THE California-born, Texas-based artist Tara Williamson…
relocated to discover and embrace her music roots. Starting her musical life singing in church (aged five); it seems like every memory of hers involved music. Small wonder the years – and travels she has encountered – have propelled and pushed her ambitions and desires. After spending a few years as a background singer for a touring Austin Soul band, The Nightowls – where they opened for Leon Bridges and Kool & the Gang, among others – she embarked on her own solo venture. Recruiting the production skills of fellow band member Sean Giddings (Fall River Footmen); it is a new dawn for the Austin talent. I ask her about her E.P., Evolution One, and the type of issues explores on the songs. Messenger is the song I focus on – although Get On With It was released between me sending the questions and them returning – and I ask Williamson about her musical upbringing. She chats about the Texas music scene and future touring plans. I ask how the music of California – where she was raised – differs to that of Texas and whether a U.K. sojourn is in her mind.
Hi, Tara. How are you? How has your week been?
Busy! We had a couple of release shows for the new album in Austin over the last week – and I’m still revelling in that.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure! I’m a singer-songwriter and former Soul band backup vocalist coming out with a four-part new album. I love the shift in focus to my own material. I’ve spent the last year-and-half writing and recorded thirteen new songs (this winter) with some of Austin’s finest musicians. It’s been a trip and it’s just the beginning!
Evolution One, your E.P., is out now. What is the idea behind the title and what subjects does the E.P. explore?
The album, in its full form, is called Evolutions and this is the first of four parts: transition, growth; forward movement and honesty are really the themes of the album.
After a lot of personal change, trials and triumphs over the last few years; I feel like I have evolved into a new version of myself and wanted to pay homage to the process/evolution.
Messenger is your recent single. Can you tell me about the writing of the song? What was it like having it named Song of the Day by KUTX?
Let me just say that it was a That Thing You Do! moment hearing my original music on KUTX for the first time. We did a live, Carpool Karaoke video to document the landmark and I will never forget it! Messenger keeps with the theme of evolution and really became something completely new in the studio. I love the direction my producer, Sean Giddings (Fall River Footmen) took with it and it was really a collaborative creation once we got to recording. The instrumental elements really made a great production – of what started as an iPhone voice memo sketch.
Loving Game is my favourite song from the E.P. Was there a subject/person that inspired that?
This one is extremely personal.
Sometimes, I write about things I haven’t experienced – but this is first-hand losing at the game of love and processing that.
You are formerly of The Nightowls. How different is it going solo and what are the main differences between the songs created and the ease in which they come together?
Going solo has been an adventure, for sure. Putting on the band –leader-hat is difficult, but I’m really proud of taking action to get my music out there. Songwriting has been a natural process and each song is different – depending on what needed to be written.
Raised in a small town (Cottonwood) in California, it must have been frustrating not being in a vibrant music hub. Was there any sort of scene in Cottonwood or was it quite limited?
I grew up singing and playing music in church so there was definitely an outlet. But there were no music venues to speak of or a live music scene. Austin is a Utopia for me.
Austin, and its allure, brought you to Texas. What is it like living in the city and is it a bit of a dream for an ambitious musician?
It’s definitely a dream to be in a scene where legends like Willie Nelson have made their mark; where Austin City Limits is filmed (I remember watching PBS as a kid and wanting to be on the show) and where ACL Music Festival and SXSW are the norm.
I never thought I’d live in Texas but I’m glad I do.
Austin has proven to be a catalyst for a lot of great change in my life and career.
How does the state compare to the likes of California and New York when it comes to sound and artists?
Because I started my experience in Austin with a Soul band and cover band work; I didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know the songwriting roots of Austin. Although the music culture here is varied, and I love it all, I’ve really been drawn back to singer-songwriters and I feel like they still have a voice here – and I think that’s unique. That’s what made me comfortable to pursue my own writing here.
Who were the artists you grew up listening to?
I listened to a lot of the Eagles; some ’90s Country and had a subscription to Roots of Rhythm when I was a kid – that introduced me to Etta James and the Jazz and Blues world. There was the Mariah Carey and boyband R&B influence in there as well. I loved it all.
It was here you joined The Nightowls. What was it like touring with the band for years and performing around the U.S.?
My time with The Nightowls was very formative and I loved travelling around the country with them.
We got to do so many ‘bucket list’ items in just a few years: SXSW and ACL Music Festival (both, a couple times) opening for legends old and new like Kool & the Gang and Leon Bridges…the list goes on. Touring both coasts in an R.V. with eleven people was unforgettable and I’ll always be grateful for my time with them.
Is there quite a community spirit in Austin? Was that beneficial when you put Evolution One together?
The community in Austin is unparalleled in my experience. From day one, people were putting me to work and doing what they could to make me feel at home. When it came time for Evolution One, everyone was there to see me to my next chapter. I really loved being able to include a lot of the talent, I have looked up to since first moving here in 2012, to make this happen. I look forward to supporting everyone in their own ventures and feeding back into that spirit.
Are there any plans for touring or more music later in the year?
Yes! I’m taking the new music on the road this summer on a West Coast house concert tour! It’ll be great to gain new fans and play the music back home in CA.
Can we expect to see you in the U.K. at any point?
Yes! I’m aiming to be in the U.K. and Europe next fall.
I studied at Oxford for a term in college so I’m hoping to get back there; Germany, Italy and Spain too.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you, which would it be and why?
Just three is hard but I would say The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over is in my top-three because it connects me most to my dad’s musical tastes – which have influenced my songwriting heavily; especially with lyrics and harmony.
This one is funny for me to admit because they are soundtracks. But it’s what really allowed me to branch out from the Christian music I’d grown up with (which I loved, but it’s not all that was out there). Sister Act 2 will always be one of the most meaningful to me. I loved the medleys of Gospel hymns (that were) mixed with Motown. It really moved me and influenced research into different styles.
The last one is pivotal for my own return to songwriting and that is my friend and producer Sean Giddings’ album, Rio Sessions (Fall River Footmen).
While I was touring with The Nightowls on the East Coast, I started listening to this and it became my own soundtrack. It started the road back to making my own music.
What advice would you give to any new artists coming through right now?
Be yourself. Really.
Who are the new acts you recommend we check out?
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that)
Play Walker Lukens’ Where Is Thunder Road? for me! It’s my jam!
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