It’s always a slightly strange experience when you realise that the person you’re chatting to on the other end of the phone line is in a whole different time zone. When I reach folk/country singer-songwriter and three time Grammy award winner Lucinda Williams, it’s Friday morning in Melbourne but still only Thursday afternoon in the USA. Williams will be experiencing the time zone difference first hand when she touches down next month to take part in the massive Bluesfest festival as well as performing a number of her own side shows.
Held in the picturesque surrounds of Byron Bay and over five big days, this year’s Bluesfest will feature the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Pogues, Earth Wind & Fire, and even a performance form legendary Aussie pub rockers Cold Chisel. It’s no wonder Williams is counting down the days until she touches down. “We arrive on March 29,” she informs me. “We’re going to have a little bit of downtime, just for a couple of days before we start. We’re really looking forward to it.” For this run of shows, Williams will be accompanied by her full band plus a few extra additions. “I’m bringing the band out. For this tour we have The Wallflowers guitarist Stuart Mathis coming out with us. So he’s real excited about that.”
For someone whose career has spanned the best part of four decades, Williams is certainly no stranger to touring and performing in countless cities around the globe. And considering her first record came out in 1978 and the amount of songs she has written since then, it comes as no surprise that one of the biggest hurdles these days is trying to come up with a set list. “Well it’s challenging at times,” she laughs. “But you know, we try to mix it up as best as we can.”
With the release of her last record, 2011’s Blessed; William’s songwriting moved in a more positive direction; a notable shift from a lot of her earlier work and one which was a direct result of her now very happy and stable personal life. “Yeah of course it’s going to have an effect. What a lot of people were concerned about was they said; well now you’re happy now there’s nothing to write about.” Although her personal situation and the sort of things she writes about have changed in recent times, Williams is adamant that it hasn’t affected the quality of her musical output. “The thing about that is, you know how that is, if you’re married or whatever you personal life is doing, that doesn’t mean that you don’t feel bad sometimes,” she says. “It’s just like on Blessed. I had songs that were more about humanity and suffering and you know there’s [still] plenty of sorrow.”
Just talking to Williams, it's clear that no matter how long she has been performing or whatever her personal situation, it’s not going to stop her from making music. “Because people think that once you’re settled down you’re not going to be an artist anymore,” she says. “That does happen to some people, I’ve seen that happen to a lot of people but it didn’t happen with me and it never will happen. That’s what being an artist is about. I’m never going to stop writing no matter what’s going on. I’m still miserable!, she laughs. “I still have my bad days like everybody.”
A testament to William’s career is the fact that she has won three Grammy awards as well as being nominated for countless others; even if the categories are at times a little bit confusing. “The Grammy’s, the whole category thing is so…I’ve been nominated in country, rock, folk,” she muses. While we’re on the subject I can’t help but ask if the Grammys are sitting on a mantel piece on display in her home somewhere or if they’re just packed away, sitting in a box? “Yeah [they’re] in a bookcase downstairs in the office,” she says. “Actually one of them is missing and I don’t know what happened to it. It’s awful, we’ll just have to order another one,” she laughs. “I’ve looked and looked. The house we’re in, we moved in about three years ago. I had everything in storage, I got everything out and unpacked it and then the Grammy is missing. I don’t know, I think someone took it out of storage or something I don’t know what happened to it, it’s probably sitting in a pawn shop somewhere!”
BY JAMES W. NICOLI
LUCINDA WILLIAMS plays Bluesfest, taking place in Byron Bay between Thursday April 5 and Monday April 9. She also plays the Palais Theatre on Monday April 2.