Austin singer-songwriter Jess Williamson presents a video to toast the testament of friendship with the debut of "Spin the Wheel". Found on her album Native State from Brutal Honest, Williamson pens songs that seek a central and grounded sense and state of being that is honest and natural. Her arrangements frame the gently delivered personal, and poetic thoughts on former relationships ("my pride was a mountain, and yours a little bird"), and the comfort and support from her Austin, TX crew.
The Malcolm Elijah video matches the soft pace of the song with rolling images of Jess and friends enjoying conversations from dawn through nightfall. Cinematographer Kyle Osburn combines the captured joy of these exchanges, embraces, and Williamson's iPhone caught footage to relate the sunrise to sunset song of, "singing all morning, they're singing all night." "Spin the Wheel" pays honor and tribute to the ladies who share conversation, companionship and friendship with Jess, after the end of a relationship. "See my ladies, moon bathing at the riverside, long hair, bare hearts, bare hides." In the note of every string, and every shared particle of the past to the bonds of the present; Williamson cherishes the importance of the human connection. There is a heart-felt respect for everything from the former sung subject of irreconcilable differences, to the love and thanksgiving for the family-like care of dear friends.
Jess Williamson talked with us about the observational places that both photography and songwriting spring from, the art of catching inspiration for songs, NYC solo-banjo memories, and more.
How did your time studying photography help you to better hear your inner voice, upon your return to Austin?
Studying photography helped me to appreciate in a new way the world around me: light falling on a friend’s face, for example. When I started writing songs, I worked from a similar place of observation. I began to keep a log of snippets of conversation that I’d overheard or a lyric that would cross my mind, things like that. Both photography and songwriting come from this observational place, and then you comment in some way.
How have both NYC & Austin, TX impacted your songwriting approaches?
It is hard to say because I was much younger when I was trying to write songs in NYC. I do have a very clear memory of sitting on top of my roommate’s desk when he was out of town, looking out the window and holding my banjo and feeling so sad because no songs were coming and I was getting texts from a friend in Austin who was swimming at the Greenbelt. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I remember feeling so caged in.
Returning to Austin was nice because I got to slow down a lot and reconnect with the Texas landscape and the natural beauty of the Hill Country. I was able to be alone again in a way that I never realized I craved, and then it was a bit easier to write songs.
What was the process in developing these both personal and universal songs for Native State?
Some of the songs came really fast, like a miracle, and others took more than a year to write. It’s a funny process that I haven’t nailed down, but with every song it feels as if it comes from somewhere else and I just happen to catch it or dig it up.
What are the stories behind tge pen and guitar writing processes that lead to, "Spin the Wheel"?
"Spin the Wheel" is a celebratory song about connecting with women. I got out of a relationship and the reward in doing so was that I gained an incredible group of female friends. Many of those special women are featured in the music video for, "Spin the Wheel". It’s a deeply personal and literal song, and I wanted the video to honor these ladies who have meant so much to me.
Thoughts on Austin, it's musical landscape, traditions, festivals, and future?
Austin is a great place where many things still feel secret. Sadly, a lot is changing, and I fear that it will be nearly unrecognizable within 5 years.The town is growing up I suppose, and it is interesting to witness. I'm not a total hater, but I do wish some of the condos weren't so dumb looking.
Jess Williamson's Native State is available now from Brutal Honest.
Catch Jess on the following SxSW dates:
11 – 15 – Austin, TX @ SXSW
11 – Austin, TX @ The Parish Underground for Audiofemme Presents: Emerging Artists of 2014 (3:00 PM)
12 – Austin, TX @ SXSW Official Showcase at Parish Underground (8:00 PM)
13 – Austin, TX @ Maison d’Etoile for the Strange Victory Day Party (1:00 PM)
13 – Austin, TX @ Punctum Records Day Party
14 – Austin, TX @ Shiner’s Saloon: Future of Music Showcase (5:00 PM)
15 – Austin, TX @ Maison d’Etoile for BRIGHT FUTURES (4:45)