Signing Story: OWS

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A boy band that blew up, then went kaput. An incurable, crippling illness. A renowned, deceased chanteuse.

Macabre as it may sound, multifaceted artist OWS––also known as Oritse Williams––has those elements to thank for his U.K. recording contract with Island/Universal.

Rewind to Dec. 22, 2013: Pop sensations JLS played their last show at London’s O2 Arena.

“They didn’t want me to leave the room without signing.”

Williams and the three other lads had sold more than 10 million records and notched five No. 1 singles in their short, five-year career. But he was worried: breaking out from a boy band is hard to do.

Fortunately, Williams had an angel in his corner: the late, beloved superstar Amy Winehouse. The singer’s mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had befriended Williams’ mother, who is stricken with the same illness. Following an invitation from Winehouse’s mother, Williams attended a charity dinner for the Amy Winehouse Foundation and met her former A&R rep, Darcus Beese.

Beese, who had become president of Island, invited Williams to come by his office in the new year––on Jan. 7, 2014, to be exact.

OWS recalls someone telling him, before he headed into Beese’s office, that he would never sign someone from JLS. But then he busted out his new solo song, “Waterline,” for the exec.

“I was expecting further conversations, but they didn’t want me to leave the room without signing me right there,” Williams says. “They were like, ‘We’re signing Oritse, bring in the lawyers.’ It showed me that a piece of art that’s strong can exceed every other barrier or preconception.”

Now, after nabbing Clipse member Pusha T for a guest spot, Williams is close to wrapping his solo debut. The artist admits it has taken him
a while to assemble the album, but with the lofty goal of trying to make every song even better than the one he played for Beese, a long wait seems understandable.

“People only remember what you did,” OWS says, “not the time you took to do it.”

 – Kurt Orzeck