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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Q&A: Lucinda Williams

A&E talks with the legendary singer-songwriter who brought righteous rock ‘n’ roll to a new twangy level.
Image by Lucinda Williams
Williams croons edgy, poetic songs with a blend of folk, rock, blues and country.

Lucinda Williams has enjoyed career longevity that many only dream of. Rising to fame with “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” in 1998, the Los Angeles-based singer developed a following of country fans pining for music with soul. The tunes from the bluesy songstress hit the county-rock sweet spot.

Releasing albums steadily, Williams’ work continues to garner praise from critics and fans alike. Her 2011 album, “Blessed,” earned a Grammy nod and renewed her reign on the country and folk scenes.

After marrying her Minnesota-native manager, Tom Overby, in 2009, Williams is finished singing the blues about Minneapolis and is looking forward to her five-night stint at the Dakota Jazz Club, which starts Friday.

Are you working on a new album now?

Well, we haven’t started in the studio yet, but I’ve just been getting some songs together. We’re getting ready. We’re looking forward to getting back in March, hopefully. So that’s kind of the plan. I’m just introducing some new songs to the audiences, and those have been going over really well.

What’s your writing process like when you’re writing a new song?

Well, I get ideas all the time and jot them down. I collect a lot of different ideas and lines and all that, and I put them in a folder. Then, when I get in the mood or whatever, I sit down with everything and see what pops out or pops up. It kind of varies. It depends. Sometimes I’ll be working on a song; like I’ve got another new one called “A Place in My Heart.” And it’s about “there will always be a place in my heart for you” kind of thing — real pretty, kind of a ballad thing. I wrote it fairly quickly after I’d been working on some other stuff. Sometimes one thing will spur something else on.

Do you have a theme for this next album coming up?

I don’t really have a theme. I don’t really think in those terms that much ahead of time. I write the songs, then, when we get a bunch of songs, sit down and talk about them. A lot of times we don’t really know until after we get in the studio, playing the songs, and see how things unfold. It usually all falls together at that point. Some songs will take off, and some songs  record to put them [on the record].

I’ve got this one song, “Port Arthur,” about Janis Joplin. A lot of people really like it. I’m really proud of it. I had it written and was going to do it on the last album, “Blessed,” but it just wasn’t clicking for some reason, and I’m glad now because I’ve been playing it live on this tour and I got some more ideas for it. The arrangement grew, and it’s been developing more, so it’s a better song now.

Last year you played the Dakota solo, and this time you’re bringing a guitarist?

Yeah, I’m bringing my longtime guitar player, Doug Pettibone.

How do you think it will be a different show?

It’s easier for me. I’m usually a little bit more relaxed when I’ve got somebody with me. It’s a little more fun for me because he does a lot of cool guitar playing and solos and stuff, and when I’m by myself it’s pretty straight-ahead. We interact a lot with each other musically. It’s a big difference even having just one other person. I’ve got someone to work with and play off of. We’re real comfortable working together.

Your song “Minneapolis” that you wrote in 2003 describes the city as kind of a dark, bleak place. Do you still feel the same way about Minneapolis?

No, no. I love Minneapolis. That’s just where my head was at the time. I wrote that about a busted-up, broken-up fantasy of a love-affair thing that never really took off. It was the dead of winter, and I didn’t know anybody there at the time. I liked the town then but didn’t have the chance to explore it or anything.

Now you’ve made some happy memories there — you got married at First Avenue. What was that like?

It was pretty cool. It was pretty fun. It was cram-packed full of people. We invited everyone in the world we knew, and most of them showed up. The wedding part was pretty simple. It was like a regular show except at the encore we exchanged our vows. That was all pretty easy because we were on stage.

I know some fans have wondered if your music will sound the same now that you’re in a steady relationship. Do you think your sound is the same?

I’m better than ever. My voice is better than it’s ever been. I’m as prolific if not more so than I’ve ever been. With age, I’ve gotten more confident and focused. The fact that I am in a stable relationship has given me the freedom to explore other topics and other subjects — different things to write about. For me it’s been a good, positive thing.

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