Interview: Jesse Cotu Williams

If you haven’t heard of Jesse Williams, you haven’t been paying attention. The guy is an institution in the Santa Cruz music scene, and he was hungry enough to respond to a little nothing blog for an interview. (Artists, if you aren’t hungry, you aren’t moving anywhere.) He’s generous, and had some valuable things to say. (All-Ages!)


dsc52179068-x2So Jesse, you’re in 3-4 bands, handle booking for multiple venues, and tirelessly promote all of it. Can you fill us in on how you got to where you are today?

Wow, that sounds like a lot!

I’m in The Backup Razor, A Thousand Shall Fall, the Cabrillo choir and an unnamed acoustic cover group… and sometimes my friends let me play with them. But I consider myself to be in two bands.
If one of my friends asks for help booking or promoting an event I do whatever I can. But I only officially book at The Blue Lagoon and not every event.

I run Morketiden Productions which is just a name that I can use to promote for any band at any venue without having to worry about anything.

To answer your question, twelve years ago I was about to graduate high school and the only thing that I enjoyed was music. I didn’t know how to do much of anything music related so I started taking classes at Cabrillo College while working shitty day jobs. I took any music classes that I could get into. Eventually I had taken guitar, piano, electronic music, sampling & synthesis, all of the theory and recording studio classes, and I was performing in the choir and orchestra. I then started a band called [disco_graves] with some of my best friends, to see if I could do it.

So, I quit my day job and I decided that I would be poor, but I would only work for something that I believed in… music.

In the summer of 2007 I found a group on Craigslist that was looking for a singer. I replied to them and they invited me to meet up, after one practice The Backup Razor was formed. We played everything that was offered to us, even driving to Reno for our first show. In 2009 my friend Kylan was booking and doing sound at Henflings Tavern. When we couldn’t play a date that was available, I would offer to ask some friends to see if anyone else could play the date for him. When the dates that I put together did well Kylan asked if I would like to book regularly for him and I agreed. Kylan said that I would need a “brand” since I participated in events at multiple venues. We couldn’t just call it a Henflings show. It had to be special, something that I could take wherever I went.

That’s how the first Morketiden shows started, they were overflow TBR offers.

Then in 2010, the day after putting on SCUMFEST with Warcorpse and A Band Of Orcs in Watsonville, I flew to New York and joined Vampirates on their US tour. Traveling in a van with all of their gear and five other people meant that not everybody got a seatbelt, or a seat. But during those forty or fifty days when we drove across the country were the best times of my life. After coming home I felt like a changed person. I couldn’t put up with how I had set my life. My job was degrading, many of the people I spent time with were no longer enjoyable to be around. Nothing struck me as being as real as life felt while on the road. Everything seemed petty. So, I quit my day job and I decided that I would be poor, but I would only work for something that I believed in, music.

The morning after quitting my job I woke up to two voice mails. Each from a friend at a venue offering booking and/or sound engineering work. I felt like I had made the right choice. I was asked to run sound at Henflings on Friday Saturday and Sunday, and I was asked to book and run sound at The Blue Lagoon on Mondays. Neither job paid much more than the gas it took to get to and from work. But I enjoyed it and used it as a learning opportunity.

After a couple years I quit working at Henflings and was promoted at The Blue Lagoon. When one of the bookers at The Blue Lagoon moved on to another venue he asked me to take over a portion of his responsibilities. I think that brings us to now…

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Organizing and promoting shows is not a job. It can not be done well if it is being done for a profit. I was recycling the cans from the bar and working for friends, cleaning up yards, and cleaning chicken coops for a long time just to make ends meet. I never had money for anything. But, I was having fun.

Thankfully, in the process of spending so much time at bars and always helping clean up I learned a lot about the bar business. So, when The Blue Lagoon needed a barback I spoke up and got the job. Finally I could afford to eat.

the-backup-razor-2Which project is most important to you right now?

Oh wow. You’re trying to get me into trouble now. Haha, that’s like asking who your favorite child is.

I caught your intense show with A Thousand Shall Fall the other night. What are your future plans as a band?

A Thousand Shall Fall are currently designing album artwork for our first release.

Is there a common thread that runs through your projects?

Yes, but it’s nothing thematic or intentional. I don’t know if I can explain it. Simply put, I am the common thread that runs through my projects. Take that however you see fit. I’m not trying to bring the projects any closer together but I’m one person, so I have to be limiting to the projects just by being a part of them.

What does the perfect show look like for you?

A house filled with my friends taking turns playing all of our favorite songs. Chris Fox wrote a song about it called Drunken Smiles.

Who or what inspires you?

That is such a deliciously vague question. I am lucky enough to be able to find inspiration in a wide range of things. You name it, I’ll find reasons to like and/or dislike it and thus be able to gain inspiration from it… A feral cat lives near me and I’ve been pretty stoked on him or her lately.

What do you consider your greatest achievement up to now?

Um, I don’t really gauge things as great achievements or milestones or anything… My greatest achievement up to now has been finding my path. I feel like I am doing what I believe in and I am definitely learning constantly. I don’t know what else I could ask for. I know that people think of music as a way to achieve riches and fame. But I just want to be able to continue to make music with my friends. Traveling is cool too.

522375_3646869163248_1019993299_3299390_30317525_nWhich aspect of your craft do you wish you were better at?

Every aspect. Right? Yeah, I wish I was better at everything. That would be cool.

What shows do you have planned for the future?

Um… besides all of the shows that are public on both bands web pages and the club site, I am excited about the upcoming Vampirates & The Backup Razor shows in July. Keep an eye on for news about them, they rule.

What are you currently listening to?

Right now, at this very moment, I am listening to my library on shuffle and A Perfect Sonnet by Bright Eyes is playing.

I been listening to Vampirates’ new album Planet Stupid a lot. I also really like the new Bayside album and the new Manchester Orchestra album.

In your opinion, is Santa Cruz a friendly area for artists?

In my opinion, no. The city of Santa Cruz is not a friendly area for artists, but the city of Santa Cruz does have a lot of friendly artists living in it.

Which local artists inspire you?

Norman Huges DING!
No, seriously though. All of them, every single one. I can not explain how important it is to me that “normal” people play music. I don’t even care if they’re from Santa Cruz.

Which local artists would you like to see get more exposure?

Um, all of them? I’m uncomfortable with picking favorites.

Any advice for other bands or musicians trying to make it work in this town?

Never give up, never give in. Vampirates wrote a song about it called Never.

Is there a creative or tangible way that someone reading this article could have an impact on your work or the exposure that your work receives?

Yeah! Talk to me, I’m always open to suggestions and eager to learn from anyone.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to see more all ages opportunities in Santa Cruz. I don’t know what the kids are doing these days, but when I was a kid I benefited a lot from local shows. The number of all ages events have gone down drastically in the last ten or twenty years. I hope the people who have the power to change this town realize that music is a gift. Santa Cruz as a county is overflowing with creative people and we would be positively benefiting the community by accommodating them and exposing the youth to local artists and the arts in general.

Jesse’s Contact Information:

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