An Interview with Tessy Lou Williams

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Song Premiere: Tessy Lou Williams' 'Mountain Time in Memphis'

I’ve mentioned before that I was late to the party when it comes to Country music. What do you expect- I’m from New York. I did live in Kentucky for about a year, and also very briefly in Tennessee, but it was actually just before then that I began to warm up to Country. First it was Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and a few other classics, but what really opened me up to the genre was the music of Chris Knight, but that’s a story for another article (or interview). Anyway, as time has gone on, I’ve really grown to enjoy the genre, and this past year or two, I’ve discovered some new and incredible artists that I feel will be pushing the genre forward. In my opinion, Tessy Lou Williams is one of those artists. Her music was one of the pleasant surprises of 2020 for me, and continues to be in 2021. If you’re interested in learning more about Tessy Lou Williams and her music, you can head over to her website here. While you’re there, consider picking up a copy of her debut solo album, Tessy Lou Williams, which is available on both vinyl and CD. That’s it for me, for now. This is a fun one. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Tessy Lou, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Tessy Lou:
It sure has been a weird year, in so many ways! Honestly, I’ve been spending a lot of this past year working. Before we left Texas, I was working at a daycare 5 days a week, and trying to continue doing our Sunday shows by doing a live stream. Once June hit, we headed up to Montana (where I’m originally from) to do our annual summer trip up there. We were only supposed to be up here for a couple of months, but with everything going on, it made sense to stay up here. So, we just recently made the move back up here while things get figured out in the world a bit. I’ve been staying pretty busy up here. I have a few jobs that have maintained through all the regulations and I’ve been pretty busy keeping up with my newly released album and trying to keep some live streams going.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. Where did you grow up? How did you get into music?


Tessy Lou:
I was born in Bozeman, MT to my parents Kenny and Claudia Williams. They met in Nashville back in the 80s and formed the band Montana Rose, which they were able to have as their only source of income raising my two siblings and I. I grew up in a small town, Willow Creek, MT (population approximately 200) and went through Kindergarten through my senior year at the school there. My parents had all of us kids take music lessons throughout our youth, starting with piano. Then my sister and I took cello lessons and my brother took bass. I played several instruments in school band but picked up the guitar on my own. That was my solo, private passion. I began playing in my bedroom and teaching myself chords off online tablatures. I’d always been a writer. I’d been writing short stories since I was about 12, and once I began playing the guitar, those stories started to transform in my head as songs. Songwriting became a kind of diary for me and as I learned new chords and new styles of playing, my writing skills began to form even greater. Long story longer, I was born into music in every possible way!

Andrew:
Coming up as an artist, who have been some of your biggest influences?

Tessy Lou:
I think it goes without saying that my parents were my greatest influence. Even without me knowing, I was being shaped into the musician I am today. As I started to work my way through the music business, I realized I knew a lot more than I thought I did. Don’t get me wrong, I still had A LOT to learn, but I wasn’t as blind to it all as I could have been. Other than my parents, I think my influences are numberless. I grew up with a love of all genres of music. I was raised around some incredible musicians and writers, and I had no idea how cool that was as a child! Kevin Welch, Kostas, Chris Wall, Sonny Throckmorton, Mike Ward, Carl Jackson…these were just a small list of the names that were thrown around my house on a regular basis. To me they were just family friends, and it wasn’t until I started pursuing my own musical career that I realized just how special all of it really was. There are so many people who influenced me as an artist without any of us being aware at the time.

Press Kit + Bio + Social Media - Tessy Lou Williams & The Shotgun Stars

Andrew:
In 2020, you released your debut record, Tessy Lou Williams. Tell us more about the story of your debut record. What was the inspiration? How was the recording process? Are you happy with the result?

Tessy Lou:
I will try my hardest to keep this as short as possible, haha. There is a lot to say about each of those topics! When I began my journey, I was joined by my dad (bass), Bryan Paugh (fiddle) and Mike Singer (banjo) and together we formed Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars. We played around Montana from the end of 2008 until the end of 2010, mostly in the beloved Pony Bar in Pony, Montana. I knew I needed to move to either Nashville or Austin to pursue my career in music, so in 2010 dad, Bryan and I made the move to Austin. We spent the next 10 years playing all over Texas, other parts of the country, even traveling overseas a few times. We always knew I would eventually make the move to a solo career, but I had always had the safety net of these guys, and it was really hard to break away from that. They were my family and they had been with me through it all, since the beginning. I began making solo travels to Nashville in 2016 to network and co-write. I was terrified to branch out on my own, but I knew I needed to do this part on my own. I very quickly reconnected with a lot of the people my parents had known since their time in Nashville and I made new connections of my own. I grew very comfortable with the city a lot faster than I had expected I would, which made me more comfortable with the move into my solo career. I began working with Luke Wooten, a name I had great respect for and a very full circle relationship with through my parent’s history in the music business. We discussed the vibe for the album, the songs I already had, the songs I was looking to write and the musicians I wanted to play on the solo album. I had formed relationships with some of the writers I admired the most (Jerry Salley, Carl Jackson, Leslie Satcher, Larry Cordle…the list goes on) and the songs came out with such ease; I was over the moon excited to share them with the world. Once we had the songs picked out and the musicians lined up, we went into the studio. To say I was amazed at the talent in that studio would be a vast understatement. I have been blessed to play with the best of the best musicians throughout my career, and these guys were NO exception. I was literally in shock when I walked out after our first day of recording. I always love hearing my songs come to life in the studio, and this time I could feel it in every fiber of my being, I was already beyond proud of this record and we had only just begun. That feeling only grew as we added the background vocals and the rest of the instruments. I couldn’t imagine this record being any better than it came out. I am so extremely proud of this album, and I’m so proud of and grateful for everyone who helped me create it.

Andrew:
As a songwriter, where do you draw inspiration from? Are your songs intensely personal, or are you kind of just telling stories, so to speak?

Tessy Lou:
I definitely draw my inspiration from a personal space. I’ve always tried to keep my music very honest and personal, mainly because I believe listening to music should be a very personal experience. The connection between the listener and the artist is the most important part of sharing music with people, in my opinion. So, whether I’m choosing to sing about a personal experience of my own, someone I’m close to, or a combination of the two, you can guarantee that I’ve felt that experience myself. That’s why it’s so special to me when someone can relate to one or multiples of my songs. It is a bond that you can’t force. It’s a true human connection with someone I may know or may never meet in my life.

Andrew:
I understand that very early on in your career you had some pretty serious stage fright. Is that true? How did you overcome it?

Tessy Lou:
The stage fright was a SERIOUS problem for me for a long time. Through all of my music recitals as a child into high school, performing in front of people (particularly by myself) was absolutely terrifying. I would get shaky, my stomach would churn, I’d feel like throwing up or passing out…or both! My parents asked me to get up to sing at a Christmas party they played and normally I would be too shy and say no. This time, I said yes. I had just left college and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was 19 with no direction and a book full of songs. I think part of me just figured, “Why not? What have I got to lose?” Plus, my parents offered me $100 to get up on their set and I needed the money! I think the combination of everything caused me to get up there, but once I did, I realized I wasn’t quite as terrified as I normally would have been. It was still scary, but it just felt easier; it felt right. That was my awakening, really, all I needed to make it clear to me that music was my calling, after all. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever overcome stage fright. I still feel it every time I get up in front of people. Intimate settings are the scariest times, I think because you feel so exposed. People REALLY pay close attention in those kinds of settings. But, I’d be lying if I said large crowds didn’t scare me too! I think I’ve just gotten more accustomed to it over the years. I’ve learned tricks on the stage to help me breathe through the fear and I truly think having a level of fear every time you put yourself out like that is completely normal and healthy. I feel like the fear means I care about the result of the performance and that it’s kind of a little voice in my head saying, “This is important to you, do us proud!”

Tessy Lou Williams Reveals True Desperation in Country, Gospel Style Song  “Why Do I Still Want You”

Andrew:
Tell us where we can pick up a copy of your debut and what formats it will be on.

Tessy Lou:
My album, both vinyl and CD are available on my website (Tessylouwilliams.com) along with the original two Tessy Lou and the ShotgunStars albums (CD only). It is available on all streaming devices as well. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can drive up to the Pony Bar in Pony, MT and get yourself a copy there!

Andrew:
Switching gears a bit now. What are a few things within the industry that you would like to see change for the better?

Tessy Lou:
The music business is an ever changing industry, except for maybe one thing: pay for live performances. As an artist who performs a lot of live shows (well, except during times of a pandemic) there is a lot of misconception on what “proper” pay for a band is. We are still making practically the same as musicians were making back in the 70s. While the cost of living goes up, our pay stays the same. I understand there are a lot of factors that go into hiring a musician and being hired as one, but it can be a little defeating when people cringe at the price you give for your time and your art. Most of us spend our lives perfecting our shows, songs and lifestyle. We put our hours in just like any other profession and yet we are treated, at times, like it’s just our hobby. I, and many others, have bled, sweat and cried throughout our journeys. We have given up many things that to others is just normalcy. In fact, normalcy is probably the greatest thing we have given up. Yes, that was our choice in choosing this path, but we still put in a HUGE amount of effort to bring ya’ll our craft. That being said, I think I can speak for most of us in saying how grateful for the listener’s support we are! We literally couldn’t do what we do without the continued support from ya’ll, it truly means the world to us!

Andrew:
As I am sure you are aware, women are vastly underrepresented within themusic and recording industry. What are your thoughts on that? How do we close the gap?

Tessy Lou:
I honestly feel like the gap is already on its way to being closed. I have been seeing more and more women represented all over the place. I have been ecstatic to see how many women are actually popping up on the charts all over the place. Change takes time. I feel like this has been an issue for long enough that people have been actively working on closing that gap and we are now just starting to see some results. I believe that just continuing to honestly support the artist you believe in is a very important part of it! Putting a little more effort into pushing your favorite artists (male or female) really does make a difference!

About the Band + Country Music + Singer + Songwriter - Tessy Lou

Andrew:
As an artist, what are you trying to convey with your music? Is there a through line? Does each song exist within a singular universe that you’ve created or does everything take on a life of its own?

Tessy Lou:
When I’m writing a song, I don’t think about a “through line” exactly. When I write, I’ve got a particular thought in mind, but since I write from such personal experiences, I guess the line is ME. What I try to convey is that, myself and my life. Though I’ve got an active imagination, I tend to write with more honesty when I sing a song. I want to be able to get into that head space to properly convey the message of each song. I guess in the end, the most important thing I want people to get out of my music is that “you are not alone.” We all have something in common. We’ve all been heartbroken, we’ve all been treated as expendable, we’ve all felt unworthy and unloved. Those are the feelings that are the hardest to handle. I, personally, love listening to sad songs to make me feel better because I can then know that someone else has been through a similar situation and that I’m NOT alone. Music is magical, it’s powerful and it’s necessary!

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Tessy Lou:
I am really passionate about my family and friends. Making them proud in my career, but being there for them all as much as possible is really important to me. It’s been a tough battle sometimes when the two things collide, but knowing I have their support and knowing they have mine is really important. Being that my music is very from-the-heart, they definitely influence my music. Growing up in Montana has had such an influence on my music as well. I had the space to create my own musical style, both literally and figuratively. Montana will always be the most special place to me. It’s my home and it is where I’ll always be able to find what I’m searching for.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Tessy Lou:
I’m into all forms! I love a good record party, ANYTIME! I have a ton of CDs that I will listen to in my truck mostly. My truck has a cassette deck I’ve been too afraid to put anything into, but my dad recently did and it works perfectly! So, I’ll likely be buying more cassettes soon, haha. I even found my old Walkman when we were moving! I might bring that thing back in style here in Montana. I do listen to most music on digital. It has become the easiest way to have music at my fingertips, but if I’m going to buy music, I would rather buy it from the artist themselves. There is not much money made in streaming and I can attest that actual hard copy sales from the artist really make a financial difference!

Tessy Lou Williams Keeps it Country as Hell on Self-Titled Solo Debut  (ALBUM REVIEW) - Glide Magazine

Andrew:
What are a few artists/albums that mean the most to you and why?

Tessy Lou:
Questions like this are always so hard for me, mostly because my taste in music ranges all over the map. I have so much respect for so many different artists from the ages, it’s really difficult for me to pick and choose, haha. My parents will always be special to me, not just because they are my parents, but Montana Rose was the building block of my life. They had a great band and they made some incredible albums over the years! Other than them, it really is an endless list. At different times of my life different albums have meant different things to me. There are the artists and albums that have been there for me in the funnest times of my life and those that have gotten me through the worst. Albums from friends of mine that I am beyond proud of them for, knowing the hard work they’ve put into it, being inspired by their passion. To write a list of any kind would be unfair, because I know I’d forget to name some of the most special to me.

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 finally passes, what’s next for you as an artist?

Tessy Lou:
I cannot WAIT to get back to touring!!! I’m really hoping that once this is all over, I can utilize some of my newly-found fanbase and tour more all over the world. I really miss traveling and sharing my music with a larger listening audience. Until then, I’m going to keep doing what I can to get back to that point. I would really like to do another album in the next couple of years, but I feel like this one still has some room and I don’t want to rush into the next one, no matter how much I may want to.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just getting their start?

Tessy Lou:
Mostly I will say this: “Don’t give up.” It’s a difficult career path in a lot of ways, but the beauty of it will always outweigh the bad. Stay honest to your craft because it is you. It’s your heart and your soul and if you start to compromise that, you could lose your love for it. Don’t give up and keep doing you. And breathe, breathe a lot and know that even in the worst times, it will get better. You are following your heart by taking this journey on from the beginning, don’t stop!

Press Kit + Bio + Social Media - Tessy Lou Williams & The Shotgun Stars

Interested in sampling the music of Tessy Lou Williams? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Andrew has always loved writing, music, drumming and collecting music on CD, tape and vinyl. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing over 3,000 albums in under two years, he knew it was time to finally follow his dream of being a music journalist, and thus, Vinyl Writer was born.

Andrew’s not only the go-to friend for music trivia, but his intricate knowledge of the ins and outs of the music industry allows him to develop engaging questions that really tap into each artist and individual to deliver insightful and enjoyable interviews. He’s proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts.

Andrew lives on Long Island, NY, with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie and Kevin. Andrew’s collection of over 4,700 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of his passion for all that is music. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Tessy Lou Williams

  1. Tessy Lou is a great talent. So happy for her. I had the opportunity of being able to to see Montana Rose perform for 30 years. I watched their family grow up as they were at their performances many times. Tessy is as genuine as the come. That is the way she was raised. There is no doubt that her future is very bright!!

    1. Thank you so much Bob for this lovely comment. It’s so wonderful that you got to see Montana Rose perform so many times. It was a pleasure reading how much her parents’ band meant to Tessy Lou in this interview. We genuinely enjoy her music, and we hope the world starts to catch on too. She’s a wonderful person and we’re so fortunate to have the pleasure to get to know her more through this lovely interview. Thanks for popping by and stay safe!

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