Evan Williams’ world just got a little bit brighter. The actor, known for his roles in shows such as “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” “Awkward.,” “Versailles,” and most recently the feature film “Midnight at the Magnolia” – in which he flexes his musical muscles – just released his debut full-length studio album, Cloud Parade.
The labor of love is something Williams has been contemplating putting out there for years. Under the moniker Bright World, Williams heads this solo musical project, where his talents of actor, singer, songwriter, and visual artist are all rolled into one.
Tracks on the album gracefully float between melancholy and hope. Each song is different but somehow leaves the listener with longings that linger from deep inside. The lyrics are heartfelt and thought-provoking, while the instrumentals add an air of intrigue and spirit.
The entire album is filled with messages that Williams says stem from his deepest passions. Fear, love, heaven and hell, loneliness, regrets – the whole album is an honest and beautiful look into Williams’ soul.
Sari: What is the first single you released, and why?
Evan Williams: The first single I released was “I’m Not Alone.” I released it in the middle of the pandemic. I thought that it was a vital message to get out at that exact moment. There was such a feeling of isolation and fear. A lot of people were knocked out of their routines and didn’t know what to do. Families were separated, people couldn’t be with their families, and they couldn’t see their friends. I felt in my heart like the message that needed to be heard at that moment was one of interdependence. The idea that we’re separated is just an idea. The more we can lean away from that, the more we realize that we’re actually in a diverse network of people all the time. We’re never really outside of the circle. I can put that in a spiritual sense and also in a literal sense, being part of society. I think societies are stronger when they’re connected. Life is not so much about winning; it’s about creating with each other and being part of a community. It’s how we all rise together. So, that’s why I did “I’m Not Alone.”
It was a particular challenge to do the video for that during the pandemic because it was a song about community, and I couldn’t see or be around anyone. But that particular challenge led to the music video that I ended up doing, basically using a metaphor – the protagonist seeing himself in everyone. So, I love how it turned out, and it wouldn’t have turned out that way without that particular context.
Sari: What was your motivation behind doing this album? I know it was something you spent years putting together. So, why is now the time to release it?
Evan Williams: I feel like the first Bright World EP was a proof of concept for myself. Finding out that I enjoy the process; do I feel like it’s me? And, the answer to that was a resounding yes. Then I knew that it was time to do it for real. I made a deal with my producer, Justin Glasco, who was essential to the album. I was coming in without much experience as a professional recording artist. I think we did many things differently, as far as allowing each song to define itself within whatever genre it was going to end up being. As opposed to sitting down and saying, okay, this is the kind of record we want to write. I came in clean. I didn’t have years of being jaded by the music industry, so we got to try it with a completely fresh slate. I just felt like it was time to clarify my relationship to my own music in terms of allowing it to be just a gift. I’m ready just to put it out, cut the cord, and let it be whatever it’s going to be, as opposed to being precious and private about it. That’s why there are so many unfinished projects – books that somebody has been writing for 25 years or a painting that that is 75 percent finished that sits in the corner. But it is not a gift to the world until you finish it.
I felt like it was important for my development as an artist, not just musically, but my expression in all facets of what I’m creating, to just let it be and make it the absolute best I could. I put all my love into it. There’s something cathartic about being able to release it into the world. Take it and do what you want. Love it, hate it, ignore it, or cherish it. It’s yours.
Sari: To me, it felt like some sort of ascension. It was cathartic listening to it. It was like you were speaking to everybody’s innermost thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, loves – all of the highs and lows in life.
Evan Williams: Thank you so much. That’s what I was going for. I’m glad to hear that reflected. And that’s unexpected. When you put out something so personal, somehow I knew that people would be interacting with it. But, to have the wave kind of slapped back at me, people feeling it for themselves and feeling themselves in it, that’s something that my body was wholly unprepared for. It’s been a really interesting ride. It’s been beautiful to have that. It’s gratifying that people are feeling it, but mostly I’m just grateful. It makes me emotional. I’m just thrilled. This is something I made from my heart that is actually touching other people’s hearts. Yeah. That’s medicine to me. I came in from a really privileged and blessed position, not having to bend my vision of what I wanted this to be. It didn’t have to be commercially successful or fit into a certain lane. I knew that by doing that, I was opting out of some prescribed avenues for the way that people find listeners and stuff, but I would prefer to lead with authenticity. I’m not a virtuoso musician. I’m not a show stopper. I’m not Beyoncé. What I’ve got is heart. That’s what I’m hoping listeners will carry with them.
Sari: What made you release the EP under the moniker Bright World?
Evan Williams: I knew from the get-go that I wanted to record under a pseudonym. For a few different reasons. I didn’t want people to be picturing “Evan Williams, the actor.” I wanted the music to be able to exist in its own space. It was always my vision for Bright World that it was going to be sonically bigger than just the singer-songwriter space. It was going to involve lots of instruments and lots of voices, and I wanted the flexibility of being able to find what the sound of Bright World was going to be organically. Bright World specifically came to me when I was on a road trip through Monument Valley with some friends, and we were reading excerpts of some books on philosophy to each other. There was a passage in this book that was basically talking about how you have the ability within yourself to make a choice. If you are stuck in your problems, that perspective will illuminate your entire reality. And everything coming back at you will align with that. That’s not to say we ignore our shadow, but we don’t go into it with the intention of staying there. So, the reverse or the other option is to metaphorically raise the eyes above the horizon. When you do that, this writer was saying you live in a bright world. All of that philosophically resonated with me. I believe that everything in life is moving towards a great cosmic yes or a great cosmic no. Everything that we love in our world, everything that moves us, our cooperation, community, generosity, grace, all these things are generative. So, for me, it made sense to call my music project Bright World. It feels open-ended. I’m excited because I can make anything that I want under that moniker. I’m not planning to have music be the limit of the Bright World experiment, either. I have lots of different forms of artistic expression that I enjoy being a part of.
Sari: Like what else?
Evan Williams: It’s been really fascinating. I’m directing all of my music videos. I’ve been into storytelling, and obviously, as an actor for many years, there’s so much to do. I have a short film that I shot in Paris, which I will be releasing under the Bright World music banner, as sort of a production house and also the visual art that I am creating. There’s some writing that I’m doing. Things just get more exciting. It’s endless.
Sari: So, how did you pick Cloud Parade as the title of your album?
Evan Williams: Cloud Parade is an homage to one of my mentors, who’s a visionary artist. His name is Dave Zaboski. He’s a legendary animator who worked for decades with Disney. He’s one of my greatest teachers. He told me a story once about how he and his daughter used to look up at the empty blue skies. Whenever there were actual clouds, he would take her on a hike, find a hill, lie on it and watch the cloud parade. They’d look for what animals they could find and see what kind of magical stories they could imagine in the skies.
So, these songs, to me, are like individual clouds that a listener can project themselves onto. They can take a ride and see whatever they are going to see. I’ve got an uncle that says every experience is either a great experience or a great story. So, this meant a lot to me. I explore many challenging emotions in this record, more so than any music I’ve ever put out before. By making it into an art that can be shared, we can take our pain, and we can take our confusion; we can take our shame or our struggle and turn them around. It’s like alchemy; it lets us know that we’re all going through the same thing.
Sari: Exactly how long did it take you to write and produce the entire album?
Evan Williams: The songs are a collection that’s been 10 years in the making. They were penned all over the world. That’s the life that you lead when you’re an actor. Drop everything and go. Really, one of the only constants I had was which instrument I brought along. And so, I wrote the songs over the course of a decade, and then the process of narrowing down which songs I wanted to use was something entirely different. I’m not used to making records. So, when my producer said, ‘hit me with some options,’ I think I gave him a file of 35 songs. He was like, okay, we’ve got to narrow this way down [laughs]. That means there’s more material, but I’m thrilled with the ones we chose. Each one of them became more than I had initially dreamed of, which is one of the beautiful parts of making music in the studio.
Sari: How many different instruments do you play?
Evan Williams: I am not a purist. I’m not a classically-trained musician. Anything that I can manage to make a sound on, I’m happy to play around with. I started writing music on the piano before I even knew how to play the piano properly. The music taught me how to play the instrument, same with the guitar. The songs I started writing on the guitar were needlessly complicated; my fingers all contorted to reach the notes I heard in my head. I didn’t know any better. It was only later that I realized, oh, I can actually play that same chord in a far more efficient way. I discovered the simplicity. So how many instruments do I play? I play the piano, the guitar, the ukulele, the bass, and the synthesizer. I also play a little drums and various percussion instruments. I play an Indian instrument called the shruti box, as well.
Sari: Who else collaborated on the album with you?
Evan Williams: My producer was really generous to allow me to sort of make whatever noises I wanted. We experimented with arrangements until we found the sound together. And then later, the process of honing the sonics with a great mixing engineer like Bryan Cook was a total joy; we gave love and attention to every split second of the record. On the studio floor, Justin provided the drums on the whole album as well as a whole host of ancillary instrumentation, and we brought in a lot of session musicians to fill out the sound. We had a great cellist Isaiah Gage and Brandon Walters, who plays electric guitar for a band called Lord Huron. I was thrilled to have my sister-in-law Ai Hagiwara playing flute on the record, as well as Hideaki Aomori on the clarinet and Jon Titterington on the trumpet. They were all fantastic. Then we just had a small army of vocalists. I’m grateful to have beautiful harmonies sung by a few Canadian songbirds Jadea Kelly and Colleen Dauncey, and also by my friend Lucy Clearwater. Finally, we’ve got a 24-person choir for “I’m Not Alone,” each one of them sending in their parts remotely during the height of the lockdowns last year. Everybody was happy to show up, which I was thrilled by.
Sari: What do you really want people to know about this album? About what it means to you?
Evan Williams: I want people to know that it’s for them. I made it as honestly as I could in order to create a space for people to have an honest experience with themselves. I hope they like it. But more so, I hope they feel that. That’s why I made it, and it’s just the beginning.
Sari: After the past couple of years we’ve all had, do you have any advice on how we can all fall back INLOVE with life again?
Evan Williams: Go back to your body. Your body is what is going through life. The most regenerative and revolutionary thing we can do is return to the body and experience the truth of our complexities. Whether that means a meditation practice, simple exercise, or even just giving space to our feelings without immediately pressing them down or compartmentalizing them, I think that’s the way we re-engage. We are all having a human experience that is beautiful.
We can survive, or we can thrive. When we make a choice to take risks with our heart, when we take risks with love, we awaken something within ourselves that moves past the individual experience. It’s a collective and universal experience. That’s how we fall back in love with life.
On top of Cloud Parade, Williams has finished two films set to debut in 2022. He also stars in “Christmas Takes Flight,” which airs on CBS this winter.
Words: Sari Cohen