Once a Brooklyn-based band, Widowspeak have retreated to the mountains of Upstate New York and their latest album, All Yours – recently released on the Captured Tracks label, shows it. All reverby, layered with airy harmonies and a lush orchestration that conjures up images of a sepia-toned summer’s day – bare-feet, a doorway leading out to warm grass as the curtain shifts in the languid breeze. A liminal space hinting at two worlds, neither bad, just a portal where you can slip easily between both.
Like the physical space the band now inhabits, the music also shares a duality falling somewhere between Shoegaze and Americana without jarring. In fact, it’s a sonic soft serve also folding textures from indie, rock and pop with a smooth, unhurried ease. Molly Hamilton’s soporific vocal-style is an aural dead ringer for Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, while Robert Earl Thomas’ slide guitar playing on “Cosmically Aligned” and the twangy “Stoned” – which is also one of the album’s highlights, heightens the band’s similarities further.
Yet, with title track “All Yours” as well as “Narrows” and “Dead Love” they never feel ‘samey’, thanks to Thomas’ eclectic guitar skills and tight steering of the instrumentation. He also takes the lead vocals for the first time with Widowspeak in the tumbling “Borrowed World” which sits nicely in this 10-song compilation.
The band will be headlining the second night of San Francisco’s returning 2-day Culture Collide festival which will be giving props to more than a dozen up-and-coming bands. Held at the Swedish American Hall, tonight’s headliners are LA band, Milo Greene. Tickets at $20 for each day are still available.
Be sure not to miss Widowspeak tomorrow, Oct 2 as their next album may be quite different. In an interview with Hamilton from her Catskills home, earlier this week, she chatted casually about how the slower pace of All Yours has made her want to write their next album. It may not be as mellow even as their bucolic lives with dog, meadows and mountains seem otherwise. She also explains why she won’t be rushing to do a duet with her writing-partner anytime soon.
How did the way you worked on this album, All Yours differ from your previous albums and EP’s?
Well, we moved which isn’t necessarily the most significant thing because when we lived in Brooklyn we moved around too. And we were also touring and traveling a lot. But we do now have a place to play music in my house, so it was very leisurely and we took our time doing it. It’s not like we were putting off finishing the album but we were just writing songs over the course of the year. That whole process has made me more excited to make another record. Oh man, taking our time did influence the process in terms of coming up with ideas and it’s a mellow record because we approached it in a mellow way. Swamps and Almanac were concept records – not in their plot or anything but in creating a world for the songs to live in. For All Yours we just grouped the songs with the same theme, it was more free-form. I still like working within a framework. There has to be that balance – if you make too much of connecting songs, and making it too thematic, you lose the heart and it can get sterile.
Your previous record, Almanac you’ve said was something of an “escapist record” and this one you actually did move to where you last escaped to – what prompted that need to escape?
There’s obviously a certain dynamic in any big city that isn’t in the country but my desire to move was not because I hate New York. Some people thrive in the city and I realized that I didn’t. I love New York and I lived in the city for 8 or 9 years – the experience was invaluable to me. It was how our band got started! But I thrive being closer to nature, the slower pace – the natural world just helps keep me mentally healthy. All Yours was about coming to terms with what sort of band we are without having to reconcile that. Does that make sense? Or am I just rambling?
No, I think it makes sense.
We’ve found a good place here.
What is a regular day in Upstate New York like compared to when you lived in Brooklyn, apart from better take-out?
In Brooklyn, it was juggling, always juggling – random stuff. Band stuff, you know there’s a million venues in the city and lots of places we can play at so it’s sorting through that. Now we’re near the Catskills, in the Hudson Valley we have one venue that happens to be a town away, and there’s decent stuff in Woodstock but that’s about it. So we’re hanging out at the house more. I also went back to school to study design. When we lived in Brooklyn we all had day jobs and trying to go on tour was complicated, it’s easier now. But there’s a lot of driving here, the city had good public transport – you never needed to get into the car. I sometimes drive Robert for his job in the Catskills – it’s a 35 to 40min drive but it’s a really beautiful drive. And you are more aware of where you are in the world, all these mountains. But there is hardly any takeout, everything closes really early and nothing’s open on Sundays.
How often do you wind up going into the city?
We go down once or twice a month for random music meetings. And practices with our band – they still live in the city. It’s been almost 2 years that we’ve been here – 2 winters ago, and I find myself thinking that I will either stay here for a long, long time or move even further away. (laughs) Well, we’ll see. We live on the edge of town, the back of our house is an open meadow and you can’t see any neighbors but we have the convenience of being able to just walk into town.
Robert got to sing on “Borrowed World” – he’s said that he likes that archetype of the country outlaw and this song seems to speak to that – can you tell us a little bit about how this song came to be on this album?
He’s always been a guitar player and not necessarily a songwriter. He was in another band before this and was helping to write songs. So when we started Widowspeak we kept it all very separate. However, since then we’ve been getting more and more collaborative. I’ll always be the main frontwoman of Widowspeak but some of the songs were written in that vein like “Borrowed World”. It was just one of many songs that he wrote, and we just picked this one because it seem to fit with the theme of this album.
You guys ever think of doing a duet?
The thing about duets… I love country duets like Nancy Sinatra and Nick Hazelwood but duets these days, I feel can be a little trite and cutesy. If we ever did one, it would have to be very textural. Perhaps if this band goes South we can keep that as our back up – wedding band.
After this many years of singing in Widowspeak, do you still get nervous – are you still taking shots of whiskey before a show to calm the nerves?
I get less stage fright just because of the amount of times we have now played live. So many shows at this point. The hardest part is not singing in front of people, it’s taking an infant idea, an idea that’s unborn even, and to sing it for Robert. It’s still hard for me to do that because it’s not finished. But I have to because that’s how we write our songs. Usually I come up with the lyrics, melody, and a basic song structure. Robert will then do the harmonies, instrumentation, how to catch the mood of the song – so really it’s good for me to have him involved from the beginning.
How do you expect most people come across your music these days – surfing the internet? The soundtrack of a TV show? Do you guys think about how you disseminate the music?
We don’t really think about it. There’s been so much talk this last decade – I don’t know what it’s like to be a musician before streaming so I have no problem with it. We are not anti-commercial and one of these random placements have helped many fans to discover us. However, we are moving into a society that equates music with free, and takes music for granted. When you stream you are not really getting the true value out of a song. We collect vinyl, I know it sounds archaic and snobby but we love the ritual of putting on a record and listening to it in it’s entirety. I just hope if they like our band then they listen to the whole record rather than just singles. I think if they just listen to singles, they might think we’re weird. Our singles can be weird I feel like.
Well apparently, millennials think music should be free but artists and musicians need to be paid so the believe is that if you hear a song and you stream or Youtube it, eventually if you like it you will buy it.
I don’t even feel like it’s so much that – I don’t feel like I need to be making a living of this. Of course, I would love to be more financially stable but the reality is that without the internet we would not have the ability to get our music out there as easy as we have. I would have to get a PO Box, all these mailing addresses and do a zine. I have a lot of respect for DIY bands who did that but these days it’s so much easier to just communicate directly with fans in a way that would not have been possible back then.
You got to do your official album release party on a boat – as part of the Rocks Off Concert Cruise series, how did the idea for that come about and how did it go?
It was really fun. We did it cause we always get stressed out for our album launches. It’s usually a big NY show and we have a bunch of friends crawling out of the woodwork that we want to hang out with. Then there’s the label people, and of course, our fans. We wanted to do something a bit more casual but also special occasion. We will be doing another show on dry land later – a rooftop one.
What has Widowspeak got planned for the rest of the year – touring Europe?
We’re coming back to California early November. We will be doing Europe but only parts of it. We didn’t want to leave our dog for too long. We have an Australian Shepherd called Ruby, she’s sitting here looking up at me, probably wondering why we’re talking about her.
It’s like having kids?
I don’t have kids but I feel like dogs are actually harder because at least you can go on tour with kids and take them into venues. Dogs just aren’t even allowed in most venues.
For tickets to Widowspeak at Culture Collide, please click here. To purchase the album, All Yours, please click here. For tour details, please see below.
Widowspeak – Fall Tour
Oct 2 – San Francisco, CA – Culture Collide Festival @ Swedish American Hall
Oct 9 – Boston, MA – Unitarian Universalist Church
Oct 10 – Kingston, NY – O+ Positive Festival
Oct 11 – Toronto, ON – Silver Dollar
Oct 12 – Ann Arbor, MI – Bling Pig
Oct 13 – Chicago, IL – Chop Shop
Oct 14 – St. Louis, MO – Luminary Arts
Oct 15 – Norman, OK – Opolis
Oct 16 – Dallas, TX – Foundry
Oct 17 – Austin, TX – Lamberts
Oct 18 – New Orleans, LA – Gasa Gasa
Oct 19 – Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn
Oct 20 – Asheville, NC – Mothlight
Oct 21 – Chapel Hill, NC – Cat’s Cradle
Oct 22 – Washington, DC – Comet Ping Pong