with Chris Williams of Maple Stave & Plastic Flame Press
Guitarist & singer for Durham, North Carolina’s post-punk/post-rockers Maple Stave. He also plays drums in Natural Gallerie & serves as guitarist/singer in the occasional Silkworm tribute band, Heather Loves Silkworm! He owns & operates Plastic Flame Press, designing/silk-screening rock posters, from his home. His son Seamus will be turning one around the time this interview goes up.
Name: Chris Williams
Bands: Maple Stave, Natural Gallerie
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a professional musician?
Chris – Probably somewhere back in middle school I decided that’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t actually learn how to play guitar until I was in high school.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?
Chris – Getting to play Cat’s Cradle for the first time was a pretty big deal. Growing up in Greensboro, I spent a lot of time coming down to Chapel Hill/Carrboro & Raleigh, so the highest achievement I could think of, purely personal opinion, was to play the Cradle. It still means a great deal to me to play there now, even though I’ve played there numerous times.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Chris – I always wanted to be a father. “Want” isn’t even the right way to describe it, I just kind of had it set in my mind that that’s what I would do. I didn’t know when, or how, but knew it would happen at some point.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career? What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Chris – The only negative, I think, is a necessary evil that comes with trying to devote yourself to more than one thing, regardless of what those things are: not having enough time. If I have band practice, I don’t see Seamus as much & if I have Seamus & I have plans, then maybe we miss out on a show. You work around that sort of thing, though. It would be much easier for me to not do anything other than work a nine to five job & be a parent, but I know that through my experiences with art & music, doing stuff in the community & elsewhere, Seamus will end up having unique experiences of his own & that’s important to me.
The positive is definitely the confidence that has come with being a father. I realized right away that any hesitation I had, any misgivings or problems with my self-esteem, etc., were going to be evident to him one day, so I decided to throw all that out because I knew that I was going to do everything I could to give my son the best life he could have. The transition didn’t happen overnight & I still wade through pieces of it, but for the most part I think I have done a good job not getting bogged down or just being depressed all the time by all the fears that being a parent can bring about. This confidence spills over into other things, like music, which is refreshing. Like taking blinders off, I feel like I can just write & perform & not be as concerned about living up to someone else’s expectations (that may or may not actually exist).
QRD – Have your children effected the music you make &/or listen to?
Chris – A few kid-themed albums have made their way onto my iPod. A very muzak-y collection of over 100 kids’ songs had to be taken out of shuffle contention quickly.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from a musical career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Chris – In Maple Stave, we talked a long time ago about how it’d be great to just play music, but we all have other interests & we’re not exactly kids, we have families, so the incredible financial risk that comes with dropping everything to just do music would be a little too much of a strain on us.
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?
Chris – I would have liked to, but I look back & realize those bands weren’t at a place to do that. Maple Stave is & we’ll go out for brief stints, which all of us seem happy with. Go away, make arrangements, have to ask for time off, etc., it’s difficult when you have a lot at home that you know you’ll miss. & we don’t rely on music to pay the bills, nor do we have a label, so that allows us to do things more at our own pace. All that said, I would like to go overseas for a few weeks, despite how hard it might be.
With Natural Gallerie, Matt & John & I have known each other going on about 20 years, but until we ended up in this current band, I don’t think we should have toured. Just a matter of timing.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a musician has a greater impact on your community?
Chris – I’m inclined to say musician just because I am a bit of a homebody, so there are a number of acquaintances who have no clue that I am a father. But then again, when I am out I am usually talking about Seamus & being a father has certainly changed my outlook on things & the way I interact with people, so perhaps being a father has had more of an impact.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become musicians or parents?
Chris – I am going to have to go with the old stand-by of, “I want them to do what they want to do.” Being a musician is great, but not for everyone & the same goes for being a parent. The one expectation I remember being put on me growing up was that I go to college & I did it, but I did it because I wanted to. A number of my friends in college clearly did not belong there & they eventually figured out what they should be doing & I’m sure they were happier for it. Music is hard & you need to be good at dealing with personality types different from your own, or those of your bandmates. It can suck a whole lot; I can’t think of many people I know being okay with driving to New York only to get paid $20, but we got that $20 & proceeded to quickly spend it on drinks & having a good night away from home. On being a parent, I’m sure some of the stories I’ve told in the last year have scared people straight. Between Seamus & family & friends’ children - the stories of skull fractures, headers down brick steps, seizures, meningitis scares, etc., have been rampant. But once Seamus was here, I realized that you, as a parent, have no choice; you can’t just break up the band & go home.
QRD – Both family & music seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Chris – In the hierarchy, I am a father first, then an artist, & then a musician. It’s sort of based on what needs the most attention, I guess, to some degree. The difference between the first, second, & third being that, if need be, two & three go away to concentrate on Seamus. The art is all on me, & I need to do that to provide for my son, so it will take precedent over music, but luckily I am currently in two bands that actually function as teams. Because of a variety of reasons on my end, neither of the bands has done much in the last month, but this hasn’t stopped everyone else from setting up shows, getting things in order, finishing mixing an EP, etc. When we get back together for practice this week, we’ll pick right back up & it’ll be all talk of fighter jets & spiders & the like.
QRD – What does Seamus think of your music?
Chris – Seamus is just coming up on one right now, he has not really been exposed to much that I play. Loud, obtuse rock music doesn’t strike me as the best thing to expose him to right now. I have played him quiet versions on the guitar, but even at this age, he seems non-plussed by dad. That said, he really seemed to like the new Obits when we listened to that. The Hold Steady, Thermals, just steady rhythms, he really gets into them & it’s pretty cool to watch. He really likes his toys that play music; all of these things make me very happy to see & make me hopeful that he’ll get as much out of music as I have.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a musical project with your son?
Chris – Absolutely. I look forward to it, in fact. My father was 40 before he met his father. My grandfather had been a guitarist in bands throughout the years & my father has always loved singing, so of course one of the first things they did was sit together & play. Given the connection I need to have with someone before I feel comfortable playing with them, I have no doubt that... well, that I’ll want to do something with my son & any others to come in the future, but I also keep in mind that I’ll be dad & that’s not necessarily a “cool” thing to do.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Chris –Probably the best advice I’ve gotten was years ago from Sean Meadows (June of 44, Lungfish, Letter E, etc.). When I had a chance to see him with the Letter E, I was at a fairly low point, musically & about to graduate college, unsure about what I’d do after I moved away, knowing full well that I am not the best at meeting new people. I asked how he kept going & all he told me was that I just had to persevere. If you are proud & confident in what you’re doing, it’ll show. Whether or not it’s good is another issue entirely.
QRD – 2015 update - any new insight from five more years of fatherhood?
Chris – Not too much. We bought a house, he’s now in elementary school, I have a much better job than I had back then (as in, my job-job; I still make posters), the music situation has changed some, with projects falling somewhat inactive as Maple Stave has really ramped up. Like most things, the challenges & worries & all have changed with time, but haven’t gone away, which is fine by me, & seemingly okay by my son, as well. Possibly the biggest, coolest thing is just getting to watch my son become his own person, with opinions, for him to be vocal about those things. He’s into comics & music & theater, & not because he has been pushed in those directions, but because he thinks they’re cool. & that’s awesome. Pretty soon he’s going to start learning guitar, we’ll see how things go from there.