Interview: Lucinda Williams’ Graceful Simplicity

Getting back to the record, two of my favorite songwriters are on it, Elvis Costello in the duet for ‘Jailhouse Tears’ and Matthew Sweet added background vocals on a few tracks. I want to talk about Matthew Sweet first. I consider Sweet one of the most underrated pop and rock and roll songwriters working today.

Oh, I agree. I was completely taken with him. I knew who he was, but I’d never worked with him or spent any time with him, but now that I’ve done both I’ve decided he’s the Brian Wilson of today. (laughs) He arranged all the vocal harmonies, particularly on ‘Little Rock Star,’ which are pretty complex. We sent him the tapes of the songs that he would be singing on with Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) and he wrote out all these harmonies and all these lush, beautiful vocal arrangements and showed up at the studio with all this stuff already written out and arranged. I was blown away. I’ve never had anyone go to such lengths and be so involved in a technical way before. I was really impressed with how he worked.

How did your duet with Elvis Costello on ‘Jailhouse Tears’ come about?

Well, he was one of the people we were thinking of and we had a list of people and we weren’t sure we were going to get Elvis because of his schedule and everything, but it just so happened that he was in town working on something for his own record, so we were able to grab him. We had to hook up with him around 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. So we literally just—we had the track cut already—and we just ran in and hooked up with Elvis and he and I did the vocals together. It was real, (chuckles) very spontaneous.

It reminds me so much of a classic country duet like Johnny Cash and June Carter on ‘Jackson.’

That’s kind of what it’s supposed to be, yeah.

I was turned onto Elvis, like most people who love him, in the late ‘70s, but my favorite record of his is King Of America from 1986, which has this carefree, country, Americana feel that I always thought was reflected in your best work. I’m not sure if you’re a fan of that record and that’s what brought you to Elvis for this duet, but it’s weird how that all came together in the song.

No, I was…I am! That’s funny you said that, because Elvis asked me several years ago to do one of those Crossroads shows (CMT Network) with him. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those, they’ve quit doing them, but they would have two different artists on, and they’d have them sing songs together and talk. So I had to learn a couple of his songs, and the song I did as a duet with him on the show was ‘Poisoned Rose.’

Oh, gorgeous song. I would have loved to see that.

I know. I love that. Of course I was armed with all of his albums when I was getting ready, and I thought that album had songs on there that were a little bit different from some of his other ones. But that was the one song that really stood out. I hadn’t heard him do it before. I thought it was really unusual.