The first song I heard by Harlem’s Lynette Williams is “Light” and it blew me away, sparse, beautifully constructed, a deeply-felt indie/folk ballad and her voice, good God man, it still stops me in my tracks every time. Since then I’ve listened to everything I can find by her, she’s just pure class. She even does a breath-taking version of “King Of Carrot Flowers”, one of my favourite tunes ever. She’s playing in London soon – Nov 20th in The Islington and Nov 27 Servant Jazz Quarters– if you’re nearby you’d be a fool not to check out her show. In the meantime, I was delighted when she did a wee interview with us (she’s not bad with a camera either). She talks formative years, some of her favourite artists and politics. Check it out, she’s gonna be huge.
When did your musical journey begin?
Good question … I started ballet and violin when I was three. Both of those outlets served as a means of expression but it wasn’t until I was 14 and I picked up my sister’s guitar that music became what it is to me now. Before, I sang but guitar allowed me to write and put into words my thoughts and feelings.
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
I think I had a musical transformative experience when I heard Donny Hathaway’s, “A Song For You” for the first time. It’s nostalgic and emotive, pensive and profound. His voice does every note and every word so much justice. He moved me so deeply I would put his record on repeat just to try to understand how something so poetic and sublime could have been created.
What is your favorite song that you’ve written and why?
My favorite song changes with time but I’d say most recently “Light” has been my favorite. It came out of a break up which took me longer than the actual relationship lasted to put into words what I felt and what I needed to say.
I’d loved before our story, but I had never remained in love after a relationship was done. It was a new experience one where I knew for the rest of my life I would love this person but that’d we’d never be together again – at least in this lifetime. I mourned the death of our story yet found solace in the depth of my love for them. My love was almost like proof, it was so deep I knew it was real. I could understand that my feelings weren’t superficial or even circumstantial. Because even when it was over they had and will always have a piece of my soul.
Your voice is astonishing – have you had vocal training?
Yes! In high school I was blessed with the best vocal teacher I ever met. Her name is Vivian. She changed everything for me.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?
Maybe Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice. It’s irony, and sarcasm, with honesty, and vulnerability. It sums up the passing of a love story — the kind that leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth.
What artist(s) has been your biggest influence and in what way?
When I went to college I was introduced to Dylan, Nina Simone, The Strokes, The Beach Boys, even Amy Winehouse. They all shared this uncanny gift of delivery. The way they delivered their songs was so powerful – it was beyond technical skill – it was the mastery of their artistic truth. They shaped me vastly. I realized for me, more than the musical skill one has, the importance lies within one’s ability to sing and speak their truth. These artists for me do just that.
Name a song that makes you happy and why does it have that effect?
“This Must Be The Place” for sure.
What’s the best new band you’ve heard recently?
Chris Stapleton definitely.
What is exciting you on the NYC music scene?
Hmmm. My friends. Hah, does that count?
How are you feeling about the political situation there at the moment?
Terrified. Angry. Vexed. Motivated. Sad. Outraged. Indignant. Committed.
Do you think artists have social responsibilities at times like these?
I want to say yes because art is such a gift and I think it should be used for good and social influence. I believe art and crime to be two of the best reflections of society. So it is paramount that artists understand the profound impact their work has on our culture.At the same time, freedom allows artist that right to choose. I don’t agree with people’s choice to stay silent or not take a stand but I suppose those who are brave enough to risk it must speak louder than the deafening silence of those who would say nothing at all.History has proven the utter danger in silence.
What’s your idea of success?
I’d say that it’s finding one’s purpose and living that purpose. We are given different passions and gifts and within these I believe we are given a distinct and imperative mission – be it a mother, doctor, artist, speaker, professor, researcher, inventor, dancer, writer, or something else – if we do what calls to us we inherently help the world in return. There’s so much strength and power in knowing that when we leave this world [wherever we may go] that you were part of it, gave to it, and helped make it better. To me living one’s purpose, is what gives life it’s meaning.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are and what would your answer be?
Another good question …. Maybe what I think happens when we die …. And I would say I don’t know but isn’t that exciting.
When can we expect new music from you?
Ha! Another good question! I think in the next 3 – 6 months. And an album in about a year.
Lynette also sent us a rather wonderful photo which we’ll be hanging in the gallery soon. Thanks Lynette!