Marty Willson-Piper sat in a booth at the back of Steve’s Deli in downtown Jackson, lifting a finger to trace a line between the records on the wall.
He owns many of them, which is not all that surprising. As the founder of the In Deep Music Archive, he has collected more than 40,000 entries in different formats, including vinyl, laser disc, cassette and reel-to-reel tape.
“The thing about it is I really have no problem listening to the Carpenters, followed by Black Sabbath, followed by, you know, FKA Twigs,” he says. “I just have always liked the idea of eclecticism in music.”
That passion for variety in music has permeated Willson-Piper’s own career as a performer and artist. Many people will remember him as the guitarist for Australian rock band The Church in the 1980s and English alternative group All About Eve throughout the 1990s. However, plenty of his fans have latched on not to his past successes but his current creative streak.
Today, Willson-Piper splits his time between five projects. In addition to duo shows with his wife and violinist, Olivia Willson-Piper, he is an active with Swedish progressive-rock act Anekdoten; Noctorum, a collaboration with friend of 50 years, Andy “Dare” Mason; and a collaboration with Swedish songwriter Niko Röhlcke called MOAT. He also records with husband-and-wife duo Atlantium.
He is currently in the process of working on a fourth album with Noctorum and the second MOAT album, both of which are scheduled for release in October of this year.
“The glue is the eclecticism,” he says of the different projects. “I don’t want to jump straight into The Beatles, but jumping straight into The Beatles, I love all of them—all their songs, all their voices, all their styles, all their albums, all their eclecticism, all the silly stuff, all the dark stuff. The eclecticism of it is the appeal.”
Whether it is a spiritual connection to the lyrics, the rhythm or even the look of the artist, the point is to have the music move you in some form or fashion, he says. That is something that he also tries to pass on to others. When not on tour, Willson-Piper teaches music lessons online. Rather than focusing on music theory, scales or cover tunes, he tries to help his students develop their love of creating music.
“When I first do a lot of these sessions, when I start getting involved with people, the first thing I say is, ‘Well, we have to have a Skype session to figure out how I can help,’” he says. “Usually, at the end of that session, I say, ‘And by the way, before we start, I want you to go away, and I want you to listen to Al Green’s greatest hits,’ because that’s where it’s at.”
It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks the lyrics are overly romantic or sentimental for their tastes, he says. It is about taking a moment to recognize just how powerful music is and what it can achieve.
“You write a song, and there’s nothing happening. There’s nothing in the room. The room is empty. There’s furniture, there’s a breathing creature called a human, and there’s an instrument there, which has got strings and wood,” Willson-Piper says. “You pick it up, and you can write something. Then, in a year, when it has been recorded and released, it can be 20 million people’s favorite emotional mood-enhancing creation. People can be crying because of it. That’s amazing. It didn’t even exist, and it can drive people to ecstasy and bliss!”
What brought Willson-Piper and his wife to Jackson on a Friday afternoon was not a show at a big local venue, a music lesson or a record excursion, but rather an intimate performance in honor of a friend and former student’s birthday.
William Buras, a former Jackson resident now living in Houston, first met Willson-Piper while studying at the University of London. He learned that the singer-songwriter, who was based in northern England, did lessons and asked if they could arrange them in person. Despite being six hours away, Buras began taking lessons with Willson-Piper, and when his 50th birthday was approaching, Buras made plans to bring his teacher to the U.S. for shows in Houston and Jackson.
Willson-Piper and his wife will perform tomorrow, Jan. 13, for a sold-out crowd at Steve’s Deli, with all of the proceeds going toward the In Deep Music Archive. For more information, visit martywillson-piper.com.