David E. Williams, Crown Prince of Darkness

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Why you should care

Philadelphia is one of America’s 14 most underrated cities.

Since the release of Pseudo Erotica, his 1987 debut extended-play album, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter David E. Williams has gone on, in his own mordantly impish way, to become a pivotal and singular figure in the underground neofolk and dark cabaret music scenes — scenes, it’s worth noting, that did not exist until long after Williams began releasing albums. Even with those labels to bandy about, Williams’ work continues to defy simple categorization. His richly orchestrated, infectiously toe-tapping and blackly comic synth pop may tend to focus on, as he puts it, “the violent dread of every moment for a troubadour narrator on the nexus of existential angst and cultural despair,” but it’s often with a wicked chuckle and a complex expressionist poetry and wordplay all his own.

The classically trained Williams has made a career of blending the tragic and ridiculous in songs that range from the deeply melancholic to the anthemic to the merely goofy. His lyrics — which in the past have dealt with murderers, an assortment of sexual deviants, child molesters, gay Nazis, Idi Amin, the physically distraught, the outrageously unfortunate and love gone just about as wrong as it can possibly go — have earned him his share of notoriety and controversy. They have also earned him comparisons with Franz Schubert, David Lynch, Barry Manilow and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, which is quite a team if you think about it.

To date, Williams has released six full-length solo albums, from 1994’s A House for the Dead and a Porch for the Dying to his most recent and perhaps best, Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone. He’s also released a double handful of EPs and singles, been a guest musician on countless other albums, scored a couple of movies and been involved in numerous side projects, including most recently the Muskets, which performed 21st-century takes on authentic Revolutionary War-era songs. And in 2007 he was the subject of a two-CD tribute album, The Appeal of Discarded Orthodoxy, whose stark and simple cover art may nevertheless have raised an eyebrow or two.

“I am still not the sort of writer who sits down with a pen and scribbles away,” Williams says of how his music and lyrics have evolved over the past quarter-century. “Mostly, these things write themselves. I’m always struck by inspiration at the most awkward times – at work or in the car. I head quickly to a private place to jot down my thoughts. Often this private place will be a bathroom.”

At the moment the finishing touches are being put on a new CD that Williams recorded with longtime guitarist and fellow songwriter Jerome Deppe, consisting of old and new songs from both Williams and Deppe and recorded live in the studio with a full band. And this July, Williams is heading out on his first European solo tour, with shows in Barcelona, Copenhagen, London and Paris.

Williams says he’s also working on new recordings at home, with subjects ranging from failing prostate glands to workplace homicides. In other words, the usual. But maybe not?

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