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One of the great and unexpected delights of my life has been the ease with which I have been able to find adults who, like me, were once dreamy children growing up in the middle of nowhere. The non-magical explanation for this phenomenon is that opportunities are scarce in rural areas, and kids who are wired this way crave what cities offer and plot the courses of their lives toward the goal of one day living in one of them. But it shouldn’t be that easy to find My People another among millions of other people, and thus it often feels as though each of us is equipped with a homing beacon: imperceptible to the naked eye, but highly effective at pulling kindred spirits into our orbits. It happens time and again in my personal life, and also in the art and artists I’m drawn to: Lyttelton, New Zealand’s Marlon Williams and Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan folk duo Kacy & Clayton (second cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum) are among them. From the time they released their debut album in 2011, the latter have drawn comparisons to the Laurel Canyon folk rock of the 1960s — and New Zealand’s favorite son Williams’ otherworldly croon calls Jeff Buckley, Chris Isaak, and Roy Orbison to mind (to wit: many Americans’ first introduction to Williams was his turn as the lead singer of an Orbison tribute band in Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of A Star Is Born). Both artists make music that is absolutely distinctive yet deeply familiar, making their collaboration on Plastic Bouquet the satisfying fulfillment of a “no shit” prophecy.
Plastic Bouquet does exactly what it came to do — and does it quickly, effectively, and beautifully. Williams’ and Anderson’s voices knit together and with Linthicum’s distinctive fingerpicking like sacred geometry, and true to their upbringings, the songs are totems and tales endemic and specific to rural life: the permeable boundaries between people and the natural world; the young man with a promising future lost to a car crash, his last mark on the world a cross on the side of the highway and a bouquet of plastic flowers. They use familiar language to say something fresh; they are new stories that feel like old stories: the genius of pop music, the highest calling of folk music, and what I craved the most in 2020.
On the link between inspiration and accountability
Kacy Anderson: Doing this album gave me a reason to write songs.
Marlon Williams: Same. Knowing you’re accountable to someone else has a real impact on what you do. You have to turn up and be there for the other person. There’s no more motivating motivator. It would maybe be five years between albums if I hadn’t reached out to Kacy and Clayton and we hadn’t gotten together to make this.
KA: That’s a long time.
MW: The deadline is the thing for me. If I call my manager and say, “Let’s book some studio time to record the album,” I’ll just freak out and start writing. I need it to make me do it.
KA: I think it was Gordon Lightfoot who said, “because I have a record deal” in response to the question, “Why do you write songs?”
KA: Did you feel uncomfortable at any point while we were working together?
MW: We’re songwriters, so it’s like, my level of discomfort could not get any higher anyway.
KA: It was nice. We didn’t talk. (laughs)
MW: (laughs) Unlike now, when we keep talking over each other.
KA: I was just thinking about [Marlon Williams’ “When I Was A Young Girl”]; that song is the reason I thought we could all make an album together. I just love landscape and scenery songs in folk music. “One morning in May.” That’s how I want every song to start.
MW: I’m proud that it turned out to be a really strong, simple record. Simple on face value, but there’s a lot of layers to it, too. There’s some great character play. And it doesn’t ever get in its own way: It’s over before you can get sick of it.
On entertaining yourself as a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere
MW: I used to play games of death, like wagers of death with myself, where I’d throw a ball up into the air, and then I’d say to myself just before it came back down, “If I drop this ball, then both my parents are going to die.” You know, that kind of game. I’d drop the ball, and feel really scared.
KA: Oh, Lord. That’s some devilish play.
On being an only child
KA: Marlon’s an only child like me. We both have a little bit of only child syndrome, I’d say.
VMP: Is it an independence thing? I’m an only child, too, and I think that’s one of the ways it’s really obvious in me and my behavior. Specifically, where my first impulse is to solve my problems on my own before you express them to other people. I definitely do that and a lot of other only children I know do, too.
MW: Yeah, not me — I go running for help pretty quickly! I figure you’re able to be very indulgent when you’re an only child in terms of your imagination. You’ve got time to dream things up without having anyone getting in your space.
KA: That is exactly what I was hoping someone would say. I couldn’t put it into words. I have problems, I think, because I never talk to anyone. (laughs)
MW: I’m doing a solo tour of my homeland now, and into next year — about 30 dates. And I’m writing an album in my native language (ed.—te reo, an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people: the indigenous population of New Zealand). I don’t speak it at home anymore, but when I was a toddler, I went to a full immersion kindergarten. My te reo started sloughing away as I got older and didn’t speak it on a regular basis. I’m trying to write in the language as much as possible: I do my damnedest to get there in te reo, and stay there in te reo. I’m writing with a cowriter who’s very fluent, and he’s helping me find my way. I’m happy to learn, and happy to learn as I go: It’s refreshing and exciting.
KA: Right now, everyone’s sentimental and isolated. And maybe that’s why I’m buying a church [in the town where I went to school]. I don’t want to completely refurbish or renovate or completely change it; I want to keep it somewhat of a historical piece of the community.
Susannah Young is a self-employed communications strategist, writer and editor living in Chicago. Since 2009, she has also worked as a music critic. Her writing has appeared in the book Vinyl Me, Please: 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection (Abrams Image, 2017) as well as on VMP’s Magazine, Pitchfork and KCRW, among other publications.