“Making `I Should Coco’ was the most fun I ever had in a studio without taking my clothes off…. Actually I did take my clothes off, come to think of it.”
As the producer of Supergrass’ debut album, the Mercury-nominated `I Should Coco’ – an album that entered the charts at Number 1 and stayed there for three weeks, becoming the biggest-selling debut on Parlophone since The Beatles, and featuring the Ivor Novello Song Award-winning hit single, `Alright’ – Sam Williams made quite an entrance with his first major label production.
The son of two guitar teachers and brother of world-renowned classical guitarist John Williams, Sam Williams was born and raised into a world of music.
His father Leonard Williams was a jazz guitarist and founder of the Spanish Guitar Centre in London's Charing Cross Road.When he decided to sell the business and relocate the family to the cliffs of Cornwall to open a monkey sanctuary, Sam found his house full of monkeys and musical instruments.
“It was the most incredible place to grow up, and there was a strong feeling of complete creative freedom. I started off playing drums, then bass, guitar, piano and sax and formed my first band at school aged 11. As soon as I realised that it got you attention from girls, that was it.”
Since that time, writing playing and producing music has been Sam’s life. He got his first studio session aged 16, playing bass for Kid Strange of The Doctors Of Madness. (“My mum had to write a note to get me off school for the day; they tried to expel me after that”). Through his brother, John, Sam became friends with Nick Flowers, son of bassist Herbie, an iconic figure to Sam for his work with T-Rex, Lou Reed and David Bowie.
“Herbie used to take me along to sessions with him when I was 16, and I would sit there quietly watching people like Al Kooper produce. – it was just amazing. My brother John took to me to a lot of film sessions at studios like Air and Abbey Road. I learned so much hanging out on those sessions. Most of all, I began to realise that great production had a lot to do with great arranging.”
Back in Cornwall, Sam began working at the legendary Sawmills Studios, set in a beautiful creek, accessible only by boat or walking down an old railway line when the tide was out.
He was soon signed as an artist to the studio’s own Dangerous Records label and began recording and producing his own and other bands’ songs in earnest. “ Sawmills was like rock n roll university for me. From 18 to 21 I really cut my teeth there as a songwriter, musician and producer.”
From here Sam moved to Power Plant Studios in north London, signed by producer Robin Miller.
“Robin was an amazing guy who really helped me grow by giving me complete freedom to write and produce my own music. I based myself in Studio 1 where all the Kinks and Faces stuff had been cut and didn’t come out for six months; they practically had to evict me in the end.”
Through Tony Cox, who originally owned Sawmills Studios, Sam moved to Oxford, attracted by the vibe of the local scene, in particular Ride, and saw it as a perfect place to put together his own new band, The Mystics. It was here that his fortunes completely changed.
' I knew he had to produce Supergrass from the moment I first saw them. I was hanging around a music shop in Oxford with my girlfriend when I saw what appeared to be a living cartoon outside on the street. It was Danny, Gaz and Mickey and they had just formed Supergrass.They just had this amazing energy around them and I knew instinctively that they were a band I wanted to produce. I didn’t need to hear them; I was so sure by vibe alone.”
That meeting, and shared love of the same music led to a special relationship between Sam and Supergrass, which involved six months of demoing and developing the band’s sound, followed by a week in Sawmills studios on a production deal. "Many of my favorite records had been made by independent producers who worked outside the record companies to develop artists that they really believed in, and now I was finally in a position to do the same thing." Two weeks after the Sawmills session the band were signed to Parlophone.
“We were given complete freedom to finish the album and we returned to Sawmills in the summer for two weeks of intense madness. I played some keyboards and sat in on guitar and bass for a couple of songs so Mickey and Gaz could move around and swap instruments.
“There was this great sense of urgency and momentum making the record - I just wanted to capture that pure energy and rawness and print it as fast as possible. For me as a producer it was the realisation of everything I knew about producing, arranging and recording to tape”
'I Should Coco' was released to widespread critical acclaim with Sam being hailed as a "back room genius" by the NME.
Around the same time, The Mystics had found themselves signed to Fontana. When Sam wasn’t in the studio with Supergrass he would be touring or recording with his own band, but when The Mystics split up he bought a converted chapel in Oxford and set about building a studio of his own in the basement.
“I was frustrated with having to book studios all the time. I always loved the sound of the original classic American studios like Sun, Motown and Stax – really simple and raw with just a few mics and a lot of room sound. Templesound is based on the musical vibe of those studios but with a very contemporary mixing and control area. Because I designed it and I know the room so well I can guarantee hitting a mix right every time here and that makes a big difference.”
Sam’s next band project was The Animalhouse, a group he formed with Mark Gardener and Loz Colbert, from the recently split Ride.
“ It was a lovely circle because Ride were the band that had first drawn me to Oxford and it was a real buzz to be playing with Mark and Loz. It was a very challenging album to record, combining band performances with sampling and orchestral elements.We had some release problems in the UK, but it went to Number 1 in Japan.”
Most recently Sam has produced bands like The Noisettes and A Silent Film, as well as co-writing with Plan B and Francesca Belmonte [Tricky] among others.
“I have a big appetite for working on new music and will always want to work with other people as well as continuing to create my own music.
“My whole life has been a mixture of being an artist in a band and a producer in the studio. Coming from being in bands and writing my own music allows me to understand and connect with the artists I work with on a much higher level. It helps as a player and arranger to be able to communicate with a band by sitting in with them on different instruments; you shouldn't have to talk about music too much, its much better to just hear it. I am constantly on the look out for new artists or bands that I get that special buzz from. It's really important what kind of choices you make about the records you do and who you work with.
“I would much rather work long term to develop something I think is really special because its so much more fulfilling in the end.
“I love the variety of working with different artists in different genres: every record requires something different. Sometimes you have to get very involved and hands on and other times you have to know when to disappear completely into the background. Most of all I try and make sure it’s great fun and an exciting ride, with that sense of creative freedom I felt when I was a kid. That’s how it’s meant to feel and you should never forget that."