By Roger Sharman
CL: Hi Tessy Lou, a really Good Afternoon to you, or Good Morning in fact in Montana. You’re all the way over in Montana aren’t you at the moment? That most beautiful of states I’ve heard. How are you today?
TLW: I’m doing well thank you. I’m actually going to stay home today and do some work at the house, make Stew and enjoy being home for the day.
CL: How are your folks, are you with your folks?
TLW: They’re good too, thank you. I live with my dad when in Montana and my mom lives across the street.
CL: That’s cool, you get the best of both worlds.
TLW: I do! Yeah, so it works out pretty well.
CL: How is Montana today?
TLW: It’s beautiful. It’s like 48 but sunny, we’re having strange December weather, but it’s nice out.
CL: Well, I can tell you it’s pretty normal December weather in London right now. Damp, chilly and grey. I think that’s the best way of describing it.
TLW: We’re supposed to get some snow maybe at the end of this week, it’s kind of been holding out on us a while so it’s been rather nice.
CL: I guess that you guys are you used to having some snow up there by now.
TLW: Yeah, we had some snow back in September, and then again in October, and we had a little bit of a little bit November, but we’re about once a month. I imagine it’ll set in at some point.
CL: You’re right up near Canada aren’t you, so I’m surprised it’s not up to your waist or something like that yet.
TLW: I’m surprised too. It’s an abnormally warm December. I think I was about 15 miles from us, they just recorded the warmest day in December since 1936.
CL: Oh wow!
TLW: So yeah, we’ve had some strangely warm weather up here, but I’m sure it’s going to hit with a vengeance.
CL: Maybe we won’t get into global warming right now because that’s a whole different discussion and could take days! So, Tessy, how did this musical journey that you’re on begin for you? Were you a child performer?
TLW: Yes. My parents moved down to the Nashville in the 80’s and they started playing music and started a band down there. They moved up to Montana after my older sister was born, and all they did was play music. They raised three kids just playing music, so I definitely grew up in that world.
I started taking Piano lessons when I was about three or four, started Cello lessons at five, and played music in school, and I was always playing music. I started writing songs when I was about thirteen and I wouldn’t play them for anybody but my best friends.
I had really bad stage fright when I was growing up, and it wasn’t until I was about nineteen that actually started performing my own music in front of people and that’s kind of when the whole musical career began, so music, like I said, has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t really start pursuing it until I was about nineteen.
CL: You said you said you played the cello for a while. Do you still play?
TLW: Unfortunately, no, but I can see it from where I’m sitting so, I’m really feeling guilty about not getting it out.
CL: That would sound really interesting on a Country album.
TLW: Oh yeah, I love the Cello, it’s beautiful instrument that goes with any genre of music really.
CL: Exactly…. Moving on to Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars, now correct me if I’m wrong, two albums released – 2012’s ‘Leaving Montana’ and was it 2014 ‘Somewhere in Texas’?
TLW: Yes that was in 2014.
CL: Of course, that included the wonderful cover that you did of Reckless Kelly’s ‘Nobody’s Girl’. Both of those albums were wonderful records too.
TLW: Well, thank you…
CL: I love ‘Fool’s Moon’, ‘Scotty’s Place and ‘Leaving Montana’ particularly. A lot of the songs that you write seem to be pretty autobiographical. Is that fair to say?
TLW: It is fair to say, I tend to write either about myself or somebody that I’m close to. I find it’s easier to write from personal experience, and also it’s easier to relate to a song from an audience’s perspective and it’s easier to portray the song, and you know, put a real emotion into it when I perform.
CL: A lot of the songs that you sing are right from the heart so you’ve got to have that sincerity in your voice and that really comes across for me and the kind of old-time angst if you like, of Classic Country, that the likes of Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline feel to it, even Wanda Jackson, are they people that you looked up to as a child?
TLW: Absolutely. I grew up listening to everything, you know, from Hank Williams to Ella Fitzgerald, to ZZ Top. I listened to everything growing up and so it’s fair to say I took inspiration from a lot of different artists. There were definitely more country days because my parents were from a Country band, pretty similar to my style I guess. ‘Montana Rose’ was their band’s name, and they were great. You should look them up if you get a chance.
CL: ‘Montana Rose’, yes I will. Thank you for the heads up!
TLW: I definitely took a lot of inspiration from the older Country. Aretha Franklin is my favourite singer of all time you know, so there’s definitely a lot of different influences in my love for music.
CL: Do you still listen to a lot of different types of music now?
TLW Oh, yeah. I listened to rock, I listened to like the 2000s punk pop. I listen to a lot of modern pop music. I’ve gotten into a lot of a different types of music so much. I go all over the map, a lot of 50s, a lot of Motown, and I really love big band stuff like Frank Sinatra, I love him, every day is just something different.
CL: It sounds very much like me, I’m all over the place musically. You know, one minute I could be listening to Chopin, the next minute, I could be listening to Slipknot. I really am all over the place. What does that say about me? (Collective laughter).
TLW: All my playlists are that drastic!
CL: I think that really does say a lot about the person I am (more collective laughter).
TLW: If my playlists are on with somebody else around, they’re like, well, that was quite a jump and I’m like oh well you know (Shrugs shoulders).
CL: Yeah, but you can make it work.
TLW: Hell Yeah.
CL: I read on your website, and you mentioned it earlier actually, that you suffered a lot from stage fright when you perform, is that still the case? Or how have you overcome it?
TLW: I definitely still have stage fright. It’s not as traumatic as it used to be, but especially when I’m performing by myself, when I have the band, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure taken off of me and I can relax a little bit more, and I do get less nervous but there are definitely situations and times where I feel like it’s creeping back up on me but I have gotten a little more accustomed to how I deal with it, and been more comfortable. As I get into a situation that may give me stage fright, you know, as the as the show goes on, I do get more comfortable and more relaxed.
Overcoming it started at nineteen, when my parents asked me to play a few songs that at the shows they were playing, and it was the first time that I wasn’t just completely shaken, shaking and nauseous. It was still very strong but I was able to manage it and from then it slowly has gotten better, but I feel like having a level of stage fright means that you care about the show you’re putting on and I feel like it’s a good healthy thing to have, for it to completely go away, I feel you’ve kind of lost your edge, I don’t know, it’s very important to keep a little bit of that.
CL: I think that that’s true in life in general. I got a little bit nervous about doing this interview and I don’t know why. I’ve done so many of these now and with so many different types of people. It’s excitement I think, nervous energy, you can get a bit tongue tied when you’re excited and forget your train of thought and that sort of thing. I don’t think that it’s anything unusual, really, and it is a good thing, it’s a positive thing, as you say.
TLW: I do too…. what’s that old expression …. Do one thing every day that scares you? It’s just a little bit of stage fright, it’s healthy, it keeps your blood pumping.
CL: So, onto the band, what was behind the decision to leave the band and go solo?
TLW: I think that was always on the cards. I was very green when I started out. I had my dad, playing bass with me and our friend Brian Paul on the fiddle, and the original band we had up here in Montana, we had our friend Mike Singer on Banjo, and having them in the band really helped me. I learned a lot from them, in different ways, musically, performance wise and I had a lot to learn about performing live, and the whole business of the music industry.
I think we always knew that eventually it would turn to a solo thing, but it was always based around me and my songs, so it was just kind of the right time for it, because we had not released a new album in six years, and I’d been spending a lot of time in Nashville by myself, just writing.
I started going to Nashville, it was about four years ago, and I was doing those trips by myself. I was starting to figure out more of this industry with me being solo artist and so when the time came it kind of needed to be done. Everyone else had their own things they were going off to do for their own lives, but they will always be a part of my band, as far as I’m concerned and I think as far as they’re concerned, too, but it was always about my career, and I’m very grateful to have had those guys for as long as I did, and you know, my dad and I are literally family, but Brian and Mike and any of the other musicians who played with us over the years, I’ve always considered them family and I’m very blessed to be able to call them at any time to back me at any show.
CL: Are you are you still making trips down to Nashville?
TLW: I haven’t in a while, not since the pandemic started, but yes, I mean, in theory, yes. Even though I’ve moved back up to Montana recently, I plan on spending a lot of time still down in Austin and in Nashville. I know enough people in both places that I could easily spend a month or two at a time, and do what I need to do in either place. Whether it’s performing or writing or just continuing making connections.
CL: Have you moved back to Montana permanently? Or are you still based…. Err I don’t know, where are you based in Nashville or Montana?
TLW: Currently I’m based in Montana. That’s just the way my life has always been, nothing is necessarily permanent, because if the opportunity arises for me to move anywhere, for instance if something overseas popped up that made sense, I would do that. You know, I’ve always just kind of followed where this crazy dream has taken me, but Montana has always been and always will be home and my base.
During this crazy time and unpredictable situation in the world, it made sense to come back up here. I’ve got some work up here and we’re able to live relatively cheap and I figure if nothing else, I can leave a lot of my stuff up here so I have a lighter load to go where I need to go when everything gets a little more figured out.
CL: Yeah, and of course, the other real thing about this, with the way things have been recently, you get to spend some quality time with your parents as well.
TLW: My little brother recently moved back here with his wife, and they’ve just had a baby. I’ve got all my friends up here and my Grandma’s up here, so it’s a really nice time.
I think more people need to look at it this way, yeah, the world’s kind of stopped in certain ways, but it’s a good time to reset and re-evaluate your life and the things that you want and need for yourself, you know, it’s so easy to get caught up in this constant sort of motion, and you know, when it’s disrupted, it’s scary, it makes everybody panic and stress out, but I think it’s been really good for me to be able to kind of stop and look at some things and really thinking about what I want to do next, and I’m still thinking about that, so it’s been really refreshing to have that kind of space. The time to breathe a little bit has been really nice.
CL: I think a lot of people share that opinion, as well, you know. From people that I’ve spoken to both over here and there, it is a perfect time to re-evaluate and to move on. It is going to be a big big thing about moving on once this Pandemic has passed So yeah, I understand that entirely.
Now a question about THE album. Yeah, let’s talk a bit about the album, the fairly recent ‘Tessy Lou Williams’ album, and what a beautiful album it is, how long did it take to put those songs together?
TLW: We recorded the first half of the songs; we had picked out the first five songs for sure. Then there were a few others and we decided let’s wait and see what else gets written over the next few months. I would say about a year to truly get all the songs and everything organised. The recording process is so fast, because those guys in Nashville are all amazing musicians, we’re talking two days in the studio on both ends, so maybe five days of studio time, not counting the mixing and all that, but I would say it probably took about a year to get all those songs together and create an order.
CL: Wow, that’s pretty quick considering the album is made up of incredibly the vocals and harmony in the songs are incredible in there’s real maturity in the writing, so I thought it might have taken a lot longer to put together.
With the exception of Webb Pierce’s ‘Pathway of Teardrops’, are all the other songs on the album originals?
TLW: I put a song on there that was written by a friend, ‘Your Forever Will Never Say Goodbye’. That song was written by my friend Mike Ward, and then ‘Someone Lonely’ was written by my dad and Mike Ward as well. ‘Why do I Still Want You’ was written by Leslie Satcher and I co-wrote ‘Round and Round’ with Leslie Satcher, so there are a few originals. There’s a handful of cover songs on there, but the only well- known one is ‘Pathway of Teardrops’.
CL: Musical peers, who are the musical peers that you look up to? The other week I saw you had your Brennen Leigh Christmas sweater on.
TLW: Ohhhhh I love Brennen. She was one of the first people I saw perform in Austin. I went down in 2010 or 2009 to visit Austin. Dad took me to Nashville and Austin to decide where I wanted to move to pursue music.
So, on our first night in Austin, we went to Threadgill’s. and The McKay Brothers were playing and they got Brennen Leigh up to sing and I just knew I needed to be in a place where people like Brennen Leigh were.
I just love her so much and we became friends over the years since I moved to Austin. I admire and respect her a lot, I think she’s an incredible writer, and she does things very honestly and I respect that in musicians, when things are done from the heart, and truly honestly than
CL: Any others, like perhaps Sonny Sweeney?
TLW: Oh, do you know, I was going say her next. I love Sunny. I got to know her since I’ve been down in Texas and I’ve gotten to write with her a couple of times. Again, I love that she writes from the heart, she writes mostly from personal experiences.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of her new album yet but Juliet McConkey?
CL: Yeah, I know Juliet, well, I don’t know personally, but …
TLW: I just love her too. I met her at a songwriter retreat last year in Lubbock, and I just immediately connected with her. There are so many, the list goes on and on. That was one of the best things about being down in Texas and even in Nashville. All the people that were on the album, Leslie Satcher, Jerry Sally, Larry Cordell and John Randall. I’ve been so lucky to have gotten to meet and get to know some insanely talented musicians and writers. I could sit here all day long and name off people like Bracken Hale, he’s another one of my favourites that I’ve known since I’ve moved to Texas, Gary P Nunn.
CL: A very very special person to me, has a radio show in Colorado on KVNF, and she played one of your songs a couple of weeks ago now, but the shows called ‘Redneck Riviera’ obviously, Gary P Nunn recorded ‘Redneck Riviera’, So that’s, the theme song for the show. I’m getting you some airplay in Colorado!
TLW: Awesome, thank you!
CL: Do you think it’s kind of weird getting interviewed by someone in London, someone four and a half thousand miles away, about Country music?
TLW: I think it’s great.
CL: There’s quite a big scene here, there are more and more artists coming over regularly, at least before the ‘C pandemic’. I don’t even like saying the word anymore. I feel like I’ve spoken about it too much! Anyway, there were more and more coming over to play.
I found a Midland ticket the other day from like, December 2019, that I’d forgotten all about completely. It originally got cancelled because of complications surrounding the birth of Mark’s baby. Then it was rescheduled for March of this year, obviously, right about the time the pandemic struck. So, it got cancelled again. I forgot I was even supposed to be interviewing, totally forgotten about it.
Which actually leads me nicely to a question. You were due to appear with Midland’s Jess Carson were you not, back in August. Did that actually go ahead and if so, how did that come about?
TLW: We’ve known the Midland guys, they played a lot down at Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, which is a where we had our residency down in Spicewood, Texas, and so we get to know those guys pretty well. Our fiddle player Brian played several shows with them, and anytime they were in town, we try to go by and see them, at least just stop in and say hey.
Jess and Luke had decided to do this little show, kind of aside from Midland, with some of Jesse’s songs and they wanted to do the show with us. So, it was really cool that we got to do that, it was a really fun night.
It was really broken-down night, we just did a simple trio, and they just did a duo. It’s good fun to do a little bit more of an acoustic show based a lot on the songs themselves.
CL: Maybe you can come over here on a Midland tour.
TLW: I would love that!
CL: They’re due here in September, I believe that’s when the tour has been rescheduled to. So yeah, it would be great if you could get on it.
TLW: I’ll have to reach out to the guys and see if they need an opener!
CL: Now I’m coming to the end of the questions, what does the future have in store for you, Tessy, immediately and long term? What are you planning?
TLW: Immediately, I’m definitely trying to figure out that next step. What do I want to do next what direction I want the next record to take, I want to write more songs and hopefully I’ll get to do that throughout the winter. I want to be able to write a new album or new songs.
In the future I just hope to keep being able to play music and keep doing the things I just love so much. I would really like to spend some more time overseas, I would love to come to the UK, I’ve not been there yet. I would love to come do that.
Kind of the most unfortunate thing about this whole Pandemic is, I released my album in March, which was right when everything shut down, so I couldn’t plan the tour that I wanted to do, both domestically and internationally. I would really like to eventually get to a place where I can do a lot more touring. I think that’s probably my next big goal, once I’m able to start planning for travelling and booking of shows, I think that’ll be my next big thing.
CL: I know! I’ve had real itchy feet for travel, I try to come out to the US every year. You know, my passport has expired, which has never happened before in my life, I’ve always had a valid passport. I’m able to renew it, that can be straightaway, but I’ll only do it when it’s worth renewing, I figure I don’t want to waste time on it.
Anyway, I’m rambling. We’d love to have you over here when things get back to normal and of course Country Lowdown will help you in any way we can with that, promoting etc.
I think not being able to tour the release of the album, gives people a lot more time to get to know the album, therefore, when restrictions are lifted, and you are able to go out and play shows again. That plus the fact that everyone’s, craving shows right now that intensifies the return, even more people will be singing along with you than there was before.
TLW: I believe it.
CL: Yeah, that’s the way it’s going to work. Thank you so much for your time it was great chatting with you!
TLW: Thank you, Roger that was fun!
Cl: We’ll do it again sometime for sure.