Brooklyn-bred Cole Williams moved to New Orleans in January and has fast become known as one of the most astounding new additions to the city’s pool of talented musicians. We’re excited to premiere her new track, in collaboration with DJ/producer Cassady, “Stand Tall”—check it out below!
Williams has been stunning audiences with her powers as a vocalist, but behind the scenes she has a hell of a lot more to offer as well. She’s an avid composer, producer, entrepreneur, WWOZ radio host, and grade school music teacher with her own jewelry line.
You can find her performing (vocals, percussion, and piano) with her full band That’s Our Cole at the Maple Leaf, Chickie Wah Wah, and other venues around town. They call their material “African rock meets Jamaican soul,” but it’s an entire genre-bending experience that’s hard to put in any sort of box. Much like Williams herself, and the title of her previous album, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box.
“That was my second album,” Williams said. “My first album is called The Basement Session EP… I just had to get something out, and the guy I was dating at the time, he’s a musician, he said, ‘The only way to do it is to just do it. Even if you don’t think it’s perfect.’ And it’s actually pretty good, I think! I did all the production except for two songs.”
After putting out that EP, she spent time travelling and working as a back up singer. She’s sung with a whole slew of notable artists: Chiddy Bang, Aloe Blacc, Little Jackie, Lisa Lisa and The Cult Jam, Diane Birch, Somi, and Neurotic Drum Band, to name a few.
“But all that time,” Williams explained, “I was learning how to perfect my craft, which is composition. I love composing. And I compose from a classical place.”
“And,” she continued, “I like to work for myself, you know? There’s no other way to say it, I just like to be my own boss. I’m definitely a team player, but I think it’s better to work with a team if you feel like the leader is representing you. Singing background for people, it’s cool, but you know, you have this urge in your body, this yearning to do your own thing. You can’t fight it. Or you can fight it, but then you’re gonna be unhappy.”
She feels her most recent album (Out of the Basement, Out of the Box) is her coming-of-age project as an independent artist. It’s visually stunning as well as aurally, jacketed in a reprint of a lush, utopian piece by visionary Haitian painter Jude Papaloko.
“I came out of the basement studio, you know? I know how to really produce some stuff now, how to compose, and the “Out of the Box” is saying, ‘I don’t create anything based on someone else.’ I’m not creating a song and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I want it to feel like Tina Turner and Grace Jones and Lauryn Hill.’ They did it. For me, it’s about, ‘I’m a musician, I’m an artist, and what do I feel?’ And if people feel that it feels similar to them, I think that it’s a compliment.”
“Stand Tall” will be on Williams’ upcoming third album, which she thinks she’ll title The Message after one of the other tracks. She hopes to have it finished by early 2016. With this project, she feels like she was really able to use her gift for songwriting as “a positive vice.”
“It feels good. I feel like I was going through a phase, I was definitely smoking a lot, and drinking. I wouldn’t say ‘overindulging,’ but I was definitely indulging. But purposefully. I knew where it was going.”
“I just started writing, and writing, and feeling. And when I felt something, I expressed it through my writing. Instead of, you know, punching a hole through a wall, or going out there and smacking the shit out of somebody,” she laughed.
“I was given a gift to write a song,” she continued. “Some people go to therapy, some people take pills, whatever your vice is, you know. I think I’m always gonna have some vice, but I should have a positive vice too.”
In terms of “Stand Tall” in particular, that track was in large part written on the subway.
“I wrote that—well, can I tell a story? I tell stories. Okay, so, I was a voice teacher in Manhattan. I always do like five things—you know, I’m Jamaican, so I don’t know if it’s in my blood, but that was just another way to make a living while still singing. I was teaching voice at a school in New York, and at the time I started working with Cassady, the DJ/producer that produced the track. He sent it over to me, and I don’t even think we’d met at the time, and I heard it, and it was just so good, you know? I had it on my ear buds, and I would just listen to it on the train, go to teach, and go home and write. I was inspired by my surroundings, you know? The song’s called “Stand Tall,” and it speaks about issues, or non-issues, with things that I feel, things that I feel that other people feel, things that oppress us. And for me it’s like, okay, ‘Let’s just note it, and let’s just stand tall, we’re all in this together.’ Because on the subway? Everybody’s just packed in. I mean, the old mayor of New York, he used to ride the subway, you know? You have people coming from different classes, different ethnic backgrounds, different philosophies on life, but this is the main way you get around the city. I think the track was inspired by that. The melting pot.”
This track marks new highs in the young artist’s career. Having eschewed the 9-5 path early on, she’s worked hard to carve out a life for herself where she can survive on her craft and live freely.
“Freedom means a lot of things. It means being allowed to be me without having to explain why I’m me. I think a lot of people, I think that with a lot of different templates that are out there… society tells us what we’re supposed to do, when we’re supposed to do it… Especially as a woman. I think feeling free is feeling empowered. I don’t feel that I have to explain myself to people, although people ask questions. I think once you’re around someone, you can feel them, you know? You don’t have to ask. So… I think if you have to ask… then maybe don’t ask?”
“But anyway,” she continued, “it’s even the little things. Feeling free to wear two different socks. Little things. But all of these things say, ‘I’m okay. I’m okay with myself and I’m okay in the world.’ And the world, be okay with me or don’t. Because I’m not asking permission.”
She’s not asking permission to be who she is, and at the same time she’s intent on putting the love and acceptance back out there as much as she possibly can. Especially within her new-found home, where she says she feels humbled by the amount of support and welcome she’s received from fellow musicians and other New Orleanians.
“I feel like it’s my duty to just do a bangin’ job here! I’m also a teacher here now. Teaching music after school, to third graders. The little ones. It’s this holistic way of living, you know? To be free, I have to offer other people freedom. Which is—you know, I’ve worked hard to be free the way other people aren’t, so I’m aware of that, and for children to see me, somebody might be inspired, you know? They could be a really good musician and not even know that you can be a musician for a living, you know? You see someone doing it, and hear the real aspect of it as well—it’s not a fairy tale, but… you can subsist.”
In terms of other things she thinks are vital to talk about within the the music world?
“I think it’s really important that musicians stay together,” she said. “The entire music community. That’s everyone, every genre. I think it’s especially important that women producers, creators, composers, stay together, because I don’t feel that we’re respected, and that we are really represented as much in the music community. And that’s something I’d like to see change. You know, I’ve been writing my stuff, composing, creating the tracks, making the beat, creating a sample, writing the bass line. I’ve been doing all of that for years. And up to this days there are still people that are like, ‘Who did that?’ It’s the little things, but it’s so many questions that you have to ask yourself sometimes, would you ask me that if I were a man? And sometimes I’m not sure, but sometimes I say, no, absolutely not.”
Take a listen to “Stand Tall,” see That’s Our Cole live, and check out her previous releases. We can’t wait to see what she does next.