The bright, young R&B talent rides a wave of local buzz into Seattle's quintessential summer fest.
Not long ago, Paris Alexa Williams was a checked-out student eating solo in the cafeteria of Sammamish High School. Academics and Friday-night football games weren’t exactly the aspiring young artist’s thing, and homework assignments often fell by the wayside while Williams cut class in favor of penning songs in the bathroom.
“In class, I’d be humming, singing during tests,” she recalls of the classes she actually did attend. “My parents would get so many calls, complaints — for years! Because that’s all I wanted to do.”
All those mid-exam melodies are starting to pay off for the talented 19-year-old who performs as Parisalexa. Since landing on the local radar with a second-place Sound Off! finish in 2016, Williams has grown into one of the brightest young stars in Seattle music, a critical darling who debuted with a pair of ear-perking EPs this year.
As a high-school junior, Williams snagged a ticket to the Capitol Hill Block Party, marking the first time the suburban teen — then largely unaware of the local music scene — ever hung out in Seattle’s musical hub (“I was like whaaaat?! … There’s a party going on in the middle of the street with, like, concerts?! Whooooaaa.”) In what she describes as a “full-circle moment,” this weekend Williams returns to play the annual summer fest with a prime Saturday-night slot at the outdoor Vera stage.
In the years since her first Block Party foray, Williams has carved her place in the local music scene, collaborating with fellow up-and-comers like Travis Thompson (whom she bested in Sound Off!) and producer Elan Wright of Seattle hip-hop’s go-to studio the Ruby Room, where she’s been holed up for the past week working on new music.
It was there Williams recorded her two disparate 2018 releases, the narrative “Bloom” EP and last month’s more contemporary “FLEXA,” billed as a four-track mixtape. On “Bloom,” Williams flashes an older soul, with hints of soul, jazz and the ’90s R&B (Brandy, Monica, SWV) she unabashedly loves despite it predating her by a few years. The daughter of music-loving parents, Williams credits mom and dad — who still double as her concert buddies — with instilling a musical curiosity in her.
“We just went to Steely Dan,” she admits, giggling. “It was really funny [and] it was really awesome.”
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With “Bloom” — a concept EP about personal growth and self-love through the context of romantic relationships and botanical metaphors — Williams shows a vocal maturity and self-awareness belying her youth while throwing up deuces to a toxic ex holding her back during woozy neo-soul jam “Deadhead.” The horticultural references feel a tad belabored by “Cross Pollinate,” a head-over-heels daydream about baby-making love, which proves a satiating closer, regardless. You can practically hear the Gen Z singer drawing hearts on a garage-sale Trapper Keeper as her swooning harmonies swirl overhead.
By contrast, the even more promising “FLEXA” is a confident and contemporary set, the production oozing modern trap-lite swagger. Williams’ ’90s sensibilities peek through during the savory chorus on “LV,” while the suavely fierce hook on “Ballin” could’ve been ghostwritten for crossover melodic trap star Post Malone. The latter landed Williams on the cover of Spotify’s popular Fresh Finds playlist this month, helping the track to more than 200,000 plays as of this writing.
Elsewhere, the closing “Hard Way” is a stutter-stepping rebuke to those who have underestimated her (in music and beyond) as a young, African-American woman. “I know that I’m not a wizard genius of a bunch of things, but I’m pretty good at this,” she says of her songwriting. “That’s OK to say. That’s OK to feel like that and to feel like I’m capable.”
Between working on new material and rehearsing with her new band, which will back her this weekend, Williams has been taking songwriting trips to Los Angeles, banking tunes she’s shopping to bigger artists. Though nothing’s placed yet, she says it’s gotten her music into some famous ears. “Rihanna actually passed one of my songs to Ariana [Grande], like ‘Ah, she’d sound great with that,’ ” Williams notes with a #humblebrag.
As productive as those L.A. sojourns have been, Williams has no immediate plans to uproot, even if she didn’t see young women like herself prominently in the Seattle scene.
“I decided to use the lack of there being an artist similar to me as an opportunity and not discouragement,” she says. “People are like ‘Oh, Seattle. How is a black, R&B, teenage girl gonna take off here?’ Honestly, there’s no one else doing that and we need representation, I feel like.”
Capitol Hill Block Party, July 20-22, Capitol Hill, East Pike Street and 12th Avenue; $165-$310 three-day pass, $75 single day, capitolhillblockparty.com