Ezra Williams: Sinking their teeth into music and art in Cork

Singer and songwriter Ezra Williams has grabbed the music world’s attention, with single ‘My Own Person’ appearing in the Netflix adaptation of LGBT* drama sensation ‘Heartstopper’. Ahead of the release of their debut album ‘Supernumeraries’, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the Cork-based artist.
Ezra Williams: Sinking their teeth into music and art in Cork

Ezra Williams found it surreal seeing their work on Netflix. Pic: Colette Slater Barrass

Singer/songwriter and visual artist Ezra Williams has never spared the honesty in their work - from minimal, self-aware charm in early tunes like ‘A Sh*tty Gay Song About You’, to most recent single ‘Bleed’, a reflection on relationships from the neurodivergent perspective, and a reverb-y foreshadowing for their upcoming debut full-length, ‘Supernumeraries’ - replete with an accompanying visualiser that taps into some of the visceral imagery around the long-player.

“I think a few people didn’t like it, because it was a little creepy,” they muse, as we sit down at the Roundy for an in-person chat. The idea of a collection of 'supernumeraries' - extra teeth resulting from a childhood case of hyperdontia - is a reflection on keeping ideas, thoughts and feelings together, as expressed in typically quite personal fashion.

“I started writing and recording it mid-covid times, and a lot of songs from it are amalgamations with writings that I did from early 2020. The most recent song that I wrote for it was this time last year, although there's one song that I wrote and recorded on it when I was 15.

“I hated it, and I left it to die on my laptop. I came back to it and I was like, 'oh, I actually kind-of like it'. My voice sounds different in it, because I was younger, so it's more high-pitched and younger-sounding... I thought it'd be cool to put it on the album.”

Releasing in June via Sony-owned music distributor AWAL, ‘Supernumeraries’ sees Williams at the crest of something of a wave - following a steady run of pre-covid Irish and UK gigging, and support from music press closer to home, they’ve made serious inroads in the wider world of music in recent times, including a recent feature in the UK’s now-digital-only NME.

But a real point of arrival for Williams has been the appearance of their song ‘My Own Person’ on the soundtrack to US streaming service Netflix’ live-action adaptation of illustrator Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’ - a graphic-novel series that’s been hailed as ground-breaking for its inclusive and diverse portrayal of teenage relationships and romance.

Ezra Williams: I want to say yes to as many gigs as possible. Picture: Colette Slater Barrass
Ezra Williams: I want to say yes to as many gigs as possible. Picture: Colette Slater Barrass

Sitting on the show’s official soundtrack releases alongside the likes of Wolf Alice, Baby Queen and Beeabadoobee, as well as Irish contemporaries in SOAK and Orla Gartland, represents a point of pride for the young songwriter - as well as a lasting point of connection to Leeside.

“It was really cool. I was actually in Cork, it was my first time visiting Cork when I found out. I was in the middle of getting a tattoo, at Black Poppy [on Father Mathew Street], when I found out, and I told the tattoo artist, 'oh, this just happened. She was like, 'oh, wow, that's amazing'. It didn't feel real until I saw it. Because, honestly, you hear people get licensing deals [for their songs] but then it doesn't actually get used. I didn't want to make myself elated about it, just in case like they ended up not using it, and then when it came out, and I saw what scene it was in, it was really nice, that it was in such a big, pivotal scene, and that it was important.”

We’ll not spoil said scene here for those who haven’t seen it, but it represented a moment for a songwriter who has openly dealt with identity and relationships in their own work.

“It was kind-of surreal, watching a show that I know, when I was a preteen, it would have been quite an important thing for me to have at that time. It was nice knowing that my song is a part of that for a younger generation of people, who are getting to figure themselves out and see themselves represented, and that my music can be a part of that. It's quite nice.”

That move to Cork for study has seen Williams engage in one of their other passions - studying Contemporary Applied Art at the Crawford College of Art, and furthering their visual-arts practice, including works seen across the cover artwork of their singles and EPs to date, as well as the album’s cover and other visual accompaniments.

“I think that my main thing is, with having special interests, I can't just focus on one - my music coincides with my art, and my art coincides with music. I was just focusing on one, and I felt not as fulfilled as I wanted to, because I need to be doing more. I need to have all of my time taken up by doing art.

“I did a PLC last year while I was recording the album, and it was funny, the PLC were quite kind about it, because there were a lot of things that I handed in late. But they were very supportive, they were talking to me about the album, and when I had interviews on, they let me use different parts of the college to do interviews, and so I feel like that helped.

“This year, it has been kind-of challenging, especially with gigs and stuff. My bassist lives in Galway, I live in Cork and my drummer and my keyboardist live in Dublin. If we have a gig coming up, we practice around the gig, and they're pretty good at organising. It's difficult to balance it all, but I would rather be doing that, and being able to work on my art in college, and do the music.

“I feel like if I was just doing music, it would almost make the music worse, because I need to be doing something else to write. I'm knitting a jumper right now, and the amount of lyrics that I've come up with while knitting the jumpers, it's kind-of weird.”

Fitting a full release and touring cycle for the album around Williams’ study will be no mean feat, especially with those geographical concerns, but they’re confident, after a pair of early primer gigs in Dublin and London this past month, about facing into a busy time - especially after the past few years.

Ezra Williams’ debut album ‘Supernumeraries’.
Ezra Williams’ debut album ‘Supernumeraries’.

“I want to say 'yes' to as many gigs as possible. Even after covid, a lot of gigs got pushed back. I went into this mode where I wasn't able to get excited about gigs because every single time I was offered one, or one was meant to happen, and it got cancelled. I think I've only just come out of it, where I'm now allowing myself to get excited about them again, because for a really long time there, I'd be like, 'oh yeah, I'm getting to play a gig here, but it's not going to happen'.

“It was almost like someone was just saying it as a hypothetical, and then if it did end up happening, it was great, but then I didn't get to have the whole buildup of excitement, because I wasn't sure it was going to happen until the date was happening. I feel like a lot of it was not allowing myself to get excited, because I didn't want to be disappointed.”

Ezra Williams’ debut album ‘Supernumeraries’ releases physically and digitally via distributors AWAL on June 16 - vinyl pre-orders available on https://ezrawilliamsmusic.com/.

Singles ‘Bleed’ and ‘Deep-Routed’ are available on streaming services now.

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