Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
For singer/songwriter Kelly Willis, motherhood has been the catalyst for many positive changes, among them a more confident, free attitude that blossoms on her second Rykodisc set, "Easy," due Aug. 20.
"For me, having a child was a real change because I used to be real reserved, and now I'm more open," says Willis, who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, singer/songwriter Bruce Robison, and 18-month-old son Deral.
How did her recent life experience manifest itself in her music? "I felt more confident and more comfortable," she says. "People have told me that when I'm onstage I look like I belong there [and] I know it. I would have never said that, because I don't feel like I'm doing anything different, but I'll tell you I am a lot more confident and I'm not afraid of anything anymore. I was cursed with terrible shyness my whole life, and I'm just not like that anymore. I'm guessing it's because of motherhood."
When her first album, "Well Travelled Love," came out on MCA Nashville in 1990, Willis admits to being "terrified and on the verge of tears for every interview. I was doing everything I could to hold it together. I felt like it was a test somehow, and people were looking to catch me being unqualified or something. I was so afraid of interviews. Now you can't shut me up from saying stupid stuff."
Willis' co-production of "Easy" marks the first time Willis has tackled those chores. "It felt kind of scary," she says, admitting that when working as a producer there were many more details to handle. "It was work, but it was fun and a challenge. I was glad to get to do it." She co-produced the set with Gary Paczosa, whose production/engineering credits include work with Dolly Parton, Nickel Creek, and Alison Krauss.
The album covers a wide expanse of musical and emotional territory. The first single, the Willis original "If I Left You," is a gently loping country number about wanting a relationship to end in a kinder, gentler manner. A video for the cut was directed by Steven Goldmann (Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Shania Twain).
"You Can't Take It With You," penned by Paul Kelly, is an uptempo, bluegrassy outing saturated with banjo. "Wait Until Dark," written by Willis and John Leventhal, is a sultry ballad. The album's closing song, "Reason to Believe," was inspired by Willis becoming a mother.
"Don't Come the Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!" -- penned by the late Kirsty MacColl -- is a song Willis had wanted to record for a long time. "That's one of my favorite cuts," she says. "I love her music. It was on a record called 'Kite,' and I wore that song out. I played it over and over. I had to think twice about doing this because of her death. I really wanted to do it justice."
Willis will hit the road late this month, but don't look for her appearing very often during the week, "because I just hate being away from the kid. I'm going to do weekends probably through December."
Here are Kelly Willis' upcoming tour dates:
Aug. 23: Bloomington, Ill. (Ewing Manor)
Aug. 28: Austin, Texas (Waterloo Records)
Aug. 30-31: Portland, Ore. (Aladdin Theater)
Sept. 1: Seattle (Bumbershoot Festival)
Sept. 20: Amarillo, Texas (The Blue Light Amarillo)
Sept. 21: Lubbock, Texas (Texas Tech University)
Sept. 27: Houston (Cactus Records)
Sept. 27: Houston (Continental Club)
Sept. 28: McKinney, Texas (Craig Ranch)
Sept. 29: Austin, Texas (Zilker Park)
Oct. 4: Austin, Texas (Austin Music Hall)
Oct. 23: Ann Arbor, Mich. (The Ark)
Oct. 25: Chicago (Old Town School)
Oct. 26: Minneapolis (First Avenue)
Nov. 9: Charlotte, N.C. (Neighborhood Theatre)
Nov. 10: Charleston, W.Va. (Mountain Stage)
Excerpted from the Aug. 17, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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