There’s nothing flash to Denver musician Brant Williams.
When we chatted a couple weeks ago at his spot, he welcomed me into a clean and simple apartment in a non-descript area of Denver, one of probably hundreds in the city. He took me down to his little studio in the basement, as clean and simple as the top floor with a couple more instruments and turntables. The framed photos on the walls of musicians were ripped from magazines, his vinyl collection pulled from the bargain bin at a local guitar shop. There wasn’t any pretentiousness or flare, just an unassuming dude in big city who seemed to like to make music.
That’s great because I didn’t come to talk decor, I came to talk music with one of Denver’s most unassuming masters of the craft. Williams is the bandleader for Manycolors, a superb instrumental quintet from Denver’s Color Red Music that playfully fuse the roots of jazz, hip-hop and soul into one sonic experience (the first time I saw Manycolors was at J Dilla tribute show). Their knack and feel is incredibly hip, intuitive and free, especially considering they don’t practice outside the live sets that function as paid rehearsals. If you think about it, that’ll kind of blow your mind.
But that’s not a rare thing when you are talking about Williams and his music. He also plays in the trio Radon on Color Red, “cinematic psychedelia” that dips into Khruangbin-like territory in flow and feel. His latest project is as bantr, an outlet for the musician to release beat tapes and instrumental hip-hop. He released DOOOMz in June, a 12-minute beat tape that splices MF DOOM samples over his dusty, coffee drip-hop production. It was done in memoriam and it’s so faithful to DOOM’s sound that I forgot it was Williams, I thought it was but another lost tape in the late great’s catalog.
In a luminary like DOOM is where I see a Williams. He’s someone whose life seems to be more expressive in his music than in the day-to-day. The goal is to produce as much as he can, to get the music out of him and into the world. Fame and attention isn’t satisfying, only respect and the opportunity to play his music. He’s a musical genius and an ordinary joe at the same time.
After driving home from our conversation, I was listening back to DOOMz when a sample of DOOM talking caught my ear. It was as if Williams was trying to communicate who he was by letting someone else explain. He spoke through his music because that’s his most proficient language and it told me more about him than probably our whole conversation did. That’s ok, I’m glad I was listening.
“The mask is showing the whole aspect of the music, it’s all about the music. It’s not about what the person looks like. I like giving the listener a feeling that I could be any one of them. DOOM is the average joe. He ain’t the flyest, coolest dude or the one who has all the money, but he’s the cat. It’s showing them that I could be them and they could be me.”
The following is a conversation with Brant Williams. It has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your process for putting together a beat tape as bantr?
It’s a different thing because it’s loops and I kinda like how short it is. That whole repetitive thing just plays on itself and you move to the next beat. I make a shit load of them. Especially with the DOOM one, it can be kind of difficult to put his voice over them and add stuff. The first one I did was just beats. Matching his flow to the beat to make sense can be hard. It was about trying to make his rhymes fit.
Where do you like to find samples and loops?
Most of these records I have are a dollar. I have a spot I go to just around the corner called Spaceman Guitars. There isn’t a lot of investment if the record sucks and I just get cheap records and fuck with it. I got some African music, some John McLaughlin with some tablas, weird stuff. That’s mainly my source material, I prefer doing it off records versus YouTube.
After that it’s like throwing paint at a wall a bunch. I make a bunch of shit and analyze it. This is garbage (laughs), this is kind of cool.
Who do you link up with to do your videos?
That’s me all on YouTube. In a lot of ways it’s similar to making a beat. Find some footage, chop it up and fuck with it (laughs). I used to do it a lot on my phone and it was a means of releasing my own music. A lot of the Manycolors early videos were done like that, just as a promotional thing. It’s a different medium to screw around with. I leaned into it during quarantine because I had so much time.
What itch does Radon scratch?
We are just homeys. Dan and Neal tour all the time and I think we’ve only played two shows, Color Red was just starting to happen at the time. It’s the only trio I’m in which is a cool dimension. I like playing with keys because it is such a warm blanket (laughs). I think we are going to go into the studio soon and see what happens. All the stuff that’s been released is my writing and I think we are going to try and do some group writing.
What do you have going on with Manycolors?
I’m excited, we have a three song EP we are working on. There’s a Color Red singer I’m working with that’ll be fun to put them on there, Halle Tomlinson. She was recommended to us and was on The Voice. I haven’t even met her, it’s all been through email.
It’s a Manycolors track but it’s a loop I put into Ableton and moved it around. It’s manipulated stuff instead of a live take. It sounds dope, I’m excited to work with a singer and I’ve never really made a track like that. I’ve done stuff to other people’s stuff and with bantr, but not to my own.
It came from a jam that we did. It’s kind of meta sampling yourself laughs). [Plays the loop] That’s the loop right there, the piano is going to be her voice, the melody. She’s got a great smokey voice, I’m really excited. It’s kind of what I do with bantr, but with Manycolors. I have some work to do though (laughs).
I imagine you have a lot of recordings of yourself in different iterations. Are you the type of person who is very protective of letting things into the world?
There’s this Mononeon interview where he said that he releases everything even if he doesn’t like it. Damn (laughs). I couldn’t do that. I like stuff to be happenin’. But it depends, because I love Bob Dylan and he’d leave in scratches and things. In a studio setting I feel like a lot of people approach it where it has to be perfect and you gotta approach it a certain way. Even with samples there will be scratches and it will be dirty. I’m probably more insecure about my drum beats, that’s my least comfortable arena. Warts and all are cool depending on the situation.
What’s the way you enjoy listening to music the most? What’s your ideal sonic experience?
Vinyl. I’m hoping to get a Manycolors vinyl by the end of the year. Checking mixes is a really big thing. You check it in your headphones, on your speakers, off the phone, in your car. I try to do it a bunch before I release it to make sure it sounds good. But I don’t really know what I’m doing so I just look to even it out (laughs).
When you have all these different projects you are in, how do you decide when and where to put your time into each of them?
I make it and kind of think about it after. I’m working with Kim Dawson who is a singer, so now I have another person who I can go, oh it’s a Kim tune. Now that gigs are back a lot of my energy has been into booking and I don’t have a booking agent (laughs). We’re gonna do a Dilla thing for sure. Most of the booking has been for Manycolors.
I’m trading that amp for studio time at Mighty Fine for some solo things. I want to do a solo record but hire a bunch of people for strings and horns and stuff. I don’t know what I’ll play yet but it will be more orchestrated with parts than playing live with a band. I’m working on writing some stuff now, BK [drummer in Manycolors] is helping me with a lot of the rhythmic concepts. One of the tunes I’m actually trying to get Chris Bullock [saxophone ]on from Snarky Puppy. [Plays “Anti Jam” by Chris Bollock]. It’s just horn hits for 45 minutes (laughs). But this is the vibe I’m going for, contemporary groove stuff.