.Jess Williamson Awakening

Writing songs about dating after COVID

Jess Williamson finds comfort as the outsider and strength in the “other” on her current album, Time Ain’t Accidental, an often brutally poignant chronicle of the healing miles between rejection and renewal.

            Less a “pandemic” album, more an awakening, Williamson navigates the crumbling structure of a relationship and the identity it imposed as she minds the gap between two literal and spiritual homes in Texas and California.

 “I noticed when I was writing this record, it really feels like sonically there is this Texas feeling that’s such a part of me, and then there’s this modern L.A. feeling which is also a part of me,” Williamson said in a recent interview. “Somehow the record is able to keep a foot in two different worlds.” 

            Jess returned to producer Brad Cook’s Puff City Studios in Durham, North Carolina, to delve into her dual natures as a blue Texas poet and a pop-savvy lyricist, both heartbroken and challenged by an uncertain future.

            “There’s this dance called the Texas two-step, which everybody in Texas knows. If I’m dancing with someone who’s a good lead, I can follow along, but otherwise, I don’t really know it,” Williamson said. “I was thinking about how in a metaphorical sense, at that time in my life especially, I felt like there was this dance that everyone else knew the steps to but I had never really caught on. I was just sort of struggling to keep up. 

secure document shredding

            Williamson credits that particular strain of self-awareness to not only the jagged break from a long-term partner, but also her “humbling” experience with 21st-century app-based dating while living in Los Angeles during the pandemic. On “Hunter,” Williamson, whose “love is pure as the universe” and “honest as an ashtray,” sings “I’ve been thrown to the wolves and they ate me raw.”

            “I kind of missed the dating app thing because I was in relationships and it just so happened that it didn’t line up for me to ever try it — and then I never wanted to try it. But coming out of COVID, when a lot of stuff wasn’t really open yet, you know, people weren’t really gathering,” she said of what she terms COVID dating. “Life wasn’t really in session, but people were meeting each other on these dating apps and making plans to meet up in a park and sit outside and talk. It was such a weird moment.

            “I didn’t last very long because I didn’t really like the way that it made me feel, the way that I think that there’s this mutual devaluing that happens on both sides because you’re meeting through this technology that feels so inauthentic and inorganic. I didn’t like meeting up and feeling like, “I’m sussing them out, they’re sussing me out…” I didn’t like having no context for these people, and I didn’t like being thrown to the wolves,” Williamson said. “That’s really what it felt like, where it’s like, ‘Here’s this world that I’m getting into, and I really didn’t sign up for being made to feel so small!’

            As she brings “Time Ain’t Accidental” to the live stage, Jess and her band (guitarist Matt LaRocca, bassist Caleb Veazey, and drummer Andrew McGuire) are conscious of but unfettered by the album’s arrangements, often choosing to dictate the pace to suit individual moments. 

            “I always like to really play specifically to the room,” said Williamson. “You know, I’ve seen live shows where it just sounds like someone pushed play on the record, and there’s a beauty to that in that it’s really ‘pro,’ I suppose, but for me, I appreciate when things are a little different and there’s some surprises and it’s a little more rockin’ at times.”

Jess Williamson plays Felton Music Hall with opener Erin Rae March 12,  8pm, 21+  $27 advance & $32 day of show

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