Whatever the subject matter, Lucinda Williams’ music has always dripped with the feel of the old, rural Deep South, but as I talk to her before the release of her 10th record,Little Honey (out Oct. 14), she’s at her home in Los Angeles, having just finished a conversation with online music portal iMeem about her 10 favorite protest songs. The times, they are a-changin'.
: So, what was number one?
Lucinda Williams: “Masters of War.” That’s one of the songs on the list that I still do. We’re releasing a digital-only EP of protest songs that I recorded live in the past year while we were out on the road. I didn’t record them on purpose to put them out, but they turned out so good that we’re releasing them all. There’re four of them. One of them I wrote; it’s a new one, called “Bone of Contention.” It’s a pretty angry one. I recorded it in the studio, but I decided I didn’t want to put it on [Little Honey]. I didn’t quite like the version we recorded. But we were playing at Summerfest, and I went out for the encore and just blasted out an acoustic version of it. It really went over well, so we captured it on tape. And then another show, for an encore, we did “Masters of War,” “For What It’s Worth” and “Marching the Hate Machine,” and those apparently came out really good, too. We’re having them mixed and everything, so we’re going to release them during this very crucial time.
Paste: Had you written very much in the way of protest songs before?
Williams: You know, I haven’t. I’ve found protest songs or topical songs to be the most challenging types of songs for me. I find myself having a hard time not sounding either to in-your-face angry or too sugar-coated sappy, like “OK, everybody get together.” It’s just so hard to do.
Paste: I haven’t heard “Bone of Contention” yet. Do you think you got that balance between the two?
Williams: I think I got it down, you know? Yeah. It’s kind of written a kind of a blues, almost like ZZ-Top-ish, or even like Tony Joe White—you know that sort of swampy, bluesy thing that he does? Almost like [singing]: “You’re a bone of contention. You’re a bone of contention.”
Paste: Nice. When is that coming out?
Williams: That’s coming out, um, in October, two weeks after the release of the album [Oct 14].
Paste: Does the EP have a name?
Williams: Lu in’08, and it’ll have “Bone of Contention,” “Masters of War”-- which, of course, is Dylan-- the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth,” and “Marching the Hate Machine” off the Thievery Corporation album. The lyrics were written by Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips. Really cool song.
Paste: On almost every one of your previous records, with maybe the possible exception of Car Wheels, you sort of ease into each album with a softer song. On Little Honey, you blast into “Real Love,” one of your hardest rockers ever. Why’d you choose that one to lead it all off?
Williams: Well, it just kind of sets the tone of how I’m feeling right now in my private life and how I connect to the album and the album connects to me, although ironically enough, the majority of the songs on this new record were ones that didn’t end up on West. So I didn’t just write those. I thought I was going to put them on West, because I just wanted to get them out there and move on. But I wasn’t sure how they were going to work on a new album, like if I was going to be able to get into them, because I had written them like, a couple of years before. But I feel like we were able to breathe a new life into them with a new band, and having gone out and played some of the songs and tested them out on the road. So they seem like they were all just written for this record, even though a couple of them are really old. “If Wishes Were Horses” and “Circles and X’s” were first conceived, believe it or not, back in the mid-’80s. So those songs are about 20 years old.
Paste: Yeah, “If Wishes Were Horses” seems like it could have been on Sweet Old World or Car Wheels.
Williams: Yeah, actually. And it was just kind of sitting around for a long time, and I never really thought it would ever see the light of day. It’s just one of those early songs that I didn’t really think was good enough, I guess. Sometimes that happens with early songs that you like.
Paste: That’s funny, it’s actually one of my favorites on the album.
Williams: That’s what somebody else has said. It’s so funny. It just shows you how sometimes we can underestimate. We can get in our own way, because Hal Willner told me that too, when we were cutting the songs for West. The funny thing is when I talk about Little Honey, I have to go back and talk about West because the songs on Little Honey were songs that were going to be on West, because we had about 24 or 25 songs to pick from when we were putting the songs for West together, so the ones that didn’t end up going on West seemed a bit better together as a separate album. And we were going to try to put out a double album of West, so we could put them all out, because I wanted to get them all out then. I said, “I’m not going to want to relive these songs a year and a half down the road,” but we weren’t able to do that. So one group of songs ended up being West and then the other group of songs ended up being Little Honey, with the addition of some new songs that I’ve written. The later songs that are on Little Honey are “Honey Bee,” “Tears Of Joy,” “Little Rock Star” and “Plan To Marry.”
Paste: So “Real Love” was written for West?
Williams: “Real Love” was actually written for West. And I was just in a writing mode, and we were in the studio demoing. We went in with about 10 songs and just kept writing new songs. This was when I was just doing the demos, with my old band—[Taras] Prodaniuk, [Jim] Christie and Doug Pettibone. So we were just in there putting the songs down, just the four of us, and during the process is when I started coming up with all these other songs, like “Knowing” and “Rarity.” And I went back, and we discovered these really early, early songs, “If Wishes Were Horses” and “Circles and X’s.” I don’t know why but I just-- sometimes I when I get really into the writing mode, I’ll go and look, because I keep everything. I don’t throw anything away. I have all my old notes. Anything that wasn’t really finished, I keep around. So I went back and looked at those few songs, and, you know, I’ve been thinking for a while about revisiting really early material, just to see if there was anything there that might be worth saving. It’s been on my mind for a while, so those ended up being part of the West demos. And that song “Well Well Well,” it goes back a ways too. It was actually written for Sweet Old World, but didn’t end up on Sweet Old World. That was in 1991, so I’ve got an early, early version of “Well Well Well” on a cassette tape somewhere. All this stuff has been surfacing lately, reel-to-reel tape and old demos.