hearsay magazine


 

VICTORIA WILLIAMS

Hasta la Victoria!
Hearsay #18 / Summer 1998 / Email interview with Ewen and Neil
vicwilliams_lauralevine2

"I'm a jazzbo at heart because of the improvising"
 
Creekdipper and Creek Dipper, VICTORIA WILLIAMS is one of our favourite storytelling, improvising, tree-hugging, spellbinding talents. Since acquiring hubby Mark Olson, Victoria is now living and paddling in Joshua Tree, CA which is exactly where our computer found her. Is she the centre of the universe? It's just that we seem to have been orbiting her for about twelve issues, having spoken to just about everyone she's ever worked with, yet direct contact seemed to keep eluding us. We could have compiled a book of celebrities' answers to our breathless question 'what was it like working with Victoria?!', the mere mention of her name an attempt to sublimate our obsession. We finally found our bathing beauty and she was a girl worth wading for.

"How're ya' doin'? Hope you're doin' just fine. How're ya doin'? Tell us­ how're ya doin'...?"
…and I'm so glad you were inclined to call.... The breezes are cool and it is sunny and perhaps the most beautiful days of all time... yet I'm no expert. The dogs are most incredible, each with their own personalities. Mollie: top dog. Real name: 'Mahler Bruin Begonia'... Ruby: big dog. Real name: Rupert Horatio Begonia... and Solo the Wonder Dog. My health is a nag but I try and take care with a good diet and swimming in the rock pool Mark made. Mark is amazing in the feats he undertakes and accomplishes.

Tell us about the experience of making Musings of a Creekdipper. Tim Ray told us you partly recorded it in someone's house. How did that experience differ from the way you've worked before? The arrange­ments and instrumentation have such colour... does the recording studio/ process ever feel like an adventure playground?

Yes, recording is such a great adventure, especially when you have such magnificent players all must be improvisors... that's very important with me as I never know where the spirit will lead. Fred Drake, my neighbour here in Joshua Tree, and Dave Catchings had Fred's house fixed up very loverly and the amount of toys to play on is substantial. Even though we did not use all the organs or guitars, it is always good to have such company... the old upright piano has really a special quality to it.

What did Trina Shoemaker bring to the project? There are precious few female producers out there... did she help make the process more organic and intimate?
Yes, yes, by all means. She is truly a Godsend. I so much wanted to work with Trina again as we had recorded together before Loose and the project was thwarted and so we were very glad to be able to work together again. She is an artist herself and paints during the sessions... she gets amazing sounds as she brought with her plenty of outboard equipment to stir the sounds with... I love Trina.

How did you hook up with talents such as Patrick Warren and Wendy & Lisa and what were they like to work with? Creekdipper sounds markedly different from your earlier work... how far would you attribute the sound you're currently exploring to their involvement?
Well, Patrick and I go way back to when I was on tour with Michael Penn and I always wanted to have him play his chamberlain with me but I was hesitant because it seemed like he was Michael's property! But last summer, on the break in mid-album making, I had to go out on the Lillith Fair tour and who do I see out playing with someone new but Patrick so I ask him what he is doing in August and he says he is free... Hooray! As for Wendy and Lisa... that came around from the Train Song loop. There were some 6/8 measures in this 4/4 loop and I knew they had very much experience with loops and I had none so I called them and Wendy says, 'Sure, that's all we ever do!' They were a great joy to work with... we were recording in Oxnard at this point, in August in the Theatro... that's Daniel Lanois's studio where he had just finished making the Dylan album, Time Out of Mind.

Are there any musicians or producers you still have dreams of working with?
Yes, there are I'm sure. But working with Brian Blade is one dream I have already had answered. His father, Reverend Brady Blade, had a television programme which I watched religiously every week with local gospel singers, choirs, and his father played bass and Brady played drums... even little Brian... I love Brian...

Your style has intersected with jazz off and on, both in terms of your lovely choice of covers and by employing such legends as Bobby Previte, Brian Blade, Ralph Carney, Tim Ray and Carla Bley on your records. Is this a genre you particularly love?
I'm a jazzbo at heart because of the improvising. Sometimes my writing goes into different time signatures... I love Thelonious and Miles's Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue... I just wish I could play better. These are great musicians you named there.

What draws you to the songs you cover? Why Nature Boy for instance? Or Nature's Way for that matter?
Nature Boy was just in a pile of sheet music I found at the thrift store and the picture on the cover intrigued me... a Jesus-looking fellow... so I brought it home and played it on the piano and the melody! ...so ancient, and the words! so true. Now Nature's Way was another story... I do have thoughts that we can see what we are doing to this planet in nature, now for instance the disappearance and mutatanting on the frogs o dear...

Speaking of covers... we heard rumours you planned an album of cocktail lounge standards (Moon River, Someone to Watch Over Me etc.). Is this just a rumour? If not, when might we expect it?
No rumour. If
Atlantic doesn't want to put it out we will put it out on our home label here.

Is the role of 'storyteller' one you relish? Tarbelly, TC and Kashmir's Corn seem to be as much folk tales as songs... Do you feel you're writing out of any great Southern tradition?
Having just returned from
Louisiana I can say I am still attached to that very special nature... Clyde Connell died while I was there. She too was quite attracted to Lake Bistineau and spent the last forty years of her life there making sculptures inspired by the Bugfrogbird Symphony... as I am. The town life has tragically succumbed to gambling yet the pace is still slow there and the stories are as queer as anywhere but because of the tempo they can be digested... I have only ever written story songs like Tarbelly to get them off my back. Kashmir's Corn is a true story mixing small occurrances with larger and louder ones. My mother is a painter and so I think I inherited setting a scene from her ...perhaps.

What do you get from the desert that you can't get elsewhere? Do the rural and the urban vie for your affection or is it no contest?
The quiet and solitude of the desert is not for everyone but on days such as this it is awe-inspiring to walk around. There are so many creatures, many such as the blue-bellied collared lizard and the rosy boa snake and hummingbirds and the cherry tree is full of fruit Of course, I do like the city and take delight in visiting it but I am so glad to have this haven with Mark.

Many of your songs express a dissatisfac­tion with the pace of modern life, a philosophical need to get out of the rat race... do you ever feel you were born too late? How do you keep sane in the modern world? (More importantly, how do you pass the time when stuck in traffic?)
Being stuck in traffic is something that rarely happens out here in the desert! When I do get stuck it is driving in or out of LA and usually I have a dog friend to talk to or to sing to... The most frustrating is having to pee when stuck in traffic. If I'm not driving it is much easier as it is very hard to pee at the wheel and I have not tried... yet. Now, about being born too late how can that be? I have heard some folks express that sentiment yet being as I trust that God knows I know so little yet it is true that when renting videos I rarely get anything current. I so like the old movies and it seems that the basic heart longings—both good and bad—are the same. Timeless situations yet perhaps expressed so much better when people had longer attention spans...

Is it always easy to apply your faith to the world you inhabit when contempo­rary America so often seems characterised by random violence and confusion? Is it easy to find things in the US which inspire you?
I too am shocked by the children killing with guns. It is sad, and so sad that the
television teaches such a laissez-faire attitude with guns and sex... We don't get TV here in the desert but I saw some at my folks' recently and there was a show about angels which I was happy to see. Things in the
USA that inspire me? Well, there is Jimmy Carter and his 'Habitat for Humanity' program. Also, I get this square magazine called Guideposts and there are always inspirational stories sent in by readers sure to bring joy tears. And I like the people and animals I see every day.

Your writing often seems to focus on the harmony and inter-connectedness of living things... do you feel connection with other forms of life? (plants and birds and rocks and things...?) If so, in what way?
I may have answered this already but hugging trees, singing to birds and donkeys... these are a delight that comes naturally to me, these are such a picture of the love of God these
creations.

In the Creekdipper booklet, you acknowledge people's encouragements as a way of coping with your trials but what else helps you deal with everything life has thrown your way? Do you have a philosophy of life?
My philosophy is that every day I start with 'this is a day the Lord has made I will rejoice and be glad in it' And then there is the shortest prayer: 'whatever.'

Do you have a favourite among your albums?
My last is my favourite... but then it always is.

Is love reciprocal by definition?
I think that love is love when it is uncondi­tional. The hardest to love I put in God's hands and ask them to be blessed to know love... For my own part, I was too hard on my first marriage and realised later that I was putting too much expectation on it Now I will never put a man in God's shoes because they are impossible to fill.

What makes you happy?
Seeing Ruby enjoy when I rub his ears.

More: Victoria Williams on Victoria Williams (1998)
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