I think that Asheville is cool, especially within the college[s] and within the really great musicians that I know. It’s never really this cutthroat thing. I’m just me. . . and I don’t really want to fall into a category. It’s difficult, because I’m not in an [indie Asheville style] band, and I can’t play with all of these bands, sonically.
THERE AREN'T MANY POP ARTISTS WITHIN ASHEVILLE, AND IT'S HARD TO FIND YOUR "NICHE," RIGHT?
Yeah, but that’s the beauty of it. If I’m ever tacked onto a bill, then I automatically stand out on a bill because of the music I play, and because of who I am. Whereas, If I was in some larger market where everyone’s trying to make pop music, it would be really easy for me to get onto a bill, with a bunch of pop music, and then nobody would care.
THAT'S A VERY POSITIVE VIEWPOINT.
It’s strange, and it has been difficult to get a footing, and establish myself. Like I said before, it’s me. It’s not like I’m some pseudonym or whatever. It’s me. It had to come from Vol. 1, it had to come from this establishment of a general principle of this rallying cry of elevator music, because then, it was legitimate, and it seemed legitimate, and we did all of the things that would be deemed legitimate from an outside perspective. With the production, with the artwork, with the marketing. I think it was because of the team and the work that we did to market ourselves in that way to where we can now established ourselves to be like. . . I feel very strongly, but I can easily be tacked onto a bill with a Brucemont or a SLUGLY or a Window Cat and I’ll be alright, because this isn’t just pop music, this is William Hinson. At least in this realm. I don’t know. . . what do you think?
I HONESTLY THINK THAT YOU AND WINDOW CAT WOULD DO A GREAT JOB JAMMING. IN MY OPINION. I KNOW THAT WINDOW CAT IS MORE ROCKY AND FUNKY --
jazz fusion --
MORE HIATUS KAIYOTE. IT'S STILL GREAT. AND THAT IS THE BEAUTY OF ASHEVILLE. THERE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT STYLES AND INTERESTS. THERE'S ALWAYS GOING TO BE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN POP MUSIC.
And the other thing is I thought I was going to have to come here [to Asheville] and have to prove myself as the best pop musician here, and it was really cool because when I came here, I was the only one. I felt confident in what I could do.
IT'S A GOOD STARTING POINT IN ASHEVILLE.
But, because of that, I have all of these influences. Everybody plays jazz [here], so I’ve incorporated a lot of jazz, and learned a lot of jazz chords and incorporated that into my music. As a musician, you should be a magnet. You should be able to pick up everything around you. If you can. Because you see what works and what doesn't work. In all of the solo gigs and all of the restaurant and background gigs that I’ve played, those have helped me a lot. Just performing, you get to see if this works or if this doesn’t work. If I play Holland Oates then everyone over 40 is going to freak out, and if I play California Gurls, my cover is much different than the recorded version, obviously, and so then, that’s pretty universal. . . “I Want U Back” is pretty universal. You just learn all of these things and pick up all of these things, but then, when you incorporate other people, you pick up progressions and different things.
ASHEVILLE IS JUST A REALLY GREAT PLACE TO START. IT'S NOT VERY COMPETITIVE -- TO A CERTAIN POINT, AT LEAST, BUT THAT'S JUST WHAT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS LIKE. YOU CAN BE A SPONGE, YOU CAN BE A MAGNET, AND YOU CAN EXPERIENCE THINGS AND BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO. SO, IT'S HELPFUL. WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU, WILLIAM?
Volume 3. Just making more music, I suppose. I [played] Cat’s Cradle. I remember I went my senior year in High School and saw Tori Kelly at Cat’s Cradle and in middle school, I saw Sara Bareilles there. I’ve seen Passion Pit there. Just walking into somewhere, and everywhere I go I always walk into a venue or whatever and I just imagine myself playing there. I remember being like, “this is possible, this is plausible.” Blaine and I have had to navigate this from a completely novice perspective looking at and reading things about what we should do. [Cat's Cradle] is somwhere I've always wanted to play. I really want to play more band gigs. I’ve just played too many, “hey, an evening with William Hinson, come listen to him serenade you with acoustic guitar.” We have to establish the band as the thing. Whenever you watch anyone on a radio show, and they’re singing something unplugged, very stripped down, it becomes this other thing, where you're like “oh, this encourages me to see them live, to see the whole show.” People fucking love Tiny Desk Concerts. I’d really love to play that. It’s a very realistic next goal, I suppose.
ACOUSTIC IS JUST A SLIVER OF WHAT YOU WANT TO BE DOING?
Right. In terms of what’s next, I’d like to have two more EPs out by the end of this year. I’d really like to go on tour next Summer, I want to go to Europe next Summer, and play. I’m thinking about studying abroad there, in Ireland. And then, when I get back, I’d rather not have a real job for a while, and just go on tour, find some people who are alright with doing that with me, for a few weeks or something.
I think that this music is good enough, that I feel very strongly that we can tour on this music for about three years. Yeah, it would be difficult to tour like that. But on the other hand, when you have this product that you’re so proud of and you're that confident in the ten songs from the cannon of elevator music that are out now, that’s just ten songs. And I have so many more songs.
I want to have the chance to really go and tour and play because I feel very connected to my audiences and I feel that we can do a good job, and get asked back to play again, and play bigger shows, but that just comes with time and hard work. The reason that I started out saying that it was weird was because, on any given day, somebody, y’know, LL Cool J or Snoop Dogg, can come and retweet you, something that you said or something that you’ve done, or one of your songs, and someone way smaller than that can do that, and someone can listen to “Why Won’t You Be My Girl,” and someone else can listen to “Why Won’t You Be My Girl,” and then they can tell their friends to listen to “Why Won’t You Be My Girl,” and then, suddenly, I’ve got a million [listeners]. In a very real way, we want to set ourselves up so that we can have the opportunity for those kind of wildfire moments. It happens, just randomly, and you can’t count on it. You can’t count on something to go viral, you just keep putting out good content and hope that people listen to it, and keep marketing it, and keep telling your friends to listen to it.