By Kerry DooleIf there was any justice in the world of country music, it’d be Kelly Willis, not Faith Hill, selling millions of records, but the immensely talented Kelly has always been too much of a maverick for the Nashville establishment (think of her as a pre-Neko). Instead, she’s long been part of the more adventurous Austin scene, and, since bursting onto the scene in 1990 with her superb Well Travelled Love debut, she has concentrated on putting out stylistically diverse, but gently convincing albums. Here, Kelly discusses making the record, finding her place in country music and being a "housewife goth.”
I gather you just got home [to Austin] from Nashville? That’s right. They were having a celebration there for a hit song my husband [Bruce Robison] wrote for George Strait called "Wrapped.” They were having a #1 party for him, so I went up there with my oldest boy to help celebrate. It was a lot of fun.
And the royalty cheque won’t hurt. It won’t hurt at all (laughs).
Congrats on Translated From Love. Pleased with reaction to it? It has mostly been positive and I’ve been really thrilled.
An easy record to make? Any mandate going in? It was fairly easy to make because I gave the reins over to [producer] Chuck Prophet. On the last record, I was producing, so there are so many little details and decisions, boring things that are not fun but that you have to do. This time around, I didn’t have any of that hanging over me. I was just there at ten in the morning and was able to completely focus on it. Have fun, make music, then come home. I didn’t have to worry about anything in between. It was pretty much just the fun, creative part of a making a record that I hadn’t been able to do last time.
Was it recorded in Austin? Yes, at my husband’s studio, Premium Recording Services. That was nice. It’s ours, so we just go there and it feels like home. It has our office in there as well, so it feels like home. We spend a lot of time there when we’re not recording, so just feels like a comfy place to be.
I think it shows in the sound, which has a relaxed feel. Well, good.
How did you come across Chuck? I was aware of [his band] Green On Red, and was a fan back in the day. Then when I got ready to make [1999 album] What I Deserve, the first producer brought Chuck in to play a session, and that’s how I met him. Everything else about that session was a complete disaster, but I kept Chuck, and had him come to Austin to help me finish that record. He’s also on [2002’s] Easy, and he has been really invaluable part of my music for the past ten years. I really connected with him, and really felt he understood my songs and showed them at their best. I just really liked his instincts because I’d worked with him and knew what to expect with him. You really have to trust the people you are working with. It’s a very vulnerable situation. Even when you have a great deal of trust, there are moments when you think that other person is out of their mind and your career is going to go down the toilet. I needed someone there I really liked and wanted to be around, so he was a natural choice for me.
You do a lot of co-writing with both Chuck and the wonderful Jules Shear. Did Chuck suggest Jules? Chuck suggested him. We’d been passing other people’s songs back and forth between each other, songs to consider, and not having any luck whatsoever. Neither of us wanted anything to do with the songs the other brought up. Finally, this song of Jules’, "The More I’m Around You,” was like the first one we agreed on. It lit a fire — "Let’s bring him in and work with him some more.”
How does the co-writing work? All just sit around, tossing ideas around? We pretty much just did that. A lot of times in the past when I’d co-written, I’d have half a song, or three-quarters of a song, and we’d dig into it, maybe rearrange and add something. This time around I had nothing. I might have a title, or a melody to a chorus. "Sweet Little One,” one Chuck and I wrote together, was the most complete song I brought in for us to work on. But for the most part I’ve had no time to make music, with my children [she has four] and everything, so we just really sat down and hammered it out from the very beginning of a song. It is kind of hard to do that. I think it really helps if someone can come in with something we can all adjust, but it turned out really well. I’m really pleased with the results.