Jess Williamson on “Time Ain’t Accidental” and Her Musical Evolution | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, June 19th, 2024  

Jess Williamson on “Time Ain’t Accidental” and Her Musical Evolution

Time Traveler

Jun 09, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Jackie Lee Young Bookmark and Share

“I’m kind of like a trucker,” Jess Williamson muses from her perfectly appointed and self-proclaimed “hobbit house” in Los Angeles. The Texas born and bred singer/songwriter splits her time between her cozy SoCal abode and the more expansive horizons of the western most region of her home state. A nearly fifteen-hour road trip per Google Maps, Williamson views the journey as a routine one. “When I travel to Marfa, I’m usually going for a month or two. I want to have my dog [Nana] and my music gear. So I’ll drive because it’s nice to have all of my stuff,” she explains.

Williamson and I both hail from the Lone Star state and have great memories of time spent in the Big Bend region. Where some 30 years ago you could cross the Rio Grande to the Mexican town of Boquillas for a beer and a game of pool. “You can still do that. I was recently at the hot springs in Big Bend and on the other side of the river people had set up a taco stand and were grilling out. People were walking across, getting tacos, walking back to the springs,” Williamson says. Aside from Marfa, the area’s towns include Marathon, Alpine, and Terlingua, which town name was immortalized via Jerry Jeff Walker’s 1973 Viva Terlingua album. “A lot of people come to Marfa because it has these art world ties, but they get there and don’t kind of get it. It’s really about the whole Big Bend region. I love the summers there as it’s monsoon season and not as hot as you would think,” she adds.

Today, Williamson has released her fifth solo album, Time Ain’t Accidental (on Mexican Summer), and her first since her 2022 collaboration with Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) as Plains. But the origins of some of the elements of her new album go back to the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though an era most of us prefer to put in our collective rear view, Williamson’s collaboration with Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy on 2020’s “Pictures of Flowers” perfectly captured the disorientation of the time with more than a healthy dose of dark humor. “If it’s the end of Los Angeles, guess I’m not gonna be a star,” Williamson opens on the track. “For ‘Pictures of Flowers’ I started using the built in drum machine on my Omnichord and playing acoustic guitar over the drum beat. But I felt I wanted more of a real drum machine sound,” she says, referencing the beats from J.J. Cale’s 1972 debut, Naturally), “and Jarvis Taveniere [Woods], who mixed the single, imported a drum machine sound that was better than what I was using.”

But before spending more time exploring her own sound, Williamson and Crutchfield put together one of 2022’s brightest debuts with Plains’ I Walked A Ways With You (on ANTI-). On the heels of Waxahatchee’s St. Cloud and Williamson’s own Sorceress, the artists leaned hard into their recent dabbles in all things country. “When Sorceress came out and all my tours were cancelled, I just started writing a ton of songs. Some of the songs would end up on Time Ain’t Accidental and some on the Plains’ record, even though Plains didn’t exist yet. But I had two songs that were a little bit different, ‘Summer Sun’ and ‘No Record of Wrongs,’ that I brought to the Plains’ project and those were the only Plains songs that existed and sort of set the tone for the rest of the record,” Williamson shares.

Williamson credits her time working with Crutchfield as affirmation in her own abilities as a songwriter. “I learned that less is more and that simplicity is stronger.” See Williamson’s “Abilene” from that record if you need a point of reference.

“There is strength in not making something too complicated,” she continues. “I think about Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton and the music I was raised on. Those are my favorite songs and they don’t have to be complex to be [powerful] and universal. So once it was clear there could be a container for the obvious country songs in Plains, it was nice to have two lanes to divide my songs between. I thought for my next record, I can take these storytelling elements and classic songwriting themes, but still give it my own little twist.”

The twist in this case, was bringing forward the drum machine sound from “Pictures of Flowers” to a full-length album. Demoing most of Time Ain’t Accidental’s tracks from her house in LA, Williamson worked with a drum machine app she found on her iPhone to bring a new sense of propulsion to her songs. “When I made the demos, I assumed the drum machine tracks would just be placeholders and would be replaced. But when I gave the demos to [the producer] Brad [Cook], he literally took my phone, plugged it into a desktop computer, and ripped the drum machine beats right into the session. I was skeptical, but Brad convinced me these were the foundation of these songs and we needed to keep these,” Williamson explains.

Time Ain’t Accidental spans 11 tracks and a myriad of contrasts and emotions. From the frustrations of dating in LA during the pandemic to the rush of the beginnings of a new relationship and all that those things bring. Williamson has put together a string of remarkably strong closing songs on her last few albums (including the Plains’ album’s title track) and the concept of modern era romance recalls the lyrics of Sorceress’ closing song, “Gulf of Mexico.” On the song, Williamson quips “if you wanted another lover, you could find her on your phone,” and she admits the song was written at the end of a relationship that was on “life support.”

“I went through this really big breakup right as COVID was starting and then I was trying to date people which was a humbling experience—dating guys in Los Angeles,” she says. “I definitely felt like I had been thrown to the wolves. Everyone’s just judging each other and it just felt weird.” It’s a concept Williamson deftly explores on Time Ain’t Accidental’s first single, “Hunter.”

Between the first and last song on the album, which are both of more recent vintage and with sunnier dispositions, Williamson explores that time adrift from a serious relationship. “There were these less significant experiences, but they did lead to songs. There are songs where who I am writing about was just a blip on the radar, but they evoked enough emotion to [inspire] a song,” Williamson explains. One of the album’s darker tracks, “Stampede,” also contains one of its most indelible images in the lyric “shatter the lamp, the light remains.” “That line is about love. It doesn’t go away, it doesn’t end, but the container of a relationship might dissolve. I don’t know what we end up doing with that, but I think it’s beautiful to honor the reality of that,” she explains.

As “Stampede” offers that glimmer of hope in the darkness, Time Ain’t Accidental celebrates new found love at its open and close. The opening and also title track, which finds Williamson on equal or better footing with her now boyfriend, contrasts sharply with the desperate picture that “I’d Come to Your Call” paints. The latter song has Williamson metaphorically waiting at the foot of the bed for her lover’s invitation, where “Time Ain’t Accidental” relishes in moments of a budding romance’s playfulness. “The last two songs I wrote for the record were ‘Time Ain’t Accidental’ and ‘Roads,’ and they’re meant to be celebratory and joyous. They bookend the journey of getting to that point. So the album isn’t chronological. It opens with this fun, flirty day and it ends with metaphorically continuing down the road. A road to a new love and a new direction,” Williamson concludes.

With Time Ain’t Accidental’s release here, Williamson has been on a string of tour dates, including two dates at Austin’s legendary Continental Club. “I haven’t had a headlining tour since before Sorceress, so I just want to get out there and play as much as I can,” she says. “Do some fun cover songs, sing songs with the opening bands. I want to bring friends up to sing. I just want it all to feel like a fun party and start playing again.”

Also read our 2021 interview with Williamson on Sorceress.

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