Interview with Kathryn Williams

It was just a dream come true,”

Recently, I got the amazing opportunity to have a chat with singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams. In 1999, she released her debut record “Dog Leap Stairs” on an £80 budget through her own label, Caw Records. On April 26th this year, Kathryn celebrated the release of her 15th studio album, “Willson Williams“, a collaborative project with fellow singer-songwriter Dan Willson, also known as Withered hand. Her musical career has seen her work, play and write with some of the biggest names in Scottish music and beyond. As well as the release of their joint album, the duo have embarked on a tour across the UK, including several dates in Scotland too.

We spoke about this tour, and the different themes of “Willson Williams“. I learned a lot from my time talking to Kathryn and I’m sure you’ll find something intriguing within this interview too.

Q: You’re away on tour from the 1st of May until the end of May. Are there any venues you’re particularly excited to visit of the first time, or perhaps visit again?

A bit of both really, I think I played Mono a long time ago, in Glasgow. Normally I play Oran Mor or the Glad Cafe. I’ve never played Summerhall in Edinburgh either, so that’s all exciting. I actually haven’t played Water Rats in London either, even though it’s a staple for most people. It’ll be nice, and there’s the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham that I’ve played loads of times that I’m looking forward to going back to.

Q: Is your setlist going to be collaborative songs, or will there be some solo material in there too?

We realised that there will be my fans coming and Dan’s [Withered Hand] fans coming. We thought we’d try and please everybody by starting the show, I’ll do a solo set, and then Dan will do a solo set, like 20 minutes each. And then we’ll have a break and then we come on together as the main act. So we’re kind of supporting ourselves. So people will get 3 gigs for the price of 1, everyone love’s a bargain don’t they.

Q: I read that your joint album’s primary theme is grief and mourning. How difficult was it to write about this subject and were there any processes behind writing these songs?

That was one of the elements that, when we got talking and getting to know each other, when you write songs together, you talk first and you get to explore different ideas and themes that maybe you’d want to write about…or something you’ve got in common. It just happened that, you know, Dan talked about losing his brother and his friend Scott Hutchinson from Frightened Rabbit and I was talking about losing my friend and comedian Jeremy Hardy.

We talked about how it was a strange thing to be friends with someone that you miss but then also being bombarded with public bereavement of a public figure, and the interest of all of that. I think the songs, if people read that they would be about grief, loss, that the record would be a downer or something. We really wanted it to be a comfort, solace and to have an uplifting quality to it about, this is how we carry on.

Q: Songs on the album are being described as warm, heartfelt and cheerful. Was this an active approach to help people resonate with the lyrics, but not have the music matching the lyrical content?

Yeah, in a way, but the lyrics have got a solace and things as well. ‘Our Best‘, the chorus is “we will just have to do our best without you” and it’s that, sort of, pulling together as friends. Our friendship and getting to know each other and then going in the studio with lots of people, there was a joyful element of writing and playing. It wasn’t geared around anything to do with a career or a plan to take over the world. It was just a bunch of people writing and playing songs together and getting comfort and joy from that, really.

Q: You got funding from Creative Scotland which allowed you to work with people like Graeme from Arab Strap and Chris from Belle & Sebastian. Did you work a lot directly with them?

The joy of Dan getting the funding application was that we got to work with some of our heroes on the Scottish music scene. So we had Rod Jones from Idlewild, he made the record, engineered and produced it. As you say, Graeme Smillie from Arab Strap, and Chris [Geddes] from Belle & Sebastian, and Louis Abbott who is the lead singer and songwriter from Admiral Fallow actually played drums for us. Then King Creosote, Kenny, who is really good friends with Dan. Pete Harvey [Modern Studies] played cello, Kris Drever [Lau] played guitar. I mean, it was just a dream come true, really, to get these amazing players to come into the studio and play all over our songs.

Q: What was it like working with them?

It was just lovely. I’ve worked with Graeme [Smillie] before, we’d done all the Kate Bush stuff, the big shows in the past in Glasgow and Aberdeen. I know a lot of people on the music scene. I’m friends with Kathryn Joseph…and Emma Pollock, I’ve more friends in the Scottish music scene than anywhere, just because they’re the best!

Q: What’s next for you? Can we look forward to even more collaborative work like this joint album with Dan from the Withered Hand?

I’m sort of a serial collaborator. I made a Christmas album with [former] Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. I did an album that went with a novel from novelist Laura Barton. And I’ve done a jazz album with a vibraphone jazz player called Anthony Kerr. I write songs with artists around the world, I’ve just done an album with Ed Harcourt for this artist Peter Jöback in Sweden. So, I love writing with people and I don’t feel the need to, sort of, say that it’s all my work. I learn so much writing and playing with other people and it’s been an absolute joy making this record with Dan. Dan and I were already talking in the car the other day about how we’d like to write again together.

Q: Do you think you get more from a collaborative process?

Well I’ve been making records now for 25 years and I’ve got recorded my next solo album that’s coming out next year. But in order for me not to make the same record over and over, and to learn and to grow, to think of other people’s ways of making stuff. I just think it’s a really good way, I think everyone should have a go of writing with different people.