Nicholas Williams owes his stage name to Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, a 1961 children’s book about a young boy who journeys to a magical land. In the story, the main character Milo, the beneficiary of a world-hopping tollbooth, meets a cast of curious characters. For the Jacksonville, Fla. folky, the most interesting character was the Whether Man. He only has a few lines in the book, but the Whether Man teaches Milo that “whether or not you find your way, you’re bound to find some way.” This line stuck with Williams. “I found the message profound enough to try and encapsulate that into the name of the project,” he explains. “My aim is to help change or give perspective and relay positivity to whomever I can.”
Long before Williams co-opted the Whether Man name, albeit changing the name slightly to Whetherman, he was on a path toward a career in music. It all began with Dave Matthews. “My friend was playing Dave Matthews ‘Crash,’ and for the first time I was truly intrigued by how close it sounded to the original. I convinced him to let me try it and to teach me the song over the next few days, and within a week I had my gig starter pack and began my two- to four-hour mantra of playing every night in my basement for the next five years,” Williams says, laughing.
Williams’ music is inspired by the Five Ns: nature, neighbors, nostalgia, the now, and what’s next. Both his music and lyrics are calming and contemplative, a musical representation of his own goals to live a stress-free life. “Experiencing nature, being in the present, looking to the possibility of the future, finding beauty, and meeting good people have been a big part of who I am for as long as I can remember, and surely that has inspired most of the sound of my music,” Williams says. His soul-searching songs lean on his Southern influences and have an easy listening-meets-Americana soul-vibe, combined with lyrics as deep and rich as the mighty Mississippi.
As Whetherman, he has a string of albums under his belt, including 2013’s Streams and Pastures, a truly great album featuring a full band and a wealth of instruments. His Charleston gig, however, is a solo show. “Songwriting is tricky. For me, I can’t sit down and tell myself I need to write or force something onto paper. It is at its best when it’s unintentional, when it comes from nowhere like a breeze,” Williams says. “I write in fragments most times, where I have a thought and something comes to me, so I’ll usually write a little note in my phone. When I feel a creative flow, I might go back to that later and add to it, then let it settle. After that, it’s about re-drafting.”
After swinging through Charleston, Whetherman will tour across the country, joining up with his band when the opportunity arises. He’s also working on a new album between festivals and shows. If it’s like his journey thus far, it will be even better than what he’s already crafted.
Whetherman will also play a Barn Jam at Awendaw Green (4853 U.S. 17 North, Awendaw, 843-452-1642) Wed. Aug. 7, with Yankee Dixie, Sun-Dried Vibes, TreeHouse, and Austin Miller. A $5 donation will accepted at the door. The Barn Jam starts at 6 p.m.