Joseph Williams

'Denizen Tenant'

'Never Saw You Coming' was written over the course of 3 years. In 2016 my lifelong pal and collaborator Barry Bregman showed me an idea for a song. One of many pieces he had been working on. Barry had a handful of unfinished demos he’d started with some help from guitarist Oscar Bugarin and producer Dylan Ronan. I jumped in on this one and added some things and a few new sections. The song developed over the years, changing a bit each time I came back to it. But it was when we got the guitar tracks back from Mike Landau that the song began to take its final form. 

Mike Landau has been playing on my music since I was a teenager and he just knows what to do. His parts always inspire me. They help move me to the next step in the writing process. Steve Lukather is like this as well. 

Once I had his stuff, almost instantly I had a concept for lyrics and a vocal arrangement. Then in 2019 I peeled the song apart again. I re-edited form and re-produced some elements. Once I had all my vocals and production finished (spring of 2020) I put the song in the gifted hands of Lenny Castro. Lenny also records his stuff on his own. He knows exactly what is needed and he will give me so many choices. I always get what I want. Like Mike Landau I’ve been working with Lenny since I was a kid.

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I sat at the computer one day in 2019, listening to some random music, artists new and old, hunting for inspiration. The inspiration from that little session I remember was to write something waltzy… I put up a piano and started this tune. A verse and chorus that I thought were pretty interesting together if not a bit directionless. Worthy of continuing, at this stage I built up a pretty good sounding track and sent it to Mike Landau. He sent back his usual brilliance, giving it the life it needed but the song itself wasn’t right. I don’t like to force things so I left it alone and worked on something else. A few months later I played it for David Paich who instantly knew what it needed. David sat at the piano and played the chorus! "It needs a chorus" he said. Once we had our form, David and I started working on the lyrics.

I loved writing with Dave. On this tune, like many others, we spent hours talking about history, religion, music, literature, movies etc. Always leading us like excited kids to a subject or concept for the song. Then we start throwing out phrases, collecting and discarding ideas. Shaping and reshaping melodies along the way. Then in 2020 David Paich fell ill and could no longer remain in contact so I completed the song on my own.

In the spring of 2020 I started producing 'Liberty Man' from scratch with the exception of Mike Landau’s guitars and one of my pianos. I sent the track to my friend and former band mate Simon Phillips. Simon crafted a brilliant drum part, recorded himself at his studio Ojai, California and sent the tracks back to me. The drums were perfect. No tweaking necessary! Next I felt that if I had Simon here, it would be nice to have a human actually playing bass with him. Enter Leland Sklar. I asked Lee if he’d play on it. He said he’d love to. Then after sending him several unreadable charts, and eventually getting him something that looked like music, he added HIS brilliance to the track.

 

This tune comes with a most curious story. Some music came to my attention by a player called Steven Overton. Steven (unknown to me at the time) is a world class guitar player and a gifted songwriter who, from his home New Mexico, has created a plethora of musical gems. He had one song in particular that I wanted for this project called 'Mistress Winter’s Jump'. I was able to contact him through his brother who lives in LA. After a few very funny back and forths, Steven agreed to send his guitar, bass, synth parts etc. from his version of 'Mistress' so that I could do an arrangement and still use his guitars and bass.  

I was so thrilled. While I was waiting for a hard drive to arrive I dove deeply into Steve’s stuff and just fell in love with all of it. His guitar work is brilliant. His sound in general was very inspiring and moved me forward in a huge way right when I needed a kick in the pants. I plugged in the hard drive Steven sent me with 'Mistress Winter’s Jump' on it. I opened the file but what played was something different. It was labeled correctly but what played was another tune. At first I was bugged but as I listened to this other piece I was blown away. It was a two plus minute piece that sounded so raw and angry. When I really opened up the file and dug into the detail I found it so interesting and different and I quickly emailed Steven and asked "What’s this? Can I have this too?" He said "sure" and also that he was open to me collaborating with him on it. And so it became 'Denizen Tenant'

Once I had Steve’s parts I went nuts playing, turning it into this new thing! Crafting this was a blast. This song was like a puzzle that I couldn’t put away! I kept making myself laugh as I worked on the vocal arrangement… adding everything that came to my mind! After adding my daughter Emma Ray’s and Westons vocals, I sent it off to Lenny. As always his percussion parts make my drums sound better and humanizes the whole track.

'Wilma Fingadoux'. This is a song for my mom who died in 1974. I was 13 years old. The title is not her name. It refers to a joke she used to tell. This tune is one of many I have written for her over the years but here I have three of my mother’s granddaughters singing and playing with me… it’s a special sound!

This song just fell out of me. Much more easily than most… I sat down at Barry Bregman’s one day and played some changes with a groove into Logic and asked producer Dylan Ronan to create a track for me. I had the song itself but I wanted a more current vibe in the track and Dylan nailed it! 

With Dylan's elements, and my niece Barbara Gruska’s percussion, I added my sample elements, and then it became a vocal project. After completing mine I layered in both my daughters’ voices on some key harmonies. This one was fun to sing. It came together so fast. It’s one of those weird songs that I look back on and remember producing it but at the same time say to myself "when did I do that thing? Far out!" It’s rare when that happens.

Joseph WIlliams 015 (c) Alex Solca Photo

This song marks the reunion between me and Jay Gruska. Jay Produced my first solo album back in 1981. During that time we become dear friends and Jay married my sister Jenny and gave us my niece and nephew Barbara and Ethan Gruska! Jay was my mentor.

He was my first songwriting/singing/playing/producing and film composing teacher. After some years had past without seeing Jay (a falling out that was my fault), we finally connected again. I asked him if he wanted to write and produce something for this project. He said he’d love to, and we set out to write 'Black Dahlia'

Jay and I work very easily together. The method is truly collaborative. Like David Paich when he and I write together, Jay is the better player and usually takes the helm with the start of a song. He showed me a fantastic start he had and we were off and running. The song came together quickly! We fell back into our pattern of working together as if no time had passed. Other than doing some of my vocals in my studio (some were done at Jay's), the song was produced by Jay at his studio. 

During a conversation about drummers for the track, one of us (I forget who) suggested Jay’s daughter, my niece Barbara Gruska, to play. Well, she cut her drums at her own studio and they were slammin’!  We added the incredible Mike Landau on guitar, Nathan East, who recorded his bass at his studio and sent it back COVID style and tweaked it all at Jay's. I think I had the most fun working on this tune.

 

From the beginning we talked about who would mix the tune. We had many ideas but we went to Dave Way and I’m so glad we did! Dave nailed the mix, capturing the tone and intent of the song perfectly.

'Don't Give Up'. I always loved this song above all other Gabriel tunes! Like many of us, when it first came out I was truly moved by it and always dreamt of doing my own version someday. Over the years I would think about doing it but always talked myself out of it. This time, while I was talking myself out of it again, I started noodling around with an idea for a new version. I got carried away, I guess. Not sure how good this was, I got to a point where I had to finish what I started… I ended up with this elaborate arrangement. So I thought… Let me get my daughter Hannah in here to help me see if this thing works. She sounded so sweet and angelic on it so then I thought, “what if the conversation in the lyrics were happening between a father and his grown daughter?” I loved the way it sounded. It was touching but in a completely different way than the original. It really worked for me.

I added Luke’s guitars in the gospel sections with his usual energy totally bringing it to life. Lenny Castro’s percussion glues the whole thing together. I’m so proud of my daughter who has been singing her ass off since she was a wee little thing! The same is true for my younger daughter who adds her supporting vocals here. This is one of my “bucket list tunes” and I’m grateful that I got it out of my system, but I will admit… Peter Gabriel’s original will always be the best. 

'The Dream'. This tune started in 2016 as one song but in three years it completely morphed into another song. I had a groove going at Barry Bregman’s studio with Oscar’s rhythm guitar. I wrote some verse and chorus music so that we could send something to Mike Landau. Mike layered a ton of guitars without knowing a form or melody, words or anything… Just changes! What Mike sent back was amazing of course but it was kind of a mess, so I put the song away. I had a lot of other songs I wanted to work on so I thought I may or may not come back to it. 

A little while passed. I brought it out again. When I did, I wasn’t digging it! I tried some editing and then added my brother Mark T. Williams on the drums. It made a big difference but still I put it away and worked on other things. A long time passed before I pulled it out again. It still wasn’t right. I peeled it apart, re-edited it… stopped and then wrote a new tune. The only thing to survive the original sequence was some of Oscars Bugarin’s edited guitars in the intro, and from the next sessions Landau’s edited guitars and Mark T.’s drums

The whole thing, melody and words came very easily in an afternoon… I did all my vocals that day! It was one of those 15-hour days! Once it was a song with a real form, with words and a vocal etc. I sent it to Lenny Castro. Lenny brings organics to the party, gluing the whole thing together. Later, closer to mixing, I added my daughter, Ray Williams and Weston Wilson for additional vocals. 

Lukather_Williams 029 (c) Alex Solca Pho

'Remember Her'. This was another demo from 2016 that I pulled out and worked on from time to time between tours. Like 'The Dream', this song bears little resemblance to its first demo. The surviving elements are the groove itself and some of Oscar Bugarin’s guitars.

In 2016-2017 Mike Landau played on it, giving me so much amazing stuff as usual. Over the years I edited it into a new form, gave it an entirely new melody, came up with an idea for the lyrics etc. It didn’t come all at once. I sort of chipped away at it.

I wanted a song about one or several women in history who contributed something significant but who were forgotten. "Will anyone remember her?"

I called my friend composer/playwright/songwriter Paul Gordon. He loved the track and a few days later he gave me the story of Cecilia Payne. In 1925 she was the first person to discover what the stars were made of. But nobody believed her until a male professor proved her theory four years later. Her discovery is considered one the most important discoveries in astrophysics, and yet no one remembers her name. It was perfect! I started my vocals the day I received Paul’s finished verse lyrics.

In 2020, with the track in good shape, I added Lenny Castro. Once again, his percussion humanizes the track and ties it all together. And lastly, Steve Lukather put his burning solo down! I think I might be the only one to have a Lukather guitar solo into a Landau guitar solo!

'No Lessons'. While I was working with Jay on 'Black Dahlia', we were talking about what other types of tunes we might write next for this album. Jay and Paul Gordon had a song I wanted to do but COVID prevented us from producing it the way we wanted. We talked about a balled of some kind and I believe I just asked him to write something for me. 

After a few weeks, Jay presented me with a full-blown demo of 'No Lessons' with Jay singing. The song was brilliant, classic Jay Gruska, with an amazing lyric by his wife Denise Gruska! I immediately loved it. The lyric was my life exactly! I couldn’t feel more connected to a song.

Jay's track was incredible. Jay doesn’t do demos really. From the beginning it sounded like a finished record… I just had to add my voice! I did my vocals in my studio to Jay’s specs and the rest is all Jay… his arrangement is beautiful. Jay brought in Steve Tavaglione for the horn line and added Jeff Babko on B3 and Rhodes to his own amazing piano performance. I feel so privileged to have this song on my record.

'Mistress Winter's Jump'. This was the first Steve Overton song I had planned to cover. It just took developing 'Denizen Tenant' with him to get it! The song is another of Steve’s quirky heartbreaking gems lyrically, with an Irish swashbuckling vibe musically! Right up my ally!

As was the case with DT, Steve sent his file with guitar, bass etc. I took about a week and I went nuts with it! I added new drums, piano, vocals, and synths. Lenny Castro put the final touches on it and there you have it.

I can only speak for myself but I believe like many lifelong Beatle fans out there, it’s impossible to have a favorite Beatle song. 

But one of them, and high on my list is 'If I Fell'.

 

As a kid I loved anything my older brother and sister listened to which was everything by the Beatles but 'If I Fell' was one Beatle song that really got my attention in a different way. Something in the sadness of it I could not shake. I still can’t. It’s the Beatle tune that taught me about harmony and vocal arrangement. It was the song where I really fell in love with the singer’s voices. Especially the way they sounded together… All these decades later I still lean towards the Beatle tunes where I can hear John and Paul clearly together! I love the early songs with George Martin’s well-crafted vocal arrangements!

One day I sat down in the studio and just did a version from top to bottom for no reason other than I could. I wasn’t trying to reinvent or redo, it was for fun! I sang both lead parts and messed around with extra harmonies here and there… some ideas I always used to add singing in my car! It was purely a thing of joy to do… Then I put it away.

It wasn’t until I was starting to look at all the songs for this album that I decided to take it one step further. My first Idea was to have my brother Mark T. sing the John part (there is a version) but after considering all the other connective tissue between mine and Luke’s project it made sense to ask Luke if he’d sing the John part.

I sent it to Lenny who recorded an incredible percussion bed. We recorded Luke’s vocal and nylon guitars with a mobile rig up at his house. I then recorded a bunch of takes with my daughter Emma’s dog Judy howling for us on command and stitched together her last little comment! Judy Boots gets the last word.

'World Broken' started as another Barry Bregman Idea. He had a demo started of a song that was pretty well sorted out but in its state was not quite right for me. Over the course of a few years I ended up editing out a few sections of his original idea and focused on a three-chord phrase that was Barry’s intro… That became the beginning of 'World Broken'. 

In 2020 The song got a major facelift and a new chorus, but B’s original hypnotic phrase is still the basis of the piece. I had a ball crafting this one, doing it entirely in the box. The melody, words and vocal arrangement came very naturally in the last few moments of working on the track. I brought my kids in to stack some vocals with me. It’s a Williams Choir. Of course, in the end I brought in Lenny too, who just adds believability to the track with his percussion. The song is my droney chant tune for this album.

I hope you've enjoyed hearing about each track from the man himself, as it is much more interesting than anything I could write, and gives a wonderful insight into the whole album processes.

This is due for release the same day as 'Steve Lukathers' album 'I Found The Sun Again', both through The Players Club via Mascot Label Group on February 26th, and is an excellent release worthy of anyone's music collection. It just goes to prove there is no substitute for experience and talent and some great musical friends.

TFM gives 'Denizen Tenant' 8/10.