The winds of change are blowing for the folk artist known as Whetherman. For the past seven years, Nicholas Williams has performed under the moniker. To mark the changing season, Williams is stepping away from the Whetherman persona to embark on a new journey under his own name.
“For a long time, I felt a bit like I was hiding from my true self with a moniker, not having to put myself fully out in the world. I feel more myself now than I ever have musically, with a specific path in view, and it seemed time to go under my given name,” he says.
“I can’t say I ever thought about whether the project was finite until last summer. I guess I was so focused on booking the next years’ worth of shows that it never occurred to me that it might not be forever. The same moment I had the thought of its possibility however, its’ inevitability outweighed any other options.”
The decision was bittersweet and prompted Williams to take a long break in Central America where the idea of a Farewell Tour began to take shape. He booked many familiar stops during his cross-country valediction and will play his final show near the sacred shores of the Suwannee River where his roots run deep.
Whetherman performs Oct. 12 at the Suwannee Roots Festival, the site of many of his most cherished personal and professional experiences. “The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park holds a very special place in my heart,” says Williams. “I grew up as a musician playing festivals like Springfest, Magfest, Blackwater and Hulaween there with a full band, and I had my wedding party there in 2015. There was no other place I would want to have a last show than there.”
Williams’ new project will focus on uncovering traditional American songs that serve as the foundation of most modern music. His original material will echo its predecessors in a voice familiar to fans of his recent Whetherman work.
“There are so many people that don’t know the origin and history of American music, and I would love to be a proponent of its discovery to the present and future generations. Truthfully, without the songs I’m learning and playing from the late 1800’s and 1900’s, a lot of music would not exist,” he says.
“Of course, I’m still writing my own material, in the vein of the songs I’m learning. These new songs are probably not as much of a departure from my recent Whetherman work as perceived. I can say without a doubt, there is a difference in the musical style, shifting from more of the broad spectrum of Americana to more specific traditional fingerpicking styles like Piedmont and Country Blues, Delta and Mississippi Blues, as well as Appalachian, Modern and Country Folk.”
The most profound changes will be measured in the weight of the lyrics. Williams says he plans to lift the dark, heavy tones in favor of lighter shades colored in humanity and humor. “I’m letting off the gas lyrically. The tone is less serious and poetic, and more storyline, while the moral personal theme I’ve had for many years still holds true,” he says. “My vocals are a bit more cultured than on the Whetherman records, something that has come naturally when diving back into these old songs, with many more influences.”
While he’s indulged the natural tendency to test the waters and offered samples of the new material on tour, Williams isn’t planning to officially release any recorded material until 2019. The new record will have roughly half traditional songs and half originals, he says, and videos of the new songs will be available this month on his YouTube Channel where Williams hosts a series called “Folkin’ A Tuesdays.” The series features Williams performing four traditional songs and discussing their history.
Starting a new project means starting from scratch with all forms of content. Williams is designing a new website, new merchandise, new social media platforms and new distribution channels to bring himself to life as a touring artist.
“What’s very exciting is the idea of having a clean slate, with new energy, no expectations and tons of experience to spring off of. I can utilize everything I learned about touring, performing and the music business to my advantage, and get things off on the right foot,” he says. “When I started Whetherman, for the first five years I had no idea what I was doing and had to learn the ropes. The challenges are still present of course. None of these challenges are obstacles, they just require time and proper execution,” he says.
Williams is hopeful that when the time comes, his Whetherman audience will be eager to join him on his journey and support the new endeavor. “I owe my entire career to people who have been a part of the Whetherman project. I wouldn’t be doing this for a living, I wouldn’t have been where I’ve been, and I wouldn’t have met the people I met. I wouldn’t be me. So, I literally owe everything I have to them. Finding the words to represent my gratitude already makes the attempt less potent. It’s too big for words, but I am full of thanks and compassion for them.”
You can also catch Whetherman’s Farewill Tour at the Blue Jay Listening Room on September 21 or down at St. Augustine’s Sing Out Loud Festival on September 23.