The two songwriters share
the love in a chat about craft, creativity and the crappiness of the music biz.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
It would be really tough to imagine two artists who approach
their muse from such different perspectives. On the one hand, there’s Lucinda
Williams, whose successful thirty-plus- year career has found her liberally
imbuing elements of blues, folk, country and Americana into her gritty roots
rock tableau. Then consider Mia Doi Todd, a fresh -faced independent artist
with an expansive worldview and a penchant for exotic ambiance and sensual,
celestial soundscapes. These days they’re touting equally divergent recent
releases. Williams’ Little Honey employs her usual assertive stance while celebrating a blossoming romantic
relationship. Doi Todd’s instrumental EP, Morning
Music, provides a set of ambient, meditative mood music recorded in the
aftermath of a romantic schism.
What these two artists hold in common is a mutual admiration
for the other’s work, and, it seems, for one another’s spiritual stance, views
that encompass shared perceptions about the music industry, the liberating
power of music and a general belief that art can alter any preconceived
parameters. Williams was so taken with Doi Todd’s free-spirited approach that
she included a song on Little Honey written specifically with Mia in mind, a yearning homage aptly dubbed “Rarity.”
(One key verse goes, “Your voice a cello/ Your words speak volumes/ In and out
around flow/ Like Leonard Cohen’s.”)
And though Doi Todd has yet to reciprocate, it’s obvious she
was duly honored. The two had met before only briefly, but when BLURT had
opportunity to bring them together over the phone the rapport was evident. Unable
to inject few thoughts in edgewise, we were happy to listen in as they
exchanged their insights and observations.
BLURT: How well do
you two know each other?
Lucinda: We didn’t know each other… we still don’t know each
other. We bumped into each other a couple of times, but I’ve been admiring her
work from afar.
Mia: I’m so honored you wrote a song about me. I don’t
Lucinda: Actually the song was planned about six years when
I was in Nashville and a friend of mine discovered that CD you put out. It was
an independent thing. I think it was the first one.
Mia: I think you have my third one. I have a lot of records.
Lucinda: Really? Okay. Well, he gave me a copy and said,
“You have to listen to this!” And I just spent a lot of time with it and I fell
madly in love with your music. I don’t know if it talked to me or in the third
person. I just loved it. I mean, all the words… It was just so fantastic the
way you combined all those words inside the music. I was just so impressed with
the lyrical quality, plus the voice and the presentation. So I had that one,
and I was in a record store and I picked up another one.
Mia: I think that’s Golden
State… That was the next one. It came out on a major label.
Lucinda: It’s kind of like I’m rooting for the underdog. I
was just kind of glad and happy that someone else was seeing what I was seeing.
And then the next thing I know, I was reading in L.A. Weekly where you weren’t on that label anymore. I don’t know
what happened, but I saw that and it reminded me of some of the stuff I’ve been
through. And it was just a combination of having already admired your work and
being struck by the whole sensitivity of it and delicacy of it. I understood
and do understand how hard it is to get that across to people.
Lucinda: It just struck me, and that’s what caused me to
write that song. Something I felt and I’ve been through too. I wouldn’t be able
to write about someone else’s experience if I hadn’t been through that.
Mia: Your work and your career have been very inspiring to
me. You’ve managed to keep going, and keep writing songs, and you’ve been through
Lucinda: It just kind of made me angry, to tell you the
truth. You know, it’s just so hard dealing with the music business.
Mia: I know, the music business. I’ve never really been a
very angry person, and I didn’t really get angry at that time. But I was still
making my very esoteric heartfelt, soulful music and the mood was changing and
Lucinda: That’s kind of what happened to me, because I was
out here playing and doing what you’re doing now all through the mid ‘70s to
the mid ‘80s, and they didn’t have Americana or anything like that. I lived in
L.A. at that time, in ’84, ’85, ’86, and I’d run into these people from the
record labels and they didn’t know what to do with me.
Mia: I knew your work because a friend of mine in college
was from Arkansas, and he shared that with me, so I knew your work a little
before you blew up. You are a role model for me.
Lucinda: I’m an exception. I mean, I never felt like having
kids until I was in my late forties and fifties because I was such a late
bloomer, you know.
Mia: I have a brand new instrumental record called Morning Music. It’s almost like a
meditational music record. It’s easy; you can wake up with it on and it’s
harmonium and guitar, and I play tin whistle. And there’s percussion, and the
melodies are beautiful and it’s really simple but…
Lucinda: I love that kind of music.
Mia: It’s good for your yoga practice or whatever. [laughs]
Lucinda: Yeah. Some of that yoga music is kind of like
meditation, world music.
Mia: Yeah, mine is super organic. It’s really natural.
BLURT: Mia, how did
you discover that Lucinda had put a song on her record dedicated to you?
Mia: She played a show here at Spaceland maybe three or four
years ago. There was a mutual friend and it was a benefit for his child’s
nursery school. That night you played it and you invited me into the studio to
listen to it.
Lucinda: Those were the demos for the West record. But it didn’t make it on the West album. We re-recorded it and put it on the Little Honey album.
Blurt: Mia, you must have been bowled over when you heard
Mia: I couldn’t believe it. My mom is a big fan of yours. And
she plays that song in her car and keeps it on repeat!
Lucinda: Thank you. I’m grinning from ear to ear.
Mia: I feel so fortunate to have music in my life and my
life in music. I’ve done what I wanted to do. It’s a miracle. Maybe I haven’t
been enabled to do the extent of what I could do if I wanted to, do it but I
have not compromised very much.
Lucinda: I don’t think you’ve compromised much at all. I’ve
had to compromise too, more than I wanted to do, but I just had to wait until
the time was right. For a long time it was just me and my guitar, and I didn’t
even have a band. I didn’t even work with a band until I came out to Los
Angeles in 1985. For years I was just kind of a singer/songwriter or whatever,
but I always had a broader perspective than that even when I was playing
acoustically. I was playing Jimi Hendrix songs, Doors songs, so I never saw
myself as a folksinger or anything. I never defined myself.
Mia: People are always asking me to define myself…
Lucinda: Urgh, yeah. “What kind of music do you play?”
Mia: I sometimes say “folksinger.” When people ask you, what
do you say? “Rock?”
Lucinda: I don’t know. I just kind of say Rock. Folk, Country, Blues. And then
I’ll say, it’s kind of like a female Bob Dylan or Tom Petty or Neil Yong kind
of thing. And then they’ll go, “Oh, okay, okay.” It’s often easier just to give
them something to compare yourself to. But you’re so original. Consider
yourself blessed. You can’t really think of someone to compare yourself to.
BLURT: It’s amazing
that for two artists whose music is so different from one another, how much you
two really have in common.
Lucinda: With a lot of artists, people don’t realize how
much common ground there is between different styles of music.
Mia: I think musicians feel genres much less than the music
business. I don’t feel such divisions between us. I remember the one other time
I met you. It was some show or some bar and you were hanging out, and you said
to me [laughs] something about how you were proud of me, and you were so happy
for me, and I was so honored.
Lucinda: Oh, I’m so pleased that you remembered that!
[An edited version of
this article previously appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Blurt]