An Interview with Tyler McWilliams of Assorted Orchids

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Tyler McWilliams of Assorted Orchids. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, Assorted Orchid’s newest music, his opinion of the music scene today, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Assorted Orchids, you can head over to their Bandcamp, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Tyler. Cheers.

Andrew:
Tyler, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Tyler:
The past year has been a transitional one, full of change as it has been for most people around the world. The pandemic forced me — or provided for me, depending on how you look at it — to stop the perpetual motion that I’d been in for many, many years. Before 2020, I’d been on the go constantly, you see, moving from one city to another. And I was always busy with work. But when the quarantine period began, I had the opportunity to focus on my music, finally. One year ago today I hadn’t even set foot inside Wonka Sound Studio yet. The songs weren’t even finished on paper. And today I’m talking to you about my finished album, which is a trip in and of itself. I’m grateful to have this opportunity.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Tyler:
I was a 90s kid, through and through. A suburban 90s kid, no less, with no access to anything other than what was marketed to young men through mainstream channels like terrestrial radio and MTV. So, that meant I owned a lot of terrible CDs. There was a lot of garbage. Like most other young men at the time, I liked Grunge the most. But unlike most of my peers, I enjoyed the slow, acoustic, sad songs the most. Alice in Chains Jar of Flies EP, for example, or Nirvana’s Unplugged album were my favorites, as was Pearl Jam’s No Code.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Tyler:
As I explored those bands’ influences and went further and further down the rabbit hole — with a 56k modem on various BBS message boards — I realized there was an entire genre of music, Folk, that was entirely acoustic, entirely earnest, entirely melancholy, rife with story and mystery; exactly what I was looking for. So, I went down that rabbit hole. And then other ones, until finally one day I randomly bought Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left at a Newbury Comics in Nashua, NH with my friend Chris. We listened to it on the drive home, and I distinctly remember that the songs “Day is Done,” and “Cello Song” sounded like clarion calls from another world, a world that reverberated with the exact emotions, and moods that I had been feeling. It was an awakening for me, musically. I felt less alone. From that moment on, I wanted to make music like Nick Drake.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. Tell us about your new release, Assorted Orchids.

Tyler:
Assorted Orchids took more than a decade to make. That’s not to say I was in the studio for ten years, or that I was tweaking the lyrics or revising the chord progressions, or what have you, for ten years. It wasn’t like that. But because my entire adult life I was always moving from city to city, from country to country, ad nauseum, I never had the time or inclination to buckle down and get to work on an album, although I really did want to make an album for many of those years. In fact, when I was living in Los Angeles around 2008, my good friend Adam invited me to record some songs in a studio he was working at. But my music was undercooked then. Fast forward over a decade — something happened after I returned from two years living in China, and finally had access to a guitar again. There was so much inspiration that had accumulated. And then the pandemic struck, and I was forced to stay home. And I think, maybe, because I was (and am) getting older, I was able to focus better and work harder, with a sense of urgency. And so, I chiseled out the ten songs that now appear on Assorted Orchids.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes do you tend to explore with your music? Is your music intensely personal, or are you only telling stories, so to speak?

Tyler:
Not to sound cagey, but sometimes I don’t even know what lyrical themes I’m trying to explore with my music. At least not at the outset, when I’m just getting started with the words. I write exclusively by free association at first, then I start to observe, almost as if I am a third party to myself, what kind of words or ideas are bubbling up to the surface. And I think a lot of that is really tied to the sound of the music itself, like the chords or notes that I’m playing, or the rhythm of the picking or whatnot. All of those things influence word choices. It’s not until much later when I’m really sandpapering the near-finished product that I start to focus on the lyrical thrust, or narrative, of the song. But I do think it’s personal, yes. In my opinion, the best music ever made was made by individuals (specifically by individuals, as opposed to bands) who, through the vessel of their very specific, very idiosyncratic output, tapped into something primordial. I don’t know if I’ve accomplished that, but I’m not ashamed to admit that my goal is to simply make the music that I myself would want to hear. And I believe that if I make music that I enjoy, it might connect with others and make others feel less alone.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Tyler:
For the most part, I self-produce my music. Bob Nash, the owner of Wonka Sound Studio, will certainly offer his thoughts if he senses that I feel stuck, or if I ask for his input. We have a good working relationship, a good balance. He can sense when I’m feeling stuck on something and he knows when to push and when to let me be. We joke sometimes that he’s like an engineer, and a psychotherapist rolled into one. Good deal, if you ask me.

Andrew:
What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

Tyler:
Nick Drake’s Pink Moon album is the blueprint for everything I do and hope to achieve in music. But certainly, lots of other albums have inspired and informed my songwriting, albums across the musical spectrum. I went through a long period of obsession with high-concept 70s Prog albums, the spacier the better. I also love Ambient New-Age music. If I had to pick a few other albums that have influenced me most, in addition to Pink Moon at the top, I’d probably pick, in no particular order, Donovan’s Gift from a Flower to a Garden (specifically the For Little One’s disc) Michael Hurley’s First Songs, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Leonard Cohen, Mississippi John Hurt’s Today!, and perhaps Elliott Smith’s self-titled album. Why I love these albums is probably a question better left for a psychotherapist. To some extent, they all display a kind of virtuosic talent combined with a kind of melancholic dreaminess — not oppressively sad or dark, though. My favorite music is bittersweet.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Tyler:
I respect ambitious, idiosyncratic, solitary pursuits in general, and admire those that undertake them. But for me, specifically, I love tennis the most, both watching and playing. It is the purest game. It’s a game that requires total, and complete mastery of the self, and the body. To me, tennis is a microcosm of the human experience as a whole, in that it involves both conflicts with the outside world (the opponent, the conditions, the crowd), and with the self (doubts, fears, emotions). It’s like how Buddhist monks spend a lifetime molding their realities through the observation of their thoughts, becoming a master instead of a slave to thoughts, and overcoming conditioned impulses. Likewise, the best tennis players of all time were able to achieve transcendent performance through a combination of physical, and mental mastery. I could go on for ages about tennis. Because I’m a solo artist, I relate very strongly to tennis players. When I’m working on songs at home — when I’m noodling around — it’s like hitting with a friend on the practice court. When I enter the studio, I feel like I’m stepping onto Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Tyler:
The music business has been weakened, I’d say, but the music itself is strong. There are more artists than ever, it seems, and there are no signs of that trend slowing down. I don’t think artists should be hopeful or scared, they should just continue being artists, and focus on the process. The process should be the goal. One aspect of the music industry’s decimation that has a net positive impact is that musicians are, perhaps more than ever, creating music simply for creation’s sake. Regardless of genre, it’s like a return to the roots of Folk music — literal Folk music played in Appalachia of the 1800s, or of the Scottish Isles in the 17th century, or anywhere around the world before the advent of mass media — when people played solely to entertain themselves, and their community, not to get rich or famous. There’s something purer about music that’s played as an end unto itself, not as a means to get somewhere.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Tyler:
Next on my docket is more recording, and hopefully playing more shows. I’m already back in the Wonka Sound Studio with Bob Nash working on my next album, but I’m not in any hurry. It could take anywhere from two to six months to finish. It’s not important. In the post-COVID world, or I should say after I finish the second album, I’m most looking forward to hitting the road again, to seeing old friends around the world — and maybe even playing some gigs while I’m at it. The possibilities are endless. The future is bright.

Interested in sampling the work of Assorted Orchids? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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