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Nocturnal Blonde

Still Gushing
(Self-Released)
Release Date: August 23, 2019

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Nocturnal Blonde was originally created to bring awareness, in loose story form, to the devastating reality of the opioid pandemic. Ritchie Williams, producer/ songwriter/ singer/instrumentalist of Nocturnal Blonde, nearly lost his brother, Dave Williams, to an incidental opiate-related overdose. Though he survived, Dave was left with permanent neurological damage.

Before his brother’s incident, Ritchie had the opportunity and privilege to work with Athens, Georgia legend Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Michael produced an album by a local act in which Ritchie sang, wrote, and played guitar. Stipe also lent assistance to Williams by co-writing and simplifying one of his songs.

Ritchie was truly moved by Michael’s concise, intuitive approach as producer. With the education of studio experience and the need to help the fight against the opioid crisis, Williams initiated Nocturnal Blonde, a studio project with purpose. Most of the material on Still Gushing was written by Dave and Ritchie Williams, brothers and best friends, during the throes of Dave’s addiction. Younger brother, Ritchie experienced his own full system breakdown while writing the rest of the material alone.

Williams didn’t have to dig too deep to find compassionate talent in Athens. With a deep, supportive cast of instrumentalists on deck, Ritchie’s confidence grew. The only thing missing was a true lead singer. By luck, standout vocalist, Rachel Adams was discovered, harmonizing to radio songs at Ritchie’s day job. The coworkers immediately bonded, and Rachel accepted Ritchie’s proposal to join forces and fight for the cause. Within three months, Nocturnal Blonde released their debut EP, Smart Heart.
“The positive press reviews of Smart Heart and positive feedback from my brother was so encouraging that I had to keep the project alive. The next step was to share the whole story, and hopefully touch someone who’s struggling with similar issues, with our LP, Still Gushing. – Ritchie Williams.


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Photos: Rachel Renee Levasseur


THE TIES THAT BIND US (story):


Addiction serves as a catalyst for the beautiful darkness of Nocturnal Blonde:
A story of An Artistic Brotherhood, An Opioid Overdose, and A Brotherly Bond Bound Through The Music They Create to Heal Themselves – and Others
From “Ties That Bind Us full story“https://www.thetiesthatbindus.org/addiction-serves-as-a-catalyst-for-the-beautiful-darkness-of-nocturnal-blonde/” by Steve Wildsmith 2019

Ritchie Williams was 17 years old when he first noticed his brother Dave’s descent into the depths of addiction.

Since their childhood in Jacksonville, Fla., the two had been thick as thieves; best friends then and now, but Dave’s drug use began to steal Ritchie’s older sibling, with the slow assuredness of guaranteed destruction.

Looking back, Ritchie — who now leads the Athens, Ga.-based band Nocturnal Blonde, which draws on music the two brothers created to tell Dave’s story and light a beacon of hope for those who might similarly struggle — sees that his brother’s path was, in some ways, no surprise.

“He’s incredibly intelligent in a lot of ways, and in the ’80s, they had a gifted program where they would really just lay it all out for you,” Ritchie told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “They would give you an IQ test and tell your parents what your personality was going to be, and they told our parents that he was only going to see things in black-and-white. This is pretty much a direct quote from my memory — they said he could either end up working for NASA, or end up in a ditch.”

Dave didn’t end up in a ditch, but he came close. An opioid related overdose in 2016 brought on respiratory failure, which led to acute ischemia, a stroke that damaged his brain. He’s alive, but he’s forever changed, and when a part of him died, a part of Ritchie did as well. Nocturnal Blonde, his band with Rachel Adams, was his own way back into the light. The band released an EP, Smart Heart, in 2018 which includes songs from the forthcoming full-length album, Still Gushing due August 16.

A brotherly bond forged in music

“My dad used to play with Chet Atkins a little bit when he was a really young kid on the guitar, so we had no choice but to pursue music. My brother and I were immersed in it” recalls Ritchie. For the Williams brothers, music has been one of the primary ties that bound them as siblings and friends. Ritchie remembers realizing his connection to music when he heard “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd at age 4. “It hit my pleasure center so hard, and I remember feeling overwhelmed and in love.” he said.

As the brothers got older, the two began writing and playing together, and the pair eventually moved to the college rock incubator town of Athens. Ritchie and Dave had always been co-writers in the bands in which they were involved. Fortunately, most of the work they did was recorded in a professional home studio before Dave’s descent into opioid addiction.

“His music opened so many doors for me, and the connection was still there as my brother, but he just kept getting deeper and deeper into anything he could just to feel good at the moment. The music was huge and hard to capture, because he couldn’t get it together, but whenever we did, we kept it.”

When Dave became incapable of playing, Ritchie decided to venture out. Through a mutual friend, his music was introduced to Lynda Stipe of Flash to Bang Time. The collaboration of Ritchie, Lynda, and the band got the attention of Lynda’s big brother, Michael Stipe, singer and front man for Athens-based R.E.M. After a show at a local venue, Michael asked if the band would like to take the live material into the studio for production.

During the recording process, Ritchie was fascinated by Michael’s approach. “I was so impressed with how concise Michael was while producing. It was great to see a true leader simplify the process and achieve his vision with ease, all while having fun.” Ritchie said.

While there Ritchie also received some lessons about song-crafting from Mr. Stipe himself. Williams recounted, “Michael really liked one of my songs but felt that it needed attention, and he wanted to sit with me and go over it. He and I went in a room together hoping to find a lyrical ending with a twist for the last stanza of the song. He jotted down a couple of lines and asked what I thought about it. At that moment, I truly felt the magic of his genius.”

A bond is broken

In 2016, Ritchie arranged for an intervention to get Dave into treatment in Athens. The plan was for Dave to return from a visit back to Florida and enter the treatment program directly, but he slipped the net and disappeared. About a week later, their father called.

“My dad said he had overdosed, and the paramedics were taking him away with a sheet covering his face,” Ritchie said, pausing against the well of emotions those searing memories entail. “However, somehow, 11 minutes into a 20-minute ride, he came through.”

It was a call Ritchie had long dreaded but still expected, and his world came crashing down around him. He suffered his own nervous breakdown, wondering if his brother would ever be the same. Almost three weeks later, Dave called from the hospital.

“It was like a phone call from beyond the grave,” Ritchie said. “But he remembered the number, and he dialed it, and within a week, I was playing music again. That’s always been our main bond, and it was such a relief to see that it was still a possibility.”

Nocturnal Blonde was born when Ritchie met Rachel in December 2017. She grew up outside of Athens, and her earliest memories of music are of sitting on the front pew of churches around the area, listening to the Southern gospel quartet of which her father was a part. Music has been a part of her life ever since, and when she discovered the music Ritchie and Dave had created she knew that she could bring something to it.

The first time Ritchie heard her sing, he knew as well, he added.
“When we met Ritchie told me he was trying to get something started and asked if I wanted to listen to the music, so I did,” Rachel added. “He gave me three songs, and I knew immediately that I wanted to work with them. And then, when he told me the story, it all made sense.”

Music remains the bedrock

After three meetings, the two were a band; in February, they borrowed a line from the Syd Barrett song “Feel” for a name and immediately went into the studio to work on “Smart Heart.” It’s gorgeous acoustic psych-folk, drawing on the dual harmonies of other male-female combos like Mandolin Orange and Carolina Story but wrapped in a patina of ache and darkness. It’s impossible to listen to the EP, however, without hearing the hope on the other side of that void.

Because despite his brother’s stroke, Ritchie still has his brother. There are many whose stories are contained in Nocturnal Blonde’s songs who do not still have that person in their lives, and the music Adams and Williams make is for the ones who’ve been lost and the ones who’ve survived.
“I haven’t been the same since then, but Dave’s sound is still there,” Ritchie said. “I’ll call and talk to him about a song, and he’ll say it needs this or that in terms of color. He can’t drive, and he can’t work, and he falls a lot, but I get to bounce the ideas off of him, and because we’ve worked so long together, his presence is in there. It’s more than inspiration.”

Dave and Rachel struck up a close friendship — “We talk all the time, and text almost every day, and he’ll tell me if he thinks what I’m doing is good or if something could sound better,” she said. “The two of them are so special, and the music is so special, and adding to it has been really fun for me.”

Although he’s forever changed, Dave is clean today. He went through treatment at an Athens area treatment facility, and he’s active in recovery. However, the damnable part of his brain damage is that the part where his addiction lives is unaffected.

“He knows that he still craves it, and if he has the opportunity and isn’t active in recovery, he would use,” Ritchie said. “But in terms of support, he has a program, and he uses the tools of the recovery center, and I can see it in his outlook that things have changed.”

And part of that support is Nocturnal Blonde. Dave lives vicariously through Ritchie and Rachel, and the two are very aware that the music made by a once-brilliant mind still has a role in healing hearts also damaged by addiction. They hope to move from the studio to the stage soon, but they’re not anxious to force anything. The band has been guided to date by a higher power, and shoehorning it to fit into a certain box would defy Nocturnal Blonde’s momentum.

Ritchie, Rachel and Dave have been through too much to allow that to happen, they said.
“I’m not trying to force it anymore,” Ritchie said. “I think the songs stand strong enough on their own. I want people to know just how dangerous it is to dabble with these particular substances. There’s a depth of isolation to it that I want them to feel, but I want them to know that there is inspiration as well. You don’t have to go to those places and lose yourself.”

by Steve Wildsmith

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