If you’re anything like me, you’ve gotten to know your music collection much more intimately during these many months of isolation under the pandemic. The slower pace of life and lack of stimulus can do weird things to your brain. Troubled sleep and vivid dreams have been widely reported. In a world where travel is severely restricted, dreams, literature, and music provide our minds an outlet for exploration, participation, and, in unexpected ways, fulfillment. No doubt, certain albums have accidentally taken on new meaning and weight during this period of prolonged isolation — for me, it’s been the third, self-titled Velvet Underground album, whose jittery, hushed outpouring has perfectly matched my mood many of these late nights.
Anyone releasing an album in 2020 is going to have the context already set, but I have to say that this new release by the collaborative union of Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton and New Zealander singer-songwriter Marlon Williams is a perfect companion for the claustrophobic life we are all experiencing under the pandemic. Drawing from wellsprings of American music, folk, Western country, and the billowy, winsome ballads of Roy Orbison, the songs that populate Plastic Bouquet at once evoke the familiar and the distant, harkening back to a common musical language, mythic in scope, but evoking the windswept plains of faraway lands. With human stories of commonality, commitment, and betrayal, the overriding sound of this extraordinary album is one we can all relate to during our long sequester, lonesomeness. I got to sit down with Kacy and Marlon, the voices and co-producers of Plastic Bouquet and ask them a few questions about how the three of them created this timely, transporting album.
Does a side project afford more freedom?
Kacy Lee Anderson: I suppose it does in the sense of not having to take all the blame if something sounds weird to people that already like your old music. There was a freedom.
Marlon Williams: I definitely think collaborating is a freeing exercise. It frees you from your own self-image and expectations and, maybe counterintuitively, lets you be more yourself in a lot of ways
These are with few exceptions brief, effective songs — was this done with intention?
Kacy Lee Anderson: Not having played the songs more than a couple times before recording them helped keep all the arrangements to the point. I think the intention was never clear but truth be told I have an affinity for short songs.
Marlon and Kacy’s singing feels like such a natural pairing — was that part of the inspiration to collaborate?
Kacy Lee Anderson: I think Marlon and I thought we could sing well together. We became friends via the internet so it was up in the air whether we’d truly be able to make the album.
That’s unbelievable that you’d never sung together, the vocal blend is such an endearing feature of the album.
Marlon Williams: Definitely from my end, the prospect of singing with Kacy was extremely motivating. Still, there was no guarantee that our voices would blend but it all worked out nicely.
Clayton is one of my favorite guitarists in the genre — what was his role? Did he marshall a lot of the arrangement duties?
Marlon Williams: Same! He’s such a unique player and innovator, I really think his presence is as much a part of things as the two voices. He had a major hand in the way things were gonna sound/instrumentation/direction in general.
Kacy Lee Anderson: Marlon had more specific arrangements in mind for his songs than I did and Clayton played some of the guitar parts Marlon had already written. My songs had more room for developing so I was relying on Clayton to pull out the tricks. It was a very gentle group of people making this record so I felt comfortable going in without strong opinions.
What was the writing process like?
Marlon Williams: It was for the most part pretty gradual. We’d send songs back and forth and generally offer encouragement. There were only a couple that really came out in the studio
Kacy Lee Anderson: We emailed songs to each other over the course of a few months. Eventually there were enough gathered to make a full record. I wrote half of the songs and Marlon wrote the other half. There was little to no collaboration on the writing front. I think the songs ended up fitting together very well.
“Light Of Love” obviously written as a duet — was that a key song for the project?
Marlon Williams: This is one of the aforementioned studio creations. I had the chorus floating round my head for a while with no verse to land on. Then it just sort’ve wrote itself into the narrative of the then-forming album.
Kacy Lee Anderson: It was the only song Marlon wrote here in Canada for the album. He was chipping away on it at the studio. Maybe he thought all the album was missing was an obviously written duet.
Telling tales from multiple points of view. “Plastic Bouquet” “Old Fashioned Man” and to an extent, “I’m Unfamiliar” — is this intentional? Was it inspired by the dual hemispheres you represent?
Marlon Williams: I think it’s just a natural direction for two distinct voices coming together to try and move in. Country music is so much about character presentation.
Kacy Lee Anderson: I thought it was a good chance to bring out some different characters like in a lot of the old conversational country songs. The ones you hear of in the music of George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton.
These are extraordinary lyrics, confrontational but full of compassion and humanity. Was there something about the collaboration that inspired the themes of the album?
Marlon Williams: Yeah, I think distance and desire for understanding are inherent in the album because they were so fundamental to the process.
Kacy Lee Anderson: I’m certain there was. It’s hard for me to nail down the reasoning.
I feel like the strongest statements are “Isn’t It” and “Arahura” — is there something to that?
Marlon Williams: I think ‘Isn’t It’ is the most lyrically interesting and singular song. There aren’t many moments the album really breaks with the conventions of country lyrical forms but that’s definitely one. I think ‘Arahura’ stands out because it’s the only song that literally pulls the listener south of the equator to my part of the world.
Kacy Lee Anderson: ‘Arahura’ is such a top-notch number. It sounds like an old American Cowboy Song though it’s an ode to an intriguing piece of Marlon’s lineage in New Zealand. It’s a mystical song, the imagery is powerful and its sentimentality is unmatched. ‘Isn’t It’ was written in my parents’ basement, so it maybe has some extra post-teen angst to it.
Thanks for spending time with me talking about this extraordinary collaboration.
Readers, please find Plastic Bouquet in stores and on your favorite streaming platforms, links to all can be found here. Kacy & Clayton’s and Marlon Williams’ catalogs of works are well worth exploring and are both worthy of obsession. They are making some of the most deeply affecting music of our time. I got hooked — maybe you will too.