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English prof moonlights as bicoastal rock star

“In ways, it’s a lot like my academic work. We're endlessly revising,” says Yale English professor R. John Williams, talking about his side career as a rock star.

Williams has been an associate professor in the English department since 2009, but as some of his students know, he has been the lead singer of a rapidly rising college band on the West Coast since 2007. This August, that band, Faded Paper Figures, will release its fourth album, Relics, another serving of addictive electronic pop music.

Faded Paper Figures (FPF to fans) started when Williams was a grad student at UC Irvine. He met his future bandmates Kael and Heather Alden (married, not siblings) at a party, and after a few conversations and some pizza, the three were writing songs together in Kael’s apartment. Since then, the New York Post has called FPF “must-have new music,” and the band’s songs have been featured prominently on television programs like Grey’s Anatomy.

Just as FPF’s reputation began to swell, however, Williams got hired at Yale and moved out to the east coast. Meanwhile, Heather started medical school, and Kael worked at a music production company. The band was far apart, with little time to spare. Rather than surrender to geography, though, the three decided to write songs bicoastally, trading songs and ideas via e-mail. Williams flies out to LA to work with his bandmates about four times a year, trips that coincide with Yale’s spring and fall breaks, and other vacations. They’ve written their last three albums, including Relics, this way. Some fans worried about how the move would impact the longevity of the band, but Williams isn’t concerned. “In a way I think it’s helped us,” says Williams. The band can work at its own pace.

As exciting as the band life may be, however, Williams is content to keep it as a side career for now, stressing that he’s a professor first, musician second. Indeed, everyone in the band is busy these days. Heather is starting her residency at the UCLA hospital, and Kael is continuing his day job. Though if he didn’t have the band, Williams says, “I think we’d still make the music, because the music is worth it in and of itself.” 


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Faded Paper Figures, R. John Williams, English department
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