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Kathryn Williams - discussing the tracks of Relations


Compiled by: Jack Foley

IN talking about the motivations behind her covers album, Relations, singer, Kathyrn Williams states that she did it to help her fall in love with music again.

"The follow-up to Old Low Light was ready to be recorded, but I was feeling cynical and I didn’t want to take that into the studio with me," she explains.

Hence, Williams went through some of her old, favourite records, and gave them a self-satisfying makeover, taking in everything from Nirvana’s All Apologies, to Neil Young’s Birds.

And the result is actually quite surprising, especially given the fact that Williams’ vocal style is a million miles from the husky, grunge-like tones of Kurt Cobain and co.

Even she confesses, herself, that ‘some of the songs that ended up on the album came as a surprise’, but concedes that ‘songs just choose you sometimes, without any apparent reason’.

"It’s like with friends - you can’t define why your relationships work, you just connect with some people."

Here, Williams takes us through the inspirations behind some of the choices.

In A Broken Dream (David Bentley)

This was originally by Python Lee Jackson and I’d never heard it before Stephen gave me a copy of it and said why don’t you have a go at this. I listened to it and thought, ‘are you mad? This isn’t me at all." Then I played it with Dave and Laura and found it amazing that someone else knew what would suit me better than I did myself. It just seemed to work for us, straight off.

Birds (Neil Young)

Neil Young wrote this one and it’s on After The Gold Rush, which is a great album. I think he’s an amazing writer - there are loads of songs by him that would be great to do. He’s such a man’s man, but at the same time he writes with such tenderness and feeling.
I think this version is a really good example of the way I try to do things. It’s a band doing as little as possible for maximum effect. Laura’s cello part is probably a total of about six seconds long, but that’s all it needs.

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

Leonard Cohen is a genius and a hero of mine. When I first started writing songs I sent him a letter and a tape. I sent it to Mount Baldy, which is a Buddhist retreat, and said if he didn’t have a stereo there he could take it to a shop! How embarrassing. I hope he never got it.
I’ve been singing this song ever since I started playing in front of other people and recorded a version of this on the mini-album I put out before Dog Leap Stairs. I did 50CDRs and painted each of the covers individually. It took me days, but I sold some and bought myself a nice bottle of wine as a treat.
This version was recorded at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on the hottest day of last Summer. We loved the gig and I’m so glad we recorded it. We did Hallelujah as an encore; the heat of the day had finally gone and it was as if everyone was basking in coolness. I can’t tell you how perfect that time and place were…
I’m not trained to sing at all and sometimes, when my voice comes out of me, I’m as surprised as anyone. When we finished, I opened my eyes and people were clapping and I was kind of surprised at where I was. I had been completely in the song before that. I love it when that happens.

The ballad of easy rider (Roger McGuinn)

This was originally recorded by The Byrds, but that’s not the version I know. Neil brought home his teenage LPs from his sister’s house and this song is on Camper Van Chadborne, by Eugene Chadbourne and Camper Van Beethoven. It’s a brilliantly chaotic and touching track on a very chaotic album.

Candy Says (Lou Reed)

I love the Velvet Underground, especially the third album. They're one of my all-time favourite bands.
I like the idea that the original is about a transsexual (I think), but when a woman sings the song it gives it a different meaning and changes it into a story about how it can feel to be a woman in the world. I love the way the chorus is both upbeat and despairing at the same time.
I wanted to do Pale Blue Eyes from the Velvet's third album, but when we tried it, it just didn't work for us. It's a perfect example of how a song can choose you, rather than the other way around.
Doing a version of someone else's song isn't always about what you like or what a certain song says about you, it can be about just happening upon a song that fits you in some way.

How Can We Hang on to a Dream (Tim Hardin)

Tim Hardin is so overlooked, but he's easily as good as, say, Tim Buckley or Nick Drake. He was an amazing writer and performer; I find the live recordings very exciting.
We were going to do a fairly straight version of this. I think the instrumentation of the original is lovely as it is, and it's a natural one for my band, but somewhere along the line it changed completely.

I Started A Joke (Gibb brothers)

I heard this somewhere and loved it, but didn't know who the original was by. I was surprised when I found out it was the Bee Gees.
It surprises me that so many people have covered it, because it's such a quirky song - it's an odd shape and strange subject matter, but it works and has touched a lot of people enough to make them want to cover it.
That's what the writers are really good at, I think, observing little thoughts or situations and translating them into something more universally understood.

All Apologies (Krt Cobain)

I already knew the song, but it would never have occurred to me to do a Nirvana song. They're very hard songs to sing because Kurt Cobain's vocals are so distinctive and unique.
Our version started out quite simple, but the song kept on demanding more. The strings are so melodramatic on this - I love them.
The original is quite snaring and angry, and I think this version's dark in its own different way. It's kind of sinister, but has a kind of lightness about it.

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