By Leah Scarpelli and Raul Alonzo / June 23, 2023 10:00 am
Originally published on Texas Standard
The singer-songwriter and Texas native talked of splitting time between Los Angeles and Marfa, as well as her collaborative project, Plains.
For singer-songwriter and North Texas native Jess Williamson, “Time Ain’t Accidental” is a sentiment captured in the title of her latest album as well as her creative process.
In fact, the earthy, yet somewhat mystical, lyrics found on the record were a product of a practice Williamson says she is constantly at work on.
“My lyrics are the most important part of my music,” Williamson said. “It’s the thing that I labor over the most, and it’s something that I’m thinking about in almost every waking minute of the day.”
Those days are often split between Williamson’s time in Los Angeles and Marfa – the West Texas landscape being a constant source of inspiration.
“When you live in Marfa, you’re in the whole Big Bend region, you know,” Williamson said. “So it’s Alpine, it’s Terlingua, it’s Fort Davis, it’s El Paso, even, you know, it’s Mexico. It’s crossing over the border and going into Ojinaga. It’s, you know, going down to the Chinati Hot Springs. I mean, it’s a whole region that I think just has been so romantic to me since I first went out there in 2008.”
Williamson was then a student at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was studying photojournalism before picking up a banjo and teaching herself to write songs. Since then, the artist has seen her music evolve from spare and quiet instrumentation to incorporating new sounds – woodwinds, pedal steel guitars and synths. Such progression underpins the songs of “Time Ain’t Accidental.”
“It is a lot of fun,” Williamson said. “I think this is the first time that I’ve had a record where there’s so much going on sonically that carries the songs live. I can sort of sit back and trust that my band is holding me, that the songs themselves are poppy enough and sort of upbeat enough that the room is going to be held by that and I can kind of relax.”
In a way, this musical evolution reflects the shifts that Williamson underwent in her personal life that gave way to the album.
Backdropped by her tours canceled due to COVID-19 lockdowns, a breakup also left Williamson in a moment of both vulnerability and introspection as she questioned where she needed to turn as everything seemed to come to a halt. Her lyrics and music became the outlets that Williamson channeled her energy toward.
“I mean, it was kind of the thing that gave me something to do,” Williamson said. “It gave me something to put my energy into. It gave me a job, you know, like it just made me feel like I could turn all of this difficulty into something bigger than me. And so in that way, it kind of saved me and it gave me a lot of motivation.”
Another creative outlet for Williamson came with a collaboration with fellow artist Katie Crutchfield, who performs under the name Waxahatchee. Both artists released albums during the peak early days of the pandemic – Williamson with “Sorceress” and Crutchfield with “Saint Cloud” – and both had to cancel tours as a result.
The two had known and been fans of each other for some time, and after several conversations by phone and taking stock of their newfound free time, they came together to form a new country musical project under the name “Plains.” Their album, “I Walked with You a Ways” came out in 2022, and Williamson credits the collaboration with helping her to decide where she would direct her creative output, as well as how to keep her songs simple.
“I learned so much from that collaboration,” Williamson said. “And one of the main things I learned was the best songs are the most simple songs. I found, you know, it’s like that old country adage of ‘three chords and the truth.’ You know, I think I learned from Plains that I don’t need to make things super complicated.”
From Plains, Williamson also took away another lesson – one that seems to have left an indelible mark on the artist with this new album and, perhaps, beyond.
The two artists worked with producer Brad Cook, who Williamson credits as a “visionary” and one who she felt helped her step back from worrying over all the details. It was a collaboration that prompted her to work with Cook again for “Time Ain’t Accidental.”
“You know, I used to think, like if I wasn’t sitting there sort of breathing down the neck of every single person every step of the way of the record, I thought there was like something wrong with that,” Williamson said. “And I learned stepping away and trusting – there’s strength in that. And I don’t have to be across every little detail and I can trust the people that I’ve chosen to work with, you know, and that’s another example of kind of simplifying the process and trusting the process.”
“Time Ain’t Accidental” is out now on Mexican Summer.