Jess Williamson

Sun, May 6, 2018

Doors: 8:30 pm / Show: 9:15 pm

Great Scott

Allston, MA

$12 advance / $14 day of show

This event is 18 and over

Tickets available at AXS.COM, or by phone at 855-482-2090. No service charge on tickets purchased in person at the Great Scott box office seven days a week 12PM-1AM, or at The Sinclair Box Office (Cambridge, MA) Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-7PM. Please note: Great Scott box office is cash only.

Loma’s self-titled debut reveals a band obsessed with songs as sound. There are endless details to discover here, stoked by the album’s urgent and searching lyrical themes (exquisitely delivered by the translucent voice of Emily Cross); and on headphones, the album feels both intimate and expansive, like casting your eyes over a detailed painting on a vast canvas.

It’s also the product of a joint pilgrimage around the globe by fellow touring musicians. Jonathan Meiburg is best known as the singer of Shearwater; Cross and the multi-instrumentalist and engineer Dan Duszynski form Cross Record, originally from Chicago. They met through Ben Goldberg (of Badabing! records, who helped launch the careers of Tune-Yards, Beirut, and Sharon Van Etten), who sent Meiburg Cross Record’s 2015 album Wabi-Sabi, which led to the two bands traveling together across America and Europe throughout Shearwater’s 2016 tour for Jet Plane and Oxbow, often crammed into the same van. The tour was Cross Record’s first, but Meiburg was shocked by their maturity and confidence. “I couldn’t believe all that sound was coming out of two people,” he says. “They had their own world, their own rules, and they slayed every night. They were mesmerizing.”

While in the van or at soundchecks, they shared their musical knowledge and love of nature and animals. “I think Jonathan is one of the most special people we’ve ever met,” says Cross. “It’s hard not to like him. He has such a curious mind.” And after an especially memorable show in Belgium, Meiburg approached Cross and Duszynski about working together. “I fell in love with their music,” he admits, “and I wanted to know how they did it.”

They convened for two weeks in the house outside Austin where Cross Record recorded Wabi-Sabi to see what would happen, recording “Joy”, the gorgeously ambivalent “I Don’t Want Children”, and the beginnings of five more songs. An album seemed surprisingly imminent. “There was something special about the combination of the three of us,” Meiburg says, “and very different from either of our bands. But I think we were afraid to say so out loud, for fear of jinxing it.”

For the next few months, they convened for two weeks at a time, shaping new songs and casting away others. It was a strangely charged time, not least because when the album began, Cross and Duszynski were a married couple, but their relationship came to an end during the sessions—an atmosphere Meiburg found challenging but strangely inspiring. “There was no drama where I was concerned,” he recalls, “and I didn’t really know what was happening; but there was an unspoken feeling of urgency, and a sense that a big change was coming for all of us, and I think we all tried to channel that into the work.” The house was out in the country, off a dirt road, surrounded by the sounds of birds and wind; and it seemed like a world of its own—full of joy, fear, and heartbreak.

The place itself became the album’s muse. “I got sort of obsessed with capturing every sound inside and outside the house,” recalls Meiburg. (“Remember the whippoorwills?” asks Cross; Meiburg doesn’t know offhand if they made it into the album or not). From the cicadas and frogs of “Relay Runner” to the whooshes of wind and leaves on “White Glass” and “Black Willow”, Loma often sounds as if you’re not so much listening to it as living inside it. “The ‘dog solo’ on ‘Sun Dogs’ is one of my favorite moments,” Meiburg says; “and I remember Emily making a drum out of the cast-iron pot we cooked breakfast in. There were no rules; nobody was the designated drummer, or the bass player, or the guitarist. This freedom from their usual roles gave the trio a fresh rulebook to invent from. “Jonathan’s melodies were so different from the ones I’d choose,” says Cross. “He has a rich knowledge of songwriting. My approach is more unrefined and experimental, and it created a strong balance.”

Meiburg had never written for someone else before. “What a relief!” he laughs. “I was scared at first, but I tried to project myself into things I imagined Emily might say, or sing, or think—and in the end we landed on a voice that’s not quite her—but it’s not me either.” Cross, meanwhile, found a freedom in singing someone else’s words. “Usually vocals are scary for me,” she says, “but since I didn’t feel like I had to present entirely as myself, I felt open to doing things I wouldn’t normally do.” The album became a place where buried thoughts and energies found expression; Cross wrung catharsis from Meiburg’s lyrics and melodies while Duszynski buried himself in the sonic details of engineering and mixing (and conjured up some catharsis of his own in the hammering drums of “Dark Oscillations”).

The process also helped Cross locate a voice she’d never found before. While tracking “I Don’t Want Children,” her vocals were accidentally recorded at the wrong speed, and when played back, they were pitched slightly lower and slower than normal, yielding a voice that was recognizably hers, but deeper and more coarse-grained—a sound she decided to use for the rest of the album.

This sense of discovery extends to the listener; at times, Loma almost seems to be listening to you. But it doesn’t sound small, or hushed; “Dark Oscillations” and “Jornada” have a gritty, futuristic grandeur, and there’s also the loping groove of “Relay Runner”, the galloping euphoria of “Joy”, and the resolutely ambiguous choir of “Black Willow.” “The album is a journey,” muses Meiburg, “but we didn’t know where we were going until we arrived.” The journey’s end came with a surprising lesson. “It’s about having to let some precious things go,” Meiburg says, “so that new ones can take their place.”
Jess Williamson
Jess Williamson
A few years back, Jess Williamson returned home to her native Texas to reconsider everything and rethink the direction of her life. It was that about-face that gave her the security and solitude, the inspiration, needed to create 2014’s highly acclaimed debut album, Native State.

But that was two years ago.

Williamson’s sophomore album, Heart Song, questions the structures of support inherent in the comforts of home and showcases the rare kind of artistry that is the hardest to achieve after early success: change.

The opening song, “Say It”, eases the listener into a groove before the song cracks open and floods the landscape with squall and noise and thunder; announcing that Heart Song is not the same album as it’s predecessor, that this work is not only the next logical step in Williamson’s evolution, it is also a leap forward for her as an artist.

On the album’s centerpiece and title track Williamson wonders aloud, “Will I grow into my body?” but no one listening to her music, her poetry, will doubt her growth.

Is freedom really nothing left to lose?
Is freedom something that I have?
Something that I have, with you?
You’ve got the phases of the moon to blame
But I am a slave to a part of my heart
Nameless and untamed,
My Heart

The seventh and final song, “Devil’s Girl,” closes out the album with a step back, just close vocals and quiet guitar, and we are reminded again of the essence of what makes Williamson such a phenomenal artist: her ability to tap into the universal. “Yesterday I was on the phone with a woman with my mother’s name/ Offering to meet me halfway between here and St. Louis /And I saw again the intimacy that comes between/ Strangers with stakes in the same crisis.” The song is a meditation and a restorative close to an extraordinary album.

Heart Song was recorded direct to tape in Austin, TX by Erik Wofford (The Black Angels, Bill Callahan) at Cacophany Studios and by the band in Jess’s house. It was mixed by Larry Crane (Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power) at Jackpot Recording in Portland, OR. The album is out November 4th on Williamson’s own imprint, Brutal Honest, and is distributed worldwide via Kartel.

Heart Song Tracklist:
1. "Say It"
2. "White Bed”
3. “Heart Song”
4. “Snake Song”
5. “See You In A Dream”
6. “Last Word”
7. “Devil’s Girl”

“Its ghostly instrumentation and measured pace distort your sense of time in a manner similar to stark classics like Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain.” Pitchfork

"The Austin singer-songwriter might be heir to the Karen Dalton throne." The FADER

“Though a lot of this material might come from a damaged place, by foregrounding that, a defiant perseverance shines through on Heart Song. Williamson isn't revelling in self-pity — rather, by carving out her insides, she demonstrates agency, action and an embittered sense of hope.” Exclaim!

"A voice in the vicinity of Cat Power or Karen Dalton, intimate and husky, as if lit by candlelight." Mojo 4*s

“Her songs recall a feminine independence, with her eyes toward the open landscape, and the ability to survive whatever life throws her way.” The Le Sigh

“Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say—or play—that matters. In the case of Jess Williamson, it’s the vacancies that lend tension and texture to her lonesome, weather-beaten take on confessional songwriting.” MAGNET

“…a piercing, insightful collection of songs that incorporates the arid, sparse landscape of the Texas desert she calls home and creates a beautiful unresolved tension as she fights becoming too comfortable in it.” Stereogum

"Bare-boned country-gothic confessionals full of ruined romance, self-lacerating depression and regret." Uncut

“…her bracing sophomore record, Heart Song, another seven-track album that sees Williamson mapping out her emotions as if she’s trying to discover the place where they originated.” NYLON

"In turns stark and musically lush, hugely imaginative and yet entirely direct, the record seems to effortlessly move past her debut.” CLASH

“The woman herself seems like an enigma, a talented writer and incredible musician wrapped in one…" IMPOSE

“Williamson harnesses an intimacy with this record, like she’s laying amidst tousled sheets, guitar in hand, just singing to herself. It’s hyper sensitive and bodily, urgent but subtle. Even the album cover, with Williamson drenched in sunlight, implies vulnerability.” No Depression

“…it feels almost wildly evocative; noir-like fairytales of the human psyche that feel potently authentic.” Gold Flake Paint

“Jess Williamson has a voice like a flame, now flickering in darkness, now flaring up into a blinding sheet of fire. It’s a voice that trembles but not in fear, rather in an up-to-the-brim helping of emotion; the sheer force of her feeling bends these quiet songs into surreal crescendos of longing and sorrow.” BLURT

"The mix, mic'ed close and buzzing with room tone, puts us too close. There's the rasp of her guitar strings, the sound of her thumb pads working the bass strings, and her hood-eyed glare: "Somebody there takes your vitals conveniently while you're on the phone with me/Well that's what I call fucking timing." It's all too close, and it's transfixing." Pitchfork

"Jess Williamson, the Texas songstress who sings with the dusky manner of the singer-songwriter Lissie and the parched tone of the long-lost Karen Dalton." The Toronto Globe and Mail

"Her haunting singing voice, which twinges and aches throughout, infuses those tales with emotion that is at once unnerving and soothing." PASTE

"Its title track, with folksy banjo, bass and a gripping middle section of mostly voice, feels a bit like a homecoming waiting to come, ending memorably with "When you’re gone, you’ll be tattooed under mountains on my arm," a mournful line like something out of Scott McLanahan’s latest elegy to Appalachia." The FADER

"Replete with morose fingerpicking, an Appalachian twang, and husky vocals reminiscent of Karen Dalton…" IMPOSE

"Jess Williamson knows a thing or two about painting a picture with her music—after all, she moonlights as a photographer in her hometown of Austin." MAGNET

"Like Joanna Newsom sans the shrill, her stripped sound and vocal vulnerability evoke a stark intimacy on this impressive offering." Austin Monthly

“It's a spare, personal experience that often finds Williamson with the simple accompaniment of a single instrument.” NPR’s World Cafe

“…this album comes across as a calm intake of a cleansing breath.” No Depression

“Minimal, throbbing banjo and electric guitar serve as the bed for Williamson’s Leonard Cohen-meets-Lorde confessionals. It’s easy to see her continuing in the footsteps of one-time Austin resident Joanna Newsom.” Dazed

“All of Williamson's songs have an ominous tension, like a dark cloud that threatens but never brings the relief of rain.” Pitchfork

“The Austin, Texas singer-songwriter Jess Williamson makes haunted, foreboding folk music…” Stereogum
Venue Information:
Great Scott
1222 Commonwealth Avenue
Allston, MA, 02134