You’re considered by many of your peers as one of the great American songwriters today, who is your greatest songwriting influence?
One of the main ones would have been Bob Dylan. I started with him at 12 years old and I was immediately taken with the way he used language. Traditional music and contemporary writing blended together made a lot of sense to me. With my dad being a poet, I grew up around contemporary Southern writers, but I was also greatly influenced by the traditional folk songs and all of that.
I had the John And Alan Lomax Folk Songs U.S.A. songbook that every kid had back in the mid-’60s. I’d sit around and sing all those songs like ‘Banks Of The Ohio’ and listen to Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and at the same time I was influenced by the contemporary Southern literature I was soaking up, so when I first heard Highway 61 Revisited, I just went, ‘Wow, he’s taken these two worlds and blended them together!’ It’s like Allen Ginsberg-meets-Woody Guthrie or something, you know? (laughs) And it totally made sense to me. When I was 12 years old I didn’t understand every single song on that record, ‘cause it was pretty complex, but I certainly got it. I got something. And I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ It had a profound impact on me.
Then, years later, when I was working on my follow-up to Car Wheels and thinking about what I was going to do to match it, I began to write less narrative songs. It was very liberating for me to be able to write a song like ‘Steal Your Love’ and just let it go and let it be, without feeling like I had to fill it up with so many words and everything. At first I thought, ‘God, what are my fans gonna think?’ It was around then I read a review of Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, which said something like, ‘This isn’t Bob Dylan at his best’ and ‘What kind of lyrics are these?,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Let him go, let him have fun, let him breathe. Let the songs be what they are. Every song doesn’t have to be “That’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),”” and I applied that to what I was doing.
The less notes the better, the less you play the better, graceful simplicity.
Little Honey is in stores now. Check out Lucinda Williams at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ, on March 7. For more info, visit lucindawilliams.com.