Interview // Musician Reva Williams / by Spirited Magazine

Spirited #2 [Cloak and Dagger]
Interview with Reva Williams
by Amanda Maciel Antunes

Reva Williams is the kind of woman that makes you feel a bit unbalanced inside, not just because she’s a beautiful, captivating front woman; she has an energy that beats down your door and insists you come out and feel what she feels. Her intensity is genuine, her motivation is sincere, and her live shows are an unadulterated display of raw talent. From the church choir as a girl to the bar rafters as a woman, she has bellowed redemption and shame, the dripping knife of murder, the mother’s embrace of forgiveness.

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Your outlook on music and the arts and how you choose to live your life and make art is truly inspiring. I mean ever since I met you my whole outlook has changed on how I see the world and how I treat people, honestly! I thank you for that. Where would you say your drive and inspiration comes from?

R. I don’t know that I always felt that way. I think that a lot of times in my life I tried not to cultivate actually the things that I wanted to cultivate because they possibly weren’t valuable? You know how you knew you wanted to be in Fashion and had been honoring that part of yourself in the very since you were a teenager right?

Yes.

R. And for me, music and theater and …writing, all of that seemed to me in the environment that I was raised, church evangelicalism, not valued very much, the only thing that was valued was church work. So I feel like I had this secret self, leaving these feelings out in the open. Doing them in a way that, I felt I wasn’t supposed to love them, that I wasn’t supposed to be getting other people to feel something, because of my performance. So I came around in taking my work seriously later, mid or late twenties, and it’s something I can’t really take for granted and have to be really intentional about it and cultivate this whole other way in looking at the world which said that all I was doing didn’t matter. So, in some ways I think that it helps to be a little bit more present to my work, cause I feel that I have to justify what I do all the time, so I had to really do a ton of work just to defend myself to myself for making the choices I have made. A lot of artists take for granted, in a good way, for being who they are, and for me it meant crying, screaming … to pull myself into myself and to prove that I could do it.

Do you feel that this transition you struggled with and being able to move away from it was helped by a different community?

R. Yes, definitely, I think going to work at the Music Center in Martha’s Vineyard was really helpful because they took music really seriously. And I felt that I could relax because I was always sort of embarrassed about that. Society and culture have very specific expectations about what it means to be a good person, and for a lot of us, that value system is in the odds with whom we actually are. So to choose your work in a way that it doesn’t fit the parameters you feel like you have to justify, and to justify your work you have to justify yourself.

Yes, and sometimes, I’m sure you feel that way too about music, I feel that nobody cares…that who cares about wearing a pretty dress or looking at something beautiful if you’re suffering.

R. But that isn’t true…and we know that.

I know. But sometimes it gets you thinking and banging against the wall.

R. Maybe a dress won’t make anybody less hungry but anytime what we make and value in being human, being alive, being present, being here…That, that is an act of peace making. I think it’s super important work, to make beautiful things and give to other people.

And what is being that person, What is an artist?

R. I think that is someone who believes in mystery, someone who believes that there’s a truth that we can’t find the word for, somebody who believes that life is more than what you see in front of us. Artists and innovators recognize that whatever is in the frame or eyesights and cultural morals right now isn’t the whole story. I think that what artists do is that they pull the thread of the narrative and say “Really? What about this?”

And I know that you write beautiful songs but you also write poetry right? And I think I read on your blog that you have been working on more poetry lately...

R. Yes. I do. I wrote a lot this summer. For some reason I wrote more poetry. I’m not a very good poet, or…I don’t know. I’m trying to write more again. I love poetry. To me…it might be the art form that hits me the most. A lot of times it helps to explain me to myself.

When you write music or poetry do you feel some of the emotions you went through when you wrote it, or you’re more critical at that stage?

R. Ah, it can be both…it just depends. There’s that stage of things that catch my ears that are written based, when it comes to words, it’s not emotion based, at least it doesn’t feel that way. But I also think there’s a reason that catches my ears and it’s not just because of the way it sounds but it’s also because it’s a tight string to something, you know, some emotion. Sometimes when I’m working trying to get that right and I’m immediately drawn back to the hand holding the string and I didn’t even know what the hand was. [laughs]..Does that make any sense? I feel like I just sound crazy…

I’m not sure I’m the best at judging that…but it doesn’t sound crazy to me! [laughs]

R. Art is this idea where there’s a spark between two synapses and that the goal is to keep them close enough to spark, but not too close so then the spark can’t happen. That is for me how the critical and the emotional elements work.

I can definitely relate to that, trying to keep the balance of two extremes in order to make good work.

R. Yes, and if it doesn’t move us, what is it for? Regardless of how well put together it was.

Absolutely. Especially when the craft is a package, you write, make songs and perform to others. Performing is even a different kind of art. Are you performing these days?

R. I’m trying to get ready for that, I’m trying to get financially ready so everybody can do it and everybody can afford it. We need to make another record, a Gretel (band) record and I’m trying to figure that out. I mean, we have all these songs and we are ready to make one I just don’t know how that’s supposed to work out since we are all scattered around the Earth. And I’m actually trying to get a band here, to play locally, so we’ll see how that goes. I do want to start playing, I’ve been under the radar for enough time now and I need to pop back up again. I’m also working on a solo record, which I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.

A solo record would be amazing! I’d love to hear that.

R. Part of me wants this to be a rock record, and have somebody else produce it, even though it’s still me on the banjo…it’s more of a raw interpretation of the work I have done before.

And also we notice from the audience that you enjoy performing a lot..

R. I really do love it. And also if you love doing something why don’t you do it as much as possible.

Do you feel vulnerable on stage or is that something that because you love it so much you play this role for the audience..

R. Any time any of us get to be vulnerable with another person in whatever capacity that takes, whether it’s showing weakness or something we are ashamed of, performing, sex or these sort of things, it’s so wonderful, to feel accepted and loved in that.

I think you have mastered that.

R. I always hope that there’s an invitation for that when I perform. I want people to feel safe in those places and themselves.

Can you tell me a little bit about your side collaboration with Will Gray?

R. Yeah, we built a record together that hopefully will get recorded. It’s a duet record. And also the documentary about today’s music industry challenges, Broke*, that he’s been working on it. And that I actually played a larger role in it that I realized? And this documentary is what he’s most focused on now. I love what he does and I’m grateful that I get to be around for it. Sometimes I don’t get it why he wants me around for all this.

He’s such a giving person and so, so talented, as much as you are, and I have this dream that whoever succeeds first will bring the other along.

R. Yeah, which is really fascinating. I think Will trusts me and I think he’s in the industry playing the part to touch people, which is one of the reasons why I feel the way I feel with him. And I think that’s a hard thing to have, so if you can work with these people and also be good friends, it’s a real blessing.

I know you’ve done a lot of stuff on your own, in isolation, not really collaborating with anyone during the process…is that how you prefer to work or it just happened to be that way?

R. I do prefer both to happen kind of interchangeably. But I like to write by myself. But having the reaction of people, specially the people I work with that have musical sense is what I really, really rely on it. I relied on having Phil and Melissa’s feedback along the years in Gretel, it’s your band and it’s really important.

Yes. There’s always the confirmation of self and appreciation necessary for the work to take a different level.

R. Yes, Their experimentation changes how you hear things and how we hear ourselves.

I’m interested in the song “Car Bomb times” because I personally relate to what I think it means. I used to be so scared of growing up in this world, scared of being poor, ugly and alone. sometimes the images you picture as a child you don’t know how to handle it, I guess? So I’m interested to hear the origin of this song, it seems really dark to me. But hopeful, somehow.

R. Well, I wrote that song the day I got my banjo. Will told me that I needed to play the banjo in his band and I didn’t know how to play the banjo. And he was like “you better get one and learn”. So, okay, I went to the music store, rented the cheapest, crappiest banjo and then I went home, sat down and started to play some chords and I wrote Car Bomb Times. Which is kind of hilarious…also you know, you know this about me, Im kind of a fearful person. It doesn’t take much to put my head down and cry and what is it all for and how are we going to survive…we are killing ourselves, we are killing our children and our future. I can really apocalyptic myself into madness, so my major reaction to the world is to be afraid of it. Car Bomb Times isn’t Times Square, it isn’t happening here, and yet everything in politics is fear driven and what it comes down to it, what does everybody here have to be afraid of? We are afraid of things that will never happen to us. So I live in a culture that sells me fear and I’m trying to resist it.

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Has it ever come to your mind to be doing different things other than music, what would you do? You could be anyone, like a photographer, athlete, you could maybe travel with the circus or be a pilot?

R. Honestly, I would be a writer. I wish I could write fiction. At some point I’d like to invest myself there. I love books so much. I love novels and poems and if I could also be someone who makes those things and contribute to that composition that would be wonderful.

And as far as collaborating with one person, musically, who would it be?

R. I know this will sound totally cheesy right now, but I’d love to write songs and sing with Dennis Brennan. I adore him, I think he’s amazing. And also my great loves will be Elvis Castello and Sam Phillips, I’d love to get to work with those people. They are phenomenal at what they do.

And last, I’d would like to ask you, “Cloak or Dagger”?

R. I’ve spent my whole life Cloak and now I’m trying to choose Dagger.