Interview | We meet Lucinda Williams in Berlin

After Lucinda’s performance at the Apostel Paulus Kirche in Berlin in June, we were invited backstage to a small after-show gathering. Several people had already met Lucinda, shared a short conversation and departed. There are only a few people left, most of whom appear to be Lucinda’s team and a friend. Also present is Stuart Mathis, part of Lucinda’s band and the only member to accompany her tonight on a scaled down and beautiful performance.

Before they head off to Paris, Lucinda and Stuart kindly make time for us, granting us some insight into the woman and her music.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far, if you could pick a highlight?
Lucinda Williams: Wow, that’s a pretty big question. Let’s see. I guess one would be when I opened up for Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. They were touring together, and I was the opening act for that. It was for about ten days.

What year was that?
LW: It was around the late nineties.

Anything else?
LW: When I met Bob Dylan, in New York City. In 1978 or ’79. I just met him briefly. Nobody knew who I was. I didn’t have any albums out or anything. At Folk City, which is an infamous folk music club in Greenwich village in New York City, he came in. He would stop in, from time to time, and I just happened… I was in there. I had opened up; I did a few songs. The owner of Folk City, Mike Porco, was this little Italian guy. He was friends with Bob, and he introduced us. So, that was pretty special. There was definitely an aura there, he has an aura about him.

Sometimes I think of you as like a female Bob Dylan. Is that crazy? Is it good?
LW: It’s a huge honour, it’s really good to hear. Elvis Costello said I am like a female Keith Richards, or something. A female Gram Parsons. A female Tom Petty. A female Bob Dylan. Neil Young.

Which of your own albums/singles is your favourite, and why?
LW: Well, that’s hard to say, because I like certain songs off all the different albums.

So, you don’t have an album or something where you thought “that’s my sound”?
LW: No, there’s always something that’s gonna bother me on all my albums. I don’t really listen to them after I do them that much. There are certain tracks that I really like, off certain ones of the albums, like ‘Unsuffer Me’ off the West album. I like that. I still like ‘Side of the Road.’ That one off the Rough Trade album. ‘Blessed’, off the Blessed album. I usually like the softer ballads. The tender songs, like ‘I Envy the Wind’ Usually, I am going to like the latest album to death. Every album I do is going to sound better than the one before. As far as production goes.

Stuart, do you have a favourite album or song, of Lucinda’s?
LW: OF MINE? Oh, I thought you were gonna ask him about his stuff.
Stuart Mathis: I like… she chokes me up on certain songs. I like ‘West’. It gets me a lot, because of those lyrics. She can choke you up sometimes, when you’re actually playing with her. There’s a lot of great ones. ‘Blue’.

A question for both of you. If you had to pick one of Vinyl, cassette, CD or digital download, which would you pick?
BOTH: Vinyl.
LW: That’s a no brainer!

What inspires you? And who inspires you?
LW: Well, I mean, it depends on the age I was. There are different ones. Everybody from Hank Williams to Jim Morrison to Bob Dylan, and then all the blues guys – Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters…
SM: Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, I mean, all the… Zeppelin too for me.
LW: Neil Young.
BOTH: The Allman Brothers, yeah.

How do labels such as Americana and Alt. Country make you feel? Are they the closest description of your music?
LW: I don’t think about it one way or another that much. It’s just one of those necessities in the music business. They have to have some way to market it, so they’ve gotta have some place to put it. That’s one of the reasons I had trouble to get a record deal in the 80s, because they didn’t have Americana. My stuff fell in the cracks between Country and Rock. So, if they had had the Americana thing, which is basically in-between Country and Rock, then they would have said “oh, it’s Americana!” But, at the time, I was either too Country for Rock, or too Rock for Country. Until Rough Trade Records came along. They were the only ones that would sign me, and give me a chance. They were a Punk label from England.

What’s the best part about being a musician?
LW: Well, the best part is self-expression, like I was saying tonight, and being able to take that, get on stage and express it in front of an audience and get that feedback from the audience. That whole ‘back and forth’ thing. That’s just great! It’s an amazing feeling.

And the worst?
LW: The hardest part would be the travelling. And having to do…

LW: (laughing)… interviews. Just all the publicity stuff that comes with it.

Where did the prolific period that spawned two wonderful double albums in the space of a few years come from?
LW: Well, that period actually started in the last ten years or so, after my mother died in 2004. That’s really when it started. Right around the time of the West album. I actually had enough songs for a double album then. But the label didn’t want to put out a double album.

What is next on the horizon?
LW: We recorded ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ (A Velvet Underground song, played live tonight) and other stuff, that we did when we did Down Where the Spirit. I think that was recorded the same day we found out Lou Reed died. We were in the studio anyway, doing these things, and I had always loved that song, and Tom said “let’s record it!” There was a lot of spontaneity that went on. We have a great version of that, it’s not out yet.

Words: Dominic Stevenson