Country Music People Magazine - Interview - Europe

Country Music People Magazine - Album Review - Europe

Offbeat Magazine - Album Review - New Orleans

 

In an interview with OffBeat’s Laura DeFazio, Shawn Williams refers to her music as “alt-rocka country-billy serial killer blues.” As far as genre signifiers go, it pretty well sums up her sound. She wears her country and rockabilly influences—Lucinda (and Hank) Williams, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley (whom she honors with her all-female tribute band, Pelvis Breastlies)—on her sleeve, accenting her soulful voice with tasteful flourishes of mournful pedal-steel guitar or jangling honky-tonk piano. She showed them off last year on Shadow, an impressively mature debut record.

It’s her less obvious inspirations, such as Billie Holiday and shoegaze icon Mazzy Star, that set her apart from the pack on her recently released sophomore album, Motel Livin’. These manifest more subtly, often emerging on slower tracks, where Williams has room to wander gloomily about her desert landscapes, her voice warping into blue note territory but never devolving into the cutesy warbling of her country predecessors.

Williams’s past career in radio has given her a keen ear for production, pacing and track selection. She opens the album on a disarmingly quiet note with “Leave,” a slow-burning breakup anthem that bleeds seamlessly into “Touch, Love, ’n’ Rub,” a much more upbeat ode to one-night stands on the road. Windblown chimes usher in “Desert Baby,” a gorgeous, meandering love song and immediate album standout. It clocks in at a whopping 7:34, but is immediately followed by the short, cabaret-style, keyboard-pounding “Chop.” And so on. By the time the dust settles on the closing, title track (and the hidden bonus track gift-wrapped into the end of it), you’ll be left wondering how your last hour went by so quickly.

The “serial killer blues” bit of Williams’s self-proclaimed sound is the hardest to find in her music. Unlike her fellow local, country-adjacent act Guts Club, whose folk melodies and quiet arrangements thinly veil lyrics full of violence and viscera, Williams mostly writes about different types of romance. But deep below these love songs, there is a very long fuse burning very slowly, possibly with something very sinister at the end. We’ll just have to wait for another album to find out what it is.

Louisiana Music Factory - Feature

The Advocate - Write-Up - New Orleans

Georgia singer-songwriter Corey Smith has good taste in opening acts. Over the years, the then-unknown bands who have preceded him onstage have included the Zac Brown Band, Florida Georgia Line and Brantley Gilbert, all of whom have gone on to become arena headliners. Smith, meanwhile, has spent years building a sizable nationwide following more gradually as an independent artist; he sold tens of thousands of albums without the backing of a major record. He finally made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2013 and scored a legitimate country hit with “If I Could Do It Again.” His most recent release, “While the Gettin’ Is Good,” was the first of his albums that he didn’t produce himself. Instead, he entrusted veteran country music producer Keith Stegall to steer his acoustic compositions in a more radio-friendly direction. Jacob Powell and Shawn Williams open for Smith at Tipitina’s on Thursday, meaning they are likely destined for stardom.

Offbeat Magazine - Interview - New Orleans

“Some folks say they like my music because they can tell I don’t really have a filter. That could stem from me not being able to sit there and write a song if it takes me more than ten minutes… ADD? Or because if I do sit there longer, I wake up and start saying, ‘Wait, that’s too dark, too cheesy, too sexual, personal, etc.’ I don’t want to do that. If I’m going to write music, it needs to be raw. It needs to come from the heart, unfiltered.

Every song I write is different. I call my music ‘alt-rocka country-billy serial killer blues,’ because that doesn’t constrain me to a genre. A lot of people ask me what the serial killer blues part means, and if I had to answer in words, I’d say to imagine a serial killer hitchhiking through the desert with heartbreak and the blues.

My favorites are Mazzy Star, Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, Hank, Patsy, Billie Holiday. Sad music and music that makes me dance. Oh, and Elvis (Presley, of course). I started the world’s first-ever all-female Elvis band when I was living in Atlanta. Pelvis Breastlies is the name. I’m very proud of that.

I think I was 15 when I started playing guitar, but I’ve been writing since prenatal. I used to sit alone in my room, almost all day, playing music instead of socializing. I didn’t think anyone would ever want to hear my music. Plus, stage fright. It’s a huge feeling of nakedness up there.

New Orleans, my birthplace, is what really changed that for me. When I moved back here three years ago, the musicians and community were so welcoming, so encouraging. I went from thinking not a single person would want to hear my songs to playing music full-time. I enjoy being naked in front of people now. Ha ha. It’s like a big nudist colony in New Orleans—we’re all naked together.

I love the way Shadow turned out! I knew the sound I wanted, and [Blue Velvet Studios engineer] Tom Stern helped me get the best musicians that would help paint those songs. The album kinda has a desert-y darkness to it. It rocks, it weeps, it’s sexual. It’s a part of me.

What’s next? Hopefully another album. I have a piss-load of songs for many albums to come. I think the next one will be a lot more personal, more vulnerable. And I want to continue touring, continue pursuing music. I left my radio career this past May, after 13 years, to do just that. Several folks said that if the music thing didn’t work out, at least I had a good resume in radio to fall back on. And maybe they meant it sincerely, or with good intentions, but that kind of BS just adds to my drive. I don’t give up. Maybe it’s my Scorpio persistence. I go after what I want, no matter the obstacle or challenge.”

Offbeat Magazine - Album Review - New Orleans

If you’ve ever been to the “Stella”-shouting contest that happens in Jackson Square to honor Tennessee Williams every March, you’ll understand why Shawn Williams’ “Stella” is a song that needed to be written. The singer manages to channel Stanley Kowalski at his most hell-bent—no small feat for a woman whose deep voice and languid singing style bring Shannon McNally to mind. And she treats the Streetcar-themed lyric as an excuse for some good dirty fun, letting the character work up steam for the inevitable shouts at the end.

Shawn Williams already spends plenty of time on the radio—in her other life, she’s an on-air personality on The Alternative 106.1—so she’s probably got fewer qualms about recording songs that don’t stand a chance in hell of getting airplay. She drops some “fucks” into a few songs, and “You Got Some Growin’ Up to Do,” the other standout tune on her debut, is hopped-up punkabilly that’s frank about why she’s dumping the guy in question. But on the other hand, she’s got a good sense of what makes for a good radio sound: The production gets close to arena-big at times, and her voice is always front and center. And when she wants to get respectable, she’s more than able: “Gone Again” is a love song Stevie Nicks would love; “Shake Shake Shake” cops a Petty-esque heartland rock sound with its power chords and Hammond, and the country ballad “What If I Stayed” is almost a Nashville readymade. It’s easy to imagine her going for the gold if she tones down the words and turns down the guitars, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t catch her in the meantime.