Interview with Graham Williams, Sound on Sound’s Head Honcho

Graham Williams of Transmission Entertainment on September 29, 2010

If Austin had a patron saint of live music, Graham Williams would be it. His seemingly inexhaustible pool of band knowledge, paired with good taste, makes him one of the most influential talent scouts in Texas, allowing him to successfully launch large Austin-based festivals like FFF fest, and now the inauguration of Sound on Sound.

Presented by Margin Walker Presents, Williams’s live music promotions, creative events and marketing company he started this past May with James Moody, the festival will feature an amazing array of artists, both local and internationally acclaimed.

He’s constantly forging ahead–if Sound on Sound isn’t pushing the envelope as far as music festivals go, I don’t know what is.

Williams gave us the inside scoop about some local bands to check out, his take on the Austin music scene over the years and details about the upcoming festival.

On Vinyl: I know you’re an Austin native— what’s been one of your favorite local bands you’ve seen preform?
Graham: Man…over the years it’d be hard to say. Too many to count. Nowadays, some of the best local bands are the interesting noisey punk bands like US Weekly and Spray Paint. One of my favorite Texas bands is actually from Dallas: Power Trip. Super metal meets New York hardcore sounding stuff.

OV: How have you seen the live music scene evolve through the years here in Austin and where do you think it’s headed?
GW: It’s a lot different now than when i was a kid…and before me if was super different than what I was seeing/hearing. Funk and funk punk was big in the late 80s/early 90s in Austin, as was weird acid punk: Bad Mutha Goose, Glass Eye, Daniel Johnston, Butthole Surfers, Ed Hall, Retarded Elf, were all bigger acts here, for example. I loved this band called Bouffant Jellyfish in Junior High around that time. Everything was exactly like that Linklater movie Slacker. It’s like a time capsule of Austin watching it today. Indie rock, as well as garage stuff became more prominent over the years after and in the 90s. Both of those have changed and grown, but remained pretty strong here. Lots of great bands in the late nights/early 2000s like Trail of Dead, Explosions…I put out a record for this super popular ska punk band called The Impossibles around that time (96 maybe?). There’s just too many to count. Today, while certain genres are strong than others, I think there is more of everything.The city has grown and more people, move venues, more options has made it branch out more. For example, the hip-hop scene isn’t as big here as some cities, but there are a lot of acts, but 20 yrs ago there were like a couple. Same with DJs and the like. Again, some genres there a lot more of than others, but it’s pretty great how much there is now. So many bands and options in our scene.

OV: What’s the biggest factor when you’re booking bands for a festival like Sound on Sound?
GW: First and foremost, I book what I believe in and what I think our fans want to see. There are plenty of acts that would sell more tickets but don’t fit the vibe of what we do and what i did at Fun Fun Fun Fest for the last 10 years. I want it to reflect cool and progressive music and the scene we work within year round. We book over 1000 ticketed shows a year between Austin and the other cities we do shows in around Texas. Yes, we want it to do well, so size of bands and draw plays a factor too, but only to the degree that we want acts at the top of the bill that are strong, but still ones we love and are proud to have. Another key factor is it’s being diverse enough to be the festival we want (independent music is a big tent), but have enough of a crossover that the line up appeals to everyone. not that everyone likes every band, but we want that Purity Ring fan that used to listen to Black Flag and is happy to see both. Or that Big Boi fan that also digs Car Seat Headrest and what not.

OV: What show would you recommend as a must-see?
GW: That’s tough. I book most of the fest around bands I’d like to see or have seen and been impressed by. There are always old school bands that are a blast to get to see (The Monkeywrench, Guided By Voices, Cherubs, Youth of Today, etc) so seeing the legends is always really exciting for fans, but all the newer bands like Car Seat Headrest, Courtney Barnett, Death Grips, Jagwar Ma and on and on…the line up of acts in that vein is nuts this year. Also, I love hip hop and not enough fests really dive into it, but we have some amazing acts this year from Run The Jewels, who i think is the best hip hop group to come out in the past decade, Big Boi, Young Thug, Big Freedia, aesop and many others.

OV: What was your reasoning behind choosing a renaissance site as your location for the festival?
GW: it’s just hilarious and awesome at the same time. Like Game of Thrones meets Coachella. We always wanted to do an event at a Renaissance faire and knew about the ones in Dallas and Houston, but can’t completely overlooked there being one by Austin. When we found out, we jumped on it. It’s a killer space and an original idea. That’s always been a big thing for me: how NOT to look like every other fest. FFF fest was starting to combat that idea of what a festival could be and we wanted to take that to the next level with Sound on Sound fest. Most fests are a field with stages. That’s not a bad thing, but we thought ‘what can we do to change that look and feel of a fest?’ This was a great way to be able to do that. We wanted the location to be like one of the headliners in it’s own right…a reason to go.

OV: When people aren’t at performances, what kind of fun activities would you advice concert-goers to check out?
GW: There is a LOT to do. Castles, jousting arenas… you can watch our crazy version of jousting, wrestling, BMX/skate ramps, comedy/spoken word/panels/live podcasts on the Globe Stage and more.

OV: Favorite Fugazi song?
GW: hahaha…well, I DO like the song Margin Walker, but not sure it’s a favorite. Not sure i could choose one song. They were one of the first punk shows i saw and a super important band that followed me from getting into underground music to working in the music business when I booked some shows for them many years later. So I have different songs for different times. Some nostalgic reasons KYEO is important to me, as i can remember the speech they gave before going into it when i saw them in 6th grade. Same with Blueprint. I love the first song on in on the Kill Taker, Facet Squared. I could name Fugazi songs I love forever, like most fans of theirs.

Photo courtesy of The Austin Chronicle