Monday, March 06, 2006

Talkin' With Lucinda Williams

Part Two: My Own World

This is the second part of an interview from 1989. Unfortunately, I lost the published version, so I'm glad I kept the original draft. It's typewritten and dotted with Liquid Paper as this was before I had access to a computer. As mentioned previously, I've cut quite a bit of text, which means my rambling--if heartfelt--intro, but I haven't made any other changes, so please forgive the awkwardness of the writing. When I get the chance, I'll transcribe a few of my other Wire interviews, which include Bill Frisell, Jon Spencer, and Dinosaur Jr.

Click here for part one.

Wire: How do you feel about being on a label that's known for, not so much 'punk' music, but 'alternative rock' music? Does that seem strange to you at all? Do you think it's a sign that they're broadening...

Williams: Well, yeah. I don't really think too much about it.

Wire: I think of Rough Trade as 'post-punk' in that a lot of the bands on Rough Trade...[were] kind of influenced by that.

Williams: There's some pretty alternative stuff on there.

Wire: Do you feel you were influenced at all by anything that came out of the punk movement?

Williams: Um...[thinks].

Wire: Or did that not affect you?

Williams: It sort of went right by me, to tell you the truth. I really didn't... I don't know--the seventies was a weird time, you know. The only stuff I really got into--and most of the, like, 'new wave'-type stuff I didn't really get into either--the only thing that I did pick up on was, like, the Pretenders. And the Talking Heads. That was a big--those definitely influenced me quite a bit. But I was listening to a lot of my 'own' records in that period. I was listening still to a lot of blues and old folk stuff and whatever. I've always been kind of living in my own world, I guess, as far as that type of stuff goes.

Wire: Kind of more 'timeless' music?

Williams: Yeah, yeah. And I'm always real--and this isn't necessarily a good thing--I'm just kind of skeptical of anything new, you know. It's sort of like--'cause for me music sort of has to be, it has [to have] a real attachment to it. And the stuff, the records that I listen to go way back, because they remind me of a certain time in my life or something. So it's really hard for me to listen to new stuff, like when it first comes out, 'cause I can't really grab hold of it.

At this point, we started talking about trends, scenes, and movements--particularly the whole "female singer/songwriter" trend into which Williams has often conveniently been placed, even though she's been doing essentially the same thing now that she was before Tracy Chapman or Michelle Shocked even picked up an acoustic guitar for the first time.

Williams: It doesn't really affect what I do or anything or what I think. I sort of just take things more on an individual basis and I--it just is another thing that I'm kind of skeptical of.

Wire: That's probably good.

Williams: Anything like that, that sort of screams out, 'This is a new trend!'

Wire: Yeah.

Williams: And I'm already finding myself kind of caught up in that just by virtue of the fact that I'm, you know, a female singer/songwriter. It's like all I can do to fight that tendency to put me in with that.

Wire: It seems to me, to some degree, it's like we've kind of moved backwards, because there were more female singer/songwriters that were just accepted, and people didn't question anything.

Williams: Yeah, and it wasn't a big deal.

Wire: And all of a sudden, it's like strange again. And it's like, why is this strange?

Williams: What about Joan Armatrading? She was already doing this before. How come--see, I don't understand it. How come all of a sudden...

Wire: That's the problem I have with it, too. It's like--

Williams: --this whole big new thing.

Wire: --what's so new?

Williams: And see, that's insulting to me. I find that really offensive, 'cause it's like, in a way, they're saying, they're making a big deal out of the fact that women can actually write serious songs and sing songs with some kind of, with important lyrics and what have you. So? But you know, it's not a 'big new thing.' It's just, once again, it's that the media [is] hyping something up. They're creating this whole big trend.

Wire: Is it true that you got more response from retail than radio...people started buying it [her album] even though radio wasn't playing it?

Williams: Yeah. The album got virtually no airplay except for college radio... It's not just country radio. 'Mainstream' radio, in general, is in a horrible state right now. I mean, where are you gonna hear it, where are you gonna put it? It's either country stations, 'classic' rock--it's taken over the airwaves... Classic rock has taken over where [you] used to have serious alternative FM radio that would've played my record and Michelle Shocked and, you know, whoever. There's no room for it anymore.

But there is, really. Lucinda Williams is proof that the best stuff isn't always what you hear on the radio or see on MTV. Sometimes you've got to do a little research if you want to know what's really going on...'cause there's good stuff out there, but if it's not slick enough or promoted by a major label or conveniently trendy--you're not gonna hear it. Although Williams has been frustrated by this fact, it hasn't stopped her from making the kind of music she wants to make, and regardless of what musical changes take place in the future, I'll bet she'll still be doing her own thing. So when today's "new music" starts sounding stale, her take on a "timeless" American sound will, I think, still sound fresh.

Note: End part two. Image from the AMG. Sweet Old World was the record Williams was working on at the time of this interview, but it wasn't released until some time after we met.


Stacey said...

It's funny in a way but I can totally hear Lu saying these typed words. Just saw her last week and she definitely seems more, um, in control of her performance and not zoned out or exceedingly shy. I would really welcome your suggestions for my blog and things that would make it a better experience. At the moment, I plan on weekly updates. If you have a spare minute, could you take a look and shoot me some ideas? You're always welcome to link up if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

kathy fennessy said...

Looks like you're on the right track, Stacey. You might just want to jazz things up on occasion with pictures and links. Cheers!