Artist Interview: Elizabeth Williams

Q: What does ‘being an artist’ mean to you?
A: Tough question! For me, and as a songwriter specifically, being an artist means having the courage to make the personal public and to put growth and discovery at the forefront of everything. Question yourself, wrangle with those difficult emotions, never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because communication is crucial. Lately I’ve been think of art as a way of seeing and communicating about the world — I think perhaps a more intuitive and challenging way than most. It’s about reaching out to others and saying, “Hey, here’s what I see and feel— what about you? Please join me.” I guess being an artist is really about being vulnerable, and never quitting.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?
A: I think dealing with my own vulnerability has been a great challenge. I often feel as though making work, exploring my own emotions, finding pleasure and beauty in feeling out sounds or in making images is somehow selfish. A lot of artists struggle with that, though; I think it’s just part of the work. Moving through your own anxieties about whether something is “good,” or “right,” is one of the greatest lessons of creating. Once you’re on the other side, you realize how small those fears really are in the context of what really matters: truth, love, honesty…something along those lines. I’m still learning!

Q: How do you come up with ideas for your work, or do they come to you?
A: I find my strongest work comes to me, usually when I’m in a place of extreme vulnerability. Music is very much a healing practice for me — if I’m really torn up or confused about something, I’ll just sit down with my guitar, place my hands wherever they feel like going and see what comes out. In those moments, I feel as though making music is more about listening than producing. When I’m really able to listen to what my subconscious is feeling, when I’m open and vulnerable enough to make that point of connection, I am whole and truth can manifest.

Q: Walk me through the typical creative process for one of your works.
A: In music, generally a good song starts with the process above. It doesn’t end there, though; there’s usually weeks or months of revisiting the piece, digging deeper into those initial shockwaves of feeling, re-listening and re-working both my emotional connection to the song and the sounds I choose to express it. Lyrics generally arise in tandem with the initial melodies — I’m very romantic about the way I approach music and don’t like to separate the message from the melody — so either the chorus or first few verses of any given song are usually written spontaneously, but I do continue to build off those riffs later, playing with rhyme and rhythm and double-meaning. As the piece evolves, I decide on which textures to incorporate to further the feeling (found sound, ambient noise, digital effects, etc.) and then spend a few hours recording.

Q: If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art, which would it be?
A: My partner and I met in high school and got to know each other by sneaking out and hanging around our neighborhood at night. In truly hallmark fashion, our first “dates” consisted of lying on our backs, looking at the stars at midnight, or exploring the dark woods beyond our backyards. I remember one night in particular, around the time we had recognized that what we were feeling was love, we decided to sit underneath a cherry blossom tree in the middle of the elementary school parking lot. There was something magical about that moment – the tree was just sitting by itself in an island of asphalt, and the halogen streetlights were casting this surreal, hazy glow… and we just sat there, together, and smiled at each petal as it fell, floating down onto our bodies. It just felt like love.

Image: Elizabeth Williams playing at Gallery 5 in Richmond, VA, 2016 ©Sarmistha Talukdar Photography.