Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Oct 4th 2012 1:00PM by Caitlin White
As I left the hospital, the crispness of fall seemed in tune with the new brightness I saw in Will's countenance: A sense of hope that was lacking when I interviewed him only weeks before in August. He has just been diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer, that had spread to his liver and one of his lungs. Yet somehow he looked happier in his hospital bed than he did sitting across from me at a small rickety table in his Red Hook, Brooklyn apartment.
"I don't spend a lot of time really carousing like I did when I first got to New York and I don't drink very much. I think the longer that I've lived in the city I've had a slightly more monastic lifestyle," he said in our initial interview. "I believe that my time in New York is numbered, or that I at least need an extended break. I need to go to the countryside and figure out a new lifestyle."
I was first drawn to Will's music because of its vibrancy and physicality; this desire for open spaces and a return to nature made sense. His latest album Post-Empire is a great example of where folk music should turn in order to reinvent itself for new generations. The record is full of traces of uncertainty and obscured sight, complemented with tension filled guitar-playing and splashes of strings, all elements imbued with new feeling in light of Will's mental state.
At the hospital, he admitted that he knew something was seriously wrong for close to 10 months, but something -- fear, pride, uncertainty -- stopped him from finding out for sure.
"There's so many reasons that I didn't go before I did. None of them good. But some of them kind of caught up in the kind of fucked-up-artistic self-image bullshit that adolescence and Brooklyn gets sucked into."
Funny thing is, he strikes one as the least likely to possess the hubris of the artist. Will is as mild-mannered as Clark Kent until he picks up a guitar, and reveals his alter ego can use the instrument with the ferocity of a weapon. Stratton is a self-taught acoustic guitarist in the vein of American masters like John Fahey, Leo Kottke and British legend Nick Drake.
Like Drake, Strattons's lyrics are malleable, shifting surfaces, and they must be in order to keep up with his fluid guitar picking. His music is inescapably colored by intricate guitar tones, but also by cacophonies of female vocals. Amelia Meath of Mountain Man and the equally talented Maia Friedman of BOBBY (both of Red Hook) lend their wing-like vocals to Post-Empire.
"For me, the female voice in Post-Empire is synonymous with epiphany, or light. So whenever there's a female voice, she's usually not singing by herself, but she's kind of highlighting the text in parts that I think are particularly important, or need that extra emphasis in order to shine through."
Will recorded Post-Empire on analogue tape in Greenpoint's Rare Book Room studio with Nicolas Vernhes, an engineer who's worked with the likes of the Dirty Projectors, Spoon and Cat Power. In fact, Will has had his fair share of collaborations with popular artists. While recording his first album in Astoria, Queens, Sufjan Stevens agreed to play the oboe for two of his songs.
"There was the idea that a couple of my songs could use some oboe, which I thought was an awesome idea. And also I was a huge fan, and still am, of Sufjan and his arranging work especially. I think he's probably the most brilliant arranger of the last few generations. So Sufjan listened to the songs and I think was okay enough with them that he decided he could do some oboe stuff," Will explained.
Though he's only 25, Stratton has already released four full length records. I asked him if worried he'd ever get burnt out, but the answer was a resounding no.
"As soon as I'm done with the record I go through a sort of mourning period where I'm like 'What am I going to do?" and I don't create anything for a while. Then as soon as that's over I become kind of obsessed with it and what the next record or the next musical project is going to look like or sound like, so now I'm kind of at that stage."
In light of his growing health concerns, his answer takes on new meaning. Despite the delay, Will's chance at recovery is strong, a clear broad stroke of hope with little room for doubt. After an initial surgery, doctors became extremely optimistic about treating the singer's cancer.
"It's very scary sounding, but, the upside is that this type of cancer is really responsive to chemotherapy. We're expecting to see positive results pretty quickly. And what the doctors keep telling me is that this cancer is not only highly treatable, it's curable."
With the tumult of uncertainty behind him, Will is finally able to focus on his recovery, but music is still at the back of his mind. His eyes fully light up as he talks about the record he can make post-cancer.
"The thing is, amidst all this, I'm already thinking of the record I can make about this experience. There's a four track recorder at my parents house, a Tascam 414 Portastudio which is the first thing I ever recorded music on. I'm imagining the record I can make while I recover. I think it will be a happy record. Simple."