Tessy Lou Williams has been on a journey to releasing her debut album for a decade. After establishing herself with Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars, Williams is writing the next chapter of her career herself.
With her self-titled album, Williams’ first chapter has us locked in and ready for more as we savor each page of the current one. She weaves her way through 10 songs of heartbreak, co-penned with a handful of heavy-hitting writers and doused in fiddle, steel and excellent harmonies by musicians you have heard on some of your favorite country songs over the past few decades.
Though heartbreak is one of the calling-card themes of the traditional country music sound, what sets Williams apart from the rest is an impressive vocal that seems to get better with each of the album’s 10 tracks. It’s easy to fall in love with this album, and without a doubt, it has cemented itself as a serious album of the year contender.
We chatted with Tessy Lou about growing up in a musical family, combatting stage fright, all about her album and what she hopes listeners take away from it, what she’s learned over her decade-long music career and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences that have shaped your sound?
Tessy Lou Williams: One of the biggest influences was my parents and their band, Montana Rose. Other than them, the list really goes on and on. They raised my siblings and I with a wide variety of music. I’d say, if I had to choose, some of the bigger influences would be Patsy Cline, Patty Loveless, Allison Krauss and Lee Ann Womack.
PC: Your parents formed the band Montana Rose, and you have been in or around music for most of your life. At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career?
TLW: It was after I left college that it really hit me. I’d always played music and had been writing songs, but never thought it was the career choice for me. Once I left college at 19, it all just kind of fell into place and felt right.
PC: Your bio mentions that you had to overcome serious stage fright early in your career. What were you able to do to combat it to make you more comfortable on the stage?
TLW: There wasn’t any one thing I did in particular to combat the stage fright. I think I was just able to control it well enough and for long enough to get the show started. I still get stage fright, especially when doing intimate or solo shows, but I’ve learned that having a level of nervousness can be a good thing. It means I care about the performance and I tend to have to focus more on every aspect of it.
PC: You were a part of Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars for many years. What went in to the decision to pursue this next chapter in your music career as a solo artist?
TLW: I always knew I would go solo. I was so fortunate to have my dad (bass) and Bryan (fiddle) by my side for all of those years. I needed to get comfortable with doing these things on my own. I had so much to learn in those years of being with the Shotgun Stars, and every band member I’ve had has taught me so many valuable lessons about music and life in general. As I grew more comfortable and confident in having more control over my career, I knew it was time for me to pursue the next level of my career.
PC: Though you released two albums with Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars, your self-titled album is your first as a solo artist. What emotions come with releasing music as a solo artist for the first time?
TLW: Releasing my first self-titled album has been such a mix of emotions! It’s been exciting, scary, intimidating, empowering, and I’ve easily felt every one of those emotions in one day. It has been a little emotional at times, as it always does when life changes. But, I feel, overall, proud of this album. A lot of time, thought and emotions went into the writing and making of it.
PC: You released “Pathway of Teardrops,” a Webb Pierce song, as your debut solo release. Why did you decide record that song and release it first?
TLW: I fell in love with that song listening to Val Storey, Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson perform it with the New Mondays crew at the Station Inn in Nashville. It is such a great, classic country song with a lot of room for beautiful harmonies. Jon Randall absolutely NAILED those harmonies!
I decided to release it first because I thought it set the tone for the album really well. I felt it would give listeners a good idea as to what to expect from the rest of the project.
PC: “Why Do I Still Want You” was written by Leslie Satcher, and has already amassed 20,000 streams on Spotify just weeks after its release. What drew you to record the song yourself, and what has the response its early success meant to you?
TLW: Luke (my producer) brought this song to my attention when we were picking songs. It was such a beautiful song, I just had to learn it. I learned it in about an hour after I first heard it and decided it was a perfect song for the album.
I’m so completely honored by all of the streams on this song! It is such a beautiful song; I’m proud to have been the voice to share it with everyone. I wanted to do as much justice as possible to such a beautiful song written by someone I admire so much.
PC: “Mountain Time in Memphis” is one of our favorite songs on your album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song? How autobiographical is it in nature?
TLW: I had originally gotten the idea of “Mountain Time in Texas” several years back, but couldn’t quite find it. When I took the idea to Jerry, we decided “Mountain Time in Memphis” had a more poetic ring to it.
The song is biographical to an extent, obviously I didn’t move to Memphis, but to Austin. I grew up in a small town closer to Bozeman (not Missoula, as the song states). Mostly it’s the overall matter of having to make hard life choices. You have to sometimes choose between love and the pursuit of a bigger life goal. That’s not to say you can’t have both, but knowing when and how to make those choices can be overwhelming.
PC: Most of your album deals with love lost and heartbreak in different capacities. Was that something that was done intentionally, or something that happened naturally as the album came together?
TLW: I tend to write more heartbreak songs than anything, so, partially it happened naturally. However, when discussing the feel of the album, we knew from the beginning we wanted to create a more melancholy, traditional album. The songs themselves just kind of came into play as I wrote them. There was definitely a healthy balance of intent and organic happenings.
PC: On your self-titled album, you had the opportunity to write with many successful songwriters, including Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley and Leslie Satcher. What are you able to take away from being in writing rooms with writers of that caliber that can help your own craft?
TLW: Writing with every single one of these writers was a dream come true! They are all so incredibly talented. Sitting in a room with each of them was extremely intimidating at first, but their professionalism, knowledge and the fact that each and every one of them are some of the kindest people on the planet made the whole experience amazing. Getting to put my head together with such incredible and experienced minds was truly a great privilege and learning lesson.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from your self-titled album after listening all the way through?
TLW: I mostly hope they enjoy the album in any way, but also come to a realization that we’ve all been heartbroken. No one is alone in that and if you need a day to sit and listen to sad songs to feel better tomorrow, then do it, because I guarantee you there are many others who need days like that too.
PC: You’re approaching a decade in the music industry. What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned/taken away from your experiences over that time?
TLW: Be bold, take the chances and do everything honestly. You can never predict what will happen (this global pandemic is a good example of that). So, it’s better to have tried and given it your best shot than regret never trying.
PC: 2020 has altered many plans of artists so far. Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
TLW: I plan on doing as many shows or live streams as possible. People still need music; stopping just isn’t an option, not for me anyways. I’ll do as much as I can in whatever ways possible. I’d go crazy not having something musical to do for too long!
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
TLW: I just want to say thank you to everyone who has shown their support of my debut solo album. I am beyond grateful for all of the support it’s been given so far.
I’m so proud of everyone involved in the making of this album, it is a dream come true for me and I feel we all put something special into it.
*All images by Christina Feddersen
*Find Tessy Lou’s music on our Best of Pro Country playlist!