Lucinda Williams: Q&A
Quarantined Artists includes online Q&As and on-air conversations with musicians dealing with life in Covid-19 lockdown.
Lucinda Williams has long been a beloved member of the extended FUV family: a frequent visitor to Studio A and an alumnus of our Marquee concerts (including our first "Marquee at Home" set). She's also a two-time headliner of our Holiday Cheer benefits, most recently in 2016.
Her new album, Good Souls Better Angels, landed in the thick of the Covid-19 quarantine, but that wonky timing hasn't dampened Williams' spirits at all. Her 14th studio album is her direct answer to a complicated era and she's boldly released one of the most political records of 2020, lashed with raw, rocking blues.
In addition to an at-home concert, Williams is the focus of our latest Quarantined Artists Q&A, and she goes deeper into the making of the new album and the anger that ignited it. She also touches on her fortuitous reunion with producer Ray Kennedy and reflects on her friends John Prine and Hal Willner, both of whom passed from complications of the coronavirus earlier this year.
Good Souls Better Angels was co-produced by you, your husband Tom Overby, and also Ray Kennedy who last worked with you on 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Was it meaningful to connect with Ray again, given your vision for this record?
The experience in the studio turned out to be incredibly significant. The way this album came together was really organic and spontaneous. Ray had asked us to come in and check out his studio because we hadn’t been there before. At that point I had several songs ready to go, we were in between tours, and he invited us to just cut a song or two and see what we thought. We had a few days to spare so I took the band in and by the very first song we were just completely blown away by the sounds he got. I’m not sure how he just knew the right treatment for these tunes from the outset, but right off the bat we all knew we definitely had something and wanted to keep going.
Both the gritty "Bad News Blues" and your single "Man Without a Soul" are eerily anthemic of these pandemic times—but were obviously written and recorded long before our current crisis. Has songwriting been a helpful outlet for your anger over current events and those "liars and lunatics" you cite in "Bad News Blues?" Or do you just get angrier?
Songwriting has always been a way for me to make sense out of chaos—whether it be more personal or topical. A lot of folks have been saying that this record has been “anthemic” or even “prophetic,” but the impetus for these songs has existed long before the pandemic. It’s not hard to look around and see flagrant social injustice and government misconduct. There have always been reasons that warrant writing these kinds of songs, but I’d say it’s built up to more of a crescendo for me now. It’s probably the angriest that I’ve been, honestly.
Where have you been spending this lockdown time?
We’re in Nashville now. We’d been spending a lot of time going back and forth from here and L.A. and we finally decided that it made sense to get a little spot here in Lockeland Springs.
What's a typical morning like for you and your husband right now? How are you handling the emotional tides of this crisis?
Our day is probably pretty average. We get up and make coffee or tea and talk about the day ahead. There’s a lot to talk about right now too, with the new record out. I’ve been doing a lot of press around the album and that’s kept me pretty busy. Other than that we order food in, make sure to tip the delivery driver really well, and decide what we’re going to binge-watch on Netflix for the night. If I’m not doing any of that, I’m working on the New York Times crossword puzzle. As to how I’m handling all of this, I’d say I’m mostly feeling grateful to have my health and the people I love around me, but I feel like we’re all constantly processing this new reality and it’s draining. I can’t wait to get back to having real, human interactions again. We weren’t wired to sit in our houses by ourselves. We’re social creatures.
There's ferocious, dirty blues and rock that course throughout Good Souls Better Angels. Was it necessary for you to find a tougher sound for the lyrical hard truths of this album? And how deeply satisfying was it to record such an unflinching, politically-minded record?
I didn’t really think about it consciously. I didn’t go into the studio thinking, “I have to get this really tough, gritty sound." I was just blessed because I had Ray Kennedy at the board and he just intrinsically knew what to do. It happens like that sometimes. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about it. There really never is, whenever I go in to do an album. I don’t sit there and think “I’m gonna do this kind of album with these kinds of songs, and it’s going to sound just this way,” etc. It was organic. We had the right combination of people. It was very much being at the right place at the right time, so kudos to Ray and my band. That’s why this album sounds the way it does. The whole process felt very empowering.
I think the first song we cut was “You Can’t Rule Me” and it just feels good to play that song. The guys in the band felt the same way. We’re all frustrated. We’re all angry. We all want things to change for the better. The album was born of that unified feeling.
It must have been a terrible shock to lose your dear friend John Prine. We are so sorry for your loss. What did you love best about John, not just as a songwriter, but as your friend?
That was one of the saddest days of my life. We found out not just about John’s death, but the passing of my friend, and producer of my West album, Hal Willner, as well. We’re still reeling from the loss of both of those sweet, dear people.
John was almost like the Will Rogers of songwriters. He had this ability to tune into and connect with people from all different walks of life. We actually got together and tried to write a song one night. At the time I was working on my song “Drunken Angel” and I took it in to show it to him. We went and had dinner and drinks first, and then went into the Oh Boy Records studio, which was on Music Row at the time. I played the song and he came up with a couple of great lines, but they were great for a John Prine song—not necessarily for one of my songs. That was fine though. We ended up staying up until the sun came up anyway, playing music, laughing, and trading stories. John had this really great, dry sense of humor and this twinkle in his eye. He was just a really smart, engaging, witty, sweet-natured person. It was a tragic loss. I’m just glad I was able to spend the time with him that I had.
How would you like to see life change in a positive way on the other side of this pandemic? And what do you dream of doing first, once social distancing is no longer necessary?
Well, we need to clean house in Washington D.C. and get good people in there. I hope more people wake up, too. We need to get to the polls and vote blue. We have to make some major changes. Honestly, I’m just hoping people’s attitudes change for the better and we become a more tolerant nation. We need that. On the other side of all of this, I’m looking forward to going out to a good restaurant with friends, sharing a nice bottle of wine, and seeing live music again. I miss that. In the meantime I’m going to support local business wherever and whenever I can. We’re all in this together, but they need our help more than ever right now.
- Lucinda Williams
May 18, 2020