Devin Williams may not be a name you are familiar with, but he’s had quite the impressive and successful career in Christian Rock. He’s had seven songs on the Billboard Top 30 Christian Rock charts. His latest project, Devin Williams with a String Quartet, reimagines some of the hits in his collection by adding lush arrangements of a string quartet. I got the chance to talk with Devin about how he got into music, what made him want to rearrange his hits with new arrangements, his current single “Like a Fire” and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
My parents were musicians and I was captivated by music and entertaining at an early age. I formed my first band when I was 15 and we played a few shows around my little town and I loved every minute of it. We only did covers back then, but I remember sitting down and writing my first songs and thinking how terrible they were! I started listening more intently at how these artists wrote their songs and how they told the stories. I also went to college and studied music performance and put together a rock group and we played concerts all over central Florida.
Was there a specific moment or person who made you realize music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
For me, it wasn’t a specific moment, because so many different albums moved and changed me. I think I always knew that music was my destiny, even as a small child. When I was a teenager, I purchased the album Superunknown by Soundgarden and I immediately became a Chris Cornell fan. I loved his writing, his voice, and the music seemed to accent the story he was telling. Along with so many other artists, he is one of my musical heroes that inspired me to write and create music.
I know your music is generally classified as Christian Rock, but how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
It’s strange because I’ve had a lot of fans and friends tell me that my music doesn’t sound like Christian Rock! To describe my music without genre names I would say that my music is powerful and passionate with blazing guitar riffs, with soulful grooves and slamming drums. The songs contain stories about life and question the world around us. My goal with the music I produce would be to help the listeners find hope and encouragement for whatever struggle they may be facing.
You just recently released a new album where you rearranged some of your Top 30 Christian Rock hits to include a string quartet. What made you want to rearrange these songs rather than putting out new material?
I’ve always loved classical music. I studied music in college and attended many concerts, mostly rock, but also classical and jazz. A couple of years ago, I was playing an acoustic show and my guitar player shows up with a cello. He said it might be cool to try a couple of songs with the cello. We sat down and played a couple of songs and I was blown away. I had never heard my songs with the rich warm tone of a solo cello like that before. I had played around with synth strings and keyboard patches in the studio, but this was something completely different. I talked with my bandmate and we felt the best approach would be to record a few songs with a string quartet and see what it would sound like. A couple years later, we charted the songs and hit the studio.
I decided to put the string arrangements out before new material because I felt these songs needed to be heard in this way before moving on to the next chapter in my music career. There is new music coming and I’m currently writing the songs for the next project.
As you were going back and re-examining these hit songs of yours from different points of your career and adding new elements to them, what did you learn about yourself as an artist?
Going back and working through these songs, I can see where I could have done things differently with the song or with a slightly different lyric or two. I learned that I’m becoming a better songwriter and artist and I can see over the years that I’ve grown.
“Like a Fire” is a powerful anthem of how just a spark of faith can turn into an unstoppable force. Christ tells the parable of the tiny mustard seed of how it can blossom into a humongous tree. We can use that small spark of faith to change our own lives and to inspire and influence those around us to make positive changes, which could eventually change the world!
What is your songwriting process? Do you tend to write by yourself or are you big on collaborating with other writers?
My songwriting process begins in the woodshed alone with about 10 books, the Bible, a stack of CDs/LPs/8tracks, my guitar, amp, and a ton of foot pedals. There’s also a keyboard in the corner of the room if I get bored! I kid, but this is pretty close to what I do. I am a bit of a loner when it comes to writing. Each song tells a story and the songs are kind of like children! I’ve co-written a few songs over the years and I’ve never been completely satisfied with them. I also had several traumatizing experiences with co-writing when I first came to Nashville. From my perspective, walking into “Nashvegas” everyone was jumping into the songwriting bed together. I wasn’t sure why they wanted to be so quick to co-write. My songs have always been special to me and are a part of who I am. So I like to write alone, but I listen to constructive criticism and also work with great producers who aren’t afraid to tell me the song I think is awesome actually sucks!
Since we just talked about being inspired to write songs, who are some of your musical influences when it comes to songwriting?
Over the years, I’ve been inspired by so many great artists. When I was a kid I loved Ray Charles, Elvis, and Micheal Jackson. I listened to Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, White Lion, Ratt, and Def Leopard. I was a huge fan of Guns N Roses with Slash and everyone’s favorite jerk, Axel Rose. I learned how to play the guitar parts for every song from Metallica’s And Justice for All and Black albums. I wore out the No Rest for the Wicked tape from Ozzy Osbourne too! I listened to Creedence Clear Water Revival, Fats Domino, Lynard Skynard, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam. When I got to college, I was introduced to Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang, Miles Davis, Christopher Parkening, and Jimmy Hendrix. Just to name a few of my influences.
When I write, I try to fill my head with a mix of styles and genres from throughout the decades!
What can people expect from you for the rest of 2018? Any upcoming shows?
I’m performing as much as possible for the remainder of the year. I have a few shows lined up, but they are mostly small private type gigs. My focus over the next few months is to get back in the woodshed to create the next chapter of music and hit the studio in the winter. I can’t wait to unleash a new album full of face-melting guitar riffs!
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something, besides music, that you nerd out about?
I love video games. I have a classic Nintendo and the first Sega Master system with games that you have to blow on to get them to play. I like all the modern systems too like the PS1, PS2, PS3, and PS4. The sad truth is I don’t get to play much anymore, but when I get a little bit of time I might pop in some classic NES Contra and put in the special code: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right. I’m also a huge Star Wars fan (original trilogy).