Most people know Tim Williams as the heartthrob from the Trivago ads. But this Houston native, and current Germany transplant, is much more than that; he’s an actor and a musician, who recently released a new album, Magnolia City. I got the chance to talk with Tim about what prompted him to move to Germany, what made now the right time to pursue music and the process behind recording Magnolia City! Keep reading to see what he had to say.
I wanted to start off by asking you about Germany. You have been living in Berlin a long time now, right? How many years?
Yeah, 17 years [I’ve] been here now.
Wow. What originally prompted you to move there?
Well, I was first in Cologne. I was in Cologne in 2001 to do a movie. I was living in NY and got cast to play a main role in a movie over there so I was there for a month and a half. So yeah, the original story [is] you fall in love with somebody and you move over there to be with them. So that’s what I did, I came back after the film because I fell in love with somebody.
Are you fluent in German now?
I’m pretty good in German. I’m a little jet-lagged right now so it’s a little off, but I’m pretty good. I was so lucky [that] I was fortunate enough to get paid to learn German. It’s funny enough, I got this tv show and I worked for 2 weeks on the casting for one scene with all of my German friends teaching me how to do it and say it properly. I thought it was just a guest role and I thought it would just be the one scene. But I got the thing and it was a regular part for the next two seasons. I was like, “What am I doing with all these scripts?” And they were like, “That’s your text.” I was like, “Oh my god. It took me two weeks to just learn the one scene. How am I going to do that?” Eventually, they started writing the scripts in English and German so that I could see what I was saying. But it helped me learn a lot in German.
That’s incredible. So I know people mainly know you for your acting and the Trivago TV ads. But I want to know where your love of music came from.
I mean, love is music. That’s my answer to that. Love is music and music is love. To be able to tell a story to somebody, to share a piece of your life or an idea with somebody, that you created is a really remarkable thing. Acting kind of came first but something I’ve always wanted to do is to do music. Finally, I’ve made that step in my life to do it [laughs]. It took me a little while to do it, but here I am.
Kind of going off of that, was there a reason you decided to pursue a career in acting rather than start out in music or at least pursue them both simultaneously? Why music now?
Ahhh, that’s a good question. I would say that the acting kind of came a little easier. I looked at music and I thought, “Wow, music’s a little bit difficult.” You’ve got to write all this stuff. To come up with a song is pretty difficult. It’s perfect when it comes out like that and you just come out and sing one song one time and be like “that’s it. That’s the words.” But I always looked at it as being harder as it is somehow. I mean touring and going around doing all that stuff is difficult because you’re moving around. I just did all of this radio and television promotion in Nashville and that’s hard, having to get up at 9 in the morning and sing 2 to 3 songs and get your voice ready and be ready to sing.
So [originally] I just found it to be a little bit difficult and a little bit nerve-wracking. With acting, you’re playing somebody else, but music you’re being you. You’re really sharing an intimate part of yourself and I think that was the scary part of it. But it all comes with the territory and I’ve done that a little bit of these days. It feels great to do it. I’m so happy I’m doing it now.
I could be wrong, but I doubt there is much of a country music presence in Germany. So why did you decide on country music?
Well, I’m a Houston boy at heart. I did an EP a few years back with my production partner but it wasn’t really the direction I wanted to go. I was like, “I still want to continue music somehow, but I want to make country music.” Country music was something I’ve always loved and don’t get me wrong, I love my Led Zeppelin and my rock n’ roll and my blues, but country hit me as an early teenager. Those are your growing up years. I heard these stories. You’ve probably seen a couple interviews I’ve done and if you’ve seen some of those things, the movie Urban Cowboy hit me because I saw how they were parlaying the music into the movie and the stories that it told and it created and I was like, “I want to do that.” I started listening to country music and just fell in love with it. So I said, “That’s the direction I want to go.” And it fits my voice a little bit better than rock ’n’ roll.
What’s the music scene in general like over in Germany?
The thing is there is this category of music that they have over here called schlager music and I don’t want to be categorized as a schlager musician whatsoever. But it is a folk type of music, where you can have this sense of the next lines coming up to the song. Funny enough, yesterday I was talking to my production partner Norbert, and I was like, “Norbert, I want to put the music out here in Germany too but we don’t have any country stations out here.” And he was like, “No there is one.” He talked to this girl, a friend of ours who’s in a country band over here, and she said there’s a station over here that plays country music. And I said, “But not schlager?” And he said they play the top pop stuff but they also play country music. And I was like, “Well, that’s a category we can go to.” So we’re going to try and promote over on that station, and of course, go play around. There are places you can. A few buddies of mine who are from America and they’ve got country western clubs over here. Down in the Heidelberg area of Germany, that’s where a lot of army bases were so it’s very Americanized down there and a lot of people are into country music down there. So we just gotta go down there and play it and get it around everywhere.
Talking about the project you just put out, Magnolia City, where did the name for the album come from?
It’s cool that you asked that. I wanted to write a song about Houston, my hometown, and the places and people that I miss. But I didn’t want to call it Houston; there are a few songs out there called Houston about Houston and I didn’t want to call it H-Town or anything like that. So I looked up nicknames for Houston on Google and Magnolia City was one of them and I was like, “Well, this is such a pretty name.” And I love the magnolia tree and the blossom, so I was like that’s the name of the song right there.
Because of your background and how Houston inspired you, is that why you chose Magnolia City to be the name of the album as well?
Yeah. There are a lot of songs in there about Berlin, and about exes, not exes from Texas but exes from Berlin. Houston is 8,500 miles from here and it’s just my longing for there… I don’t know; I just did because I loved the name. Of course, it’s the title track, but I think it’s fitting for all the songs because there’s a little bit of Houston in all the songs in one way or another.
I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering if you could give me a glimpse into that. Are you big on collaboration or do you prefer to write by yourself?
Definitely collaboration. Like I said earlier, it’s a tough process because I could sit in a room with my partner and be like, “What are we going to write about today?” It’s like school, let’s come up with a subject. I mean one song, it just came out. I went to my friend’s house and he was playing guitar and I was like, “What is that?” And he was like, “ I don’t know. I was just making it up because I know you’re doing country.” And I said, “Well that’s not really country, but it’s cool, whatever it is you’re doing. Just keep playing it.” So he did and I just started singing a song and didn’t stop and that is the song “My End” on the album. It was definitely a depressing morning, I was not feeling so happy, [I was] coming out of a fresh breakup and trying to get my head on straight somehow. But it came out all in one shot and we didn’t really touch it that much after that, word-wise. We did the music properly in Nashville and put the words over it. Of course, I sang it again, but it was those words that stuck.
You come up with an idea, you start putting words to it, you change things, you try things, you find something that sticks and put it down on paper. That’s one thing, you have to put everything down on paper or your voice memo because things come and go out of your head so quick. You can forget something brilliant and then it’s gone. I’ve done that so often.
Were these songs from a collection of years or did you go in thinking “Okay, for a month, month and a half, we’re going to write songs for this specific project”?
No, these 10 songs were all over the past year. “Temporary Man” is actually relocated on this album from the EP. We put “Temporary Man” back on there because I felt like we needed something a little rock-y, uplifting, bluesy and fun. So we stuck that on there because I didn’t want the whole album to be too depressing [laughs]. But it’s been over the course of a year.
What was the recording process like for this project? Did you record it in Germany or–
Okay, Nashville. How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish, especially because you had to travel all the way to Nashville?
After we had the songs all chosen and we were deciding where we were going to record, it was like “Oh god, where am I going to find a pedal steel player here in Germany who can do it like I want it done? A fiddle player? I’m sure we can find them…” But to get to that heart of country music, I looked at Norbert and I was like, “Norbert, we’re going to Nashville, buddy. We gotta go there.” So we started looking up studios and stuff and we found one and corresponded a couple of times. They listened to the songs and they liked them. We did a couple of rough mixes of them already, but we wanted to record them properly. They told us, “Oh, we can do it all through Skype. You don’t have to travel all the way there.” But I was like, “I want to travel over there. I want to watch this.” So we got on the plane and zipped on over to Nashville and it was amazing. It was like magic; you meet these musicians right then and there and they listen to the song the same time you do, one time, there you are listening to it. Then they get their charts and go in their separate rooms and bang it out.
I know you said you’re just starting to put your music out in Germany. Do you ever do live performances over there?
Yeah, we do. That’s another thing I just talked to him about. We’re going to start at the beginning of the year. But those are things we’ve got to work on now though to get things booked. I mean we’ve played around here, yeah, and as I mentioned before my friends have a few country places, but to get out there more and really push this album out here in Germany is a really big thing. Then in April, we want to head over to the US and start hitting it up over there. I think I want to start in Houston and then make my way up to Canada because there is a really nice country following in Canada.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something that you are currently nerding out about?
[laughs] What am I nerding out over? Wow. I’m a product whore. Like skin products. And I buy these things, and I don’t know if that’s really nerding out over, but I try them once and then I don’t use them. I give them away to my ex or my older son like “Here. Take this. I think you might like it. I don’t know what the hell I bought it for.”
Oh, and this is nerdy, I went to the store the other day and bought a bunch of Pokemon cards. Is that nerdy?
Oh yeah, definitely nerdy. I haven’t heard of anyone buying actual Pokemon cards in a long time.
Well, I bought a bunch of Pokemon cards.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.