THIS ATLANTA-BASED GUITARIST AND SINGER celebrates the release of his new independent CD Snake Oil this weekend at Live Wire Music Hall. For more information, check out this week’s cover story. The following is a complete transcript of our entire conversation.
The new album sounds very good. It seems almost heads and tails over your last record, both in terms of production value and in the way you carry yourself as a singer and guitarist. What did you do differently this time in comparison to the sessions for your last CD?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: Wow, thanks. I didn’t really do much differently. And to be honest, when I went into the studio I was really worried about the songs on this album not being as good as the last. I wrote many of them just before we hit the studio and they had not been “road tested”. So I had not been able to really get and feedback from fans about the songs. As far as the production goes, well, John Keane is a Jedi! I think he and just knew each other a little better on this recording and it came across in the production. I have recorded three albums with John now my first, Big Plans, one for Jimmy Landry (the keyboardist on Snake Oil) New Day, and my new album Snake Oil. I really enjoy working with John and I intend on going back to him for the next record.
What’s been the reception so far to the new album?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: It’s been amazing! The new record is selling like crazy. I’m getting airplay around the world. I’m on the radio in Australia and Finland right now. I found out that a few weeks ago that one of my songs “All Your Way” made it to #2 on the charts in Auburn, AL on Wildman Steve Radio. And I actually got a mention in Guitar Player Magazine which is a life long dream.
I understand your music is up for possible airplay on some major Clear Channel stations, which is very unusual for an independent artist such as yourself. How did that come about, and what will determine whether or not you get that highly coveted airplay?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: Clear Channel has a “New” program where you can submit music for consideration. Tammy Brackett at Moonstruck promotions told me that I should submit one of my songs. So I did and they chose it to take part in the program. They put up a music player on their website where people can go listen to the song. If enough people listen to the song, then it goes up their charts. If the song goes high enough up the charts then the program directors at Clear Channel stations see the song. If they decide that they like the song then they might play it on their local stations. Your readers can listen in and hopefully vite for me at http://www.wrfx.com/cc-common/artist_submission/player.html?art=180952. Right now I’m just under 900 plays. I don’t know how many it will take to get on the air but there are a lot of people spreading the word about it right now so hopefully we’ll make it.
Tinsley Ellis make a couple of cameos on this album, and he’s spoken favorably of your talent in the past. He’s a pretty phenomenal artist, and has certainly led a colorful and storied life in the music biz. How did you come to know him, and what have you taken away from that friendship, either as a musician or just as a person?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: I met Tinsley when I went to go see some friends of mine play in Atlanta. I had known about him for years but we had never crossed paths. He approached me in the club and said he had been watching me on MySpace and that he really liked what I was doing musically. And well, coming from Tinsley Ellis? I was just floored. So when it was time to decide who I wanted to guest on the new record, I immediately thought of him. I’m looking forward to working with Tinsley more down the road.
The music on this latest record touches on blues, Southern soul, funk, jam-rock and even --at times-- a touch of jazz. How much of the overall feel of the record can be directly attributed to the input of the guys in your band, and how much of it is based on your specific idea of what the songs should sound like?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: I write all of the songs and give the guys an outline of the general feel that I want. I wrote a lot of the bass lines on the record. Actually I wrote the bass lines first for many of the songs on the new album and then built the songs around the bass parts. But then after I give the outline, I let the real players take it and make it cool. I try to give the guys in the band latitude to create and put their own style on the music.
This album was done with producer and engineer John Keane, who’s something of a legend in the Georgia music world. What in particular did he bring to the table? In other words, what are some of the aspects of this new record that likely wouldn’t exist were it not for his involvement?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: As I said before, John is a Jedi! He’s just amazing to work with. I really feel comfortable in the studio with him. So, I don’t know if the record would have come out the same with anyone else.
How long did it take to record and mix the album, and how much of it was essentially tracked live in the studio?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: Almost all of it was tracked live in the studio. There are some overdubs obviously but most of it was done live. The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered in eight days. My last one was done in six days I think. I like to get things done in the studio. I work at a pretty fast clip. I always make sure that the band has everything down before we go in. That way we’re not wasting time learning parts. I also find that it makes it easier and faster when you want to rearrange the songs if the musicians really know the tunes first.
Is the band you’re travelling with these days the same lineup that played on this record? If not, how will it differ, and what sort of musical differences come with such a change in lineup?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: No, the band is mostly different from the album. I have the same drummer, Steve Saunders. I have a host of different bassists, but the one you’re most likely to find me with is Daniel Broome. And, I’m not traveling with a keyboardist right now (although I am looking for one). I really like having the keys. They fill in the sound quite a bit.
What will your setlist be like for this show? Will it focus on the new record?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: I’ll do a heavy mix of both albums and some new songs that haven’t been recorded yet as well as some covers.
How concerned are you --if at all-- about being labeled as either a blues artist, a jam artist or a rock artist?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: While I don’t like being pigeon-holed, I don’t really mind people calling me whatever fits for them. To be honest, if you come see me live, it will change your whole concept of what you might think of me. I play lots of different styles of music live. And I really like to have fun on stage.
Many people who have never seen you play before may be surprised or even amazed at the dexterity and nuance with which you play guitar, given the fact that you’ve had to develop an unconventional playing style to fit your physical circumstances. However, the longer you’re a touring professional musician, the more folks are not only accustomed to this situation, but, I would imagine, essentially nonplussed by it. Do you find that any possible “novelty factor” about your guitar technique is beginning to fade as you become more established, or, on the contrary, is it drawing more attention?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: I don’t know I still get a lot of attention from it, but I do find that people quickly forget that I only have one hand and just start to dig the songs.
The last time you and I spoke, you told me how much you enjoyed coming to Savannah , as it was one of the first places you played regularly once you started gigging on the road. As a blues and rock musician, I’d imagine you work mainly at night and have to do a lot of driving during the day, leaving you little time to really hang out and enjoy the scenery or get a feel for the subtleties of any given town. Have you been able to spend much quality time in Savannah on your previous visits here? If so, what kinds of things do you enjoy doing in our fair city, besides club dates?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: As touristy as it sounds, I really like River Street. I like just walking around and seeing the old buildings and the parks. I wrote a song years ago about a trip that I took with my wife —who was at that time my girlfriend— to Savannah. We’ll probably play it at Live Wire. It’s one that I’ve never put down on an album. It has more or a reggae-meets-Sting kind of vibe.
What are some of the albums or artists that can usually be found playing in your tour vehicle? Are there some bands or songwriters that are favorites of everyone in the group? Or, when it comes to what to listen to on the road, are there some artists that always divide the bandmembers?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: We all like Robert Palmer and Shuggie Otis. And recently I’ve been introduced to Donnie Hathaway who is just unbelievable! Steve and I are both big Deadheads. And there’s always some good jazz floating around in the van.
I understand this Savannah gig takes place the day after your birthday. So, how old will you be, and do you imagine you’ll be doing anything special or celebratory at the gig?
Jason “Lefty” Williams: Yes. It’s hard to believe, but I’ll be 34! I’m just planning on having a great time. I don’t know what the band might be planning for my birthday though.
The Jason “Lefty” Williams Band
Where: Live Wire Music Hall
When: 9 pm, Fri., August 22
Cost: $5 adv. / $7 at door