Lucinda Williams is known for her brokenhearted country rock songs. She's recorded songs about suicide, one-night stands and changing the locks after a breakup. Her album, "Little Honey," due out Tuesday, finds the 55-year-old singer-songwriter in a happier mood. She was engaged in 2006, and after years of personal turmoil involving the death of her mother and bad relationships, she says she's in "a good place." But is happiness good for her art?
The opening track sets the new album's more joyful tone. "Real Love," an upbeat rock number, features the lyrics "I found the love I've been looking for." On another song, the optimistic "Plan to Marry," she sings, "Keep on believing in love." Ms. Williams says she didn't set out to write a "happy record" and that the album just shows her current outlook on life. "I've been through a lot of hell and I've come full circle and lived to tell about it," she says. "The album represents that. It's sort of a celebration in a way."
She says she wrote many of the songs on the album when she was "between houses" and living in a motel in Burbank, Calif. She would wake up, make coffee and sit at a table to write. Lyrics usually come to her first, and, guitar in hand, she would find music to match. Sometimes an idea would pop into her head when she was at dinner with friends and she'd scribble something on a napkin. She keeps a folder with partially formed song ideas.
Ms. Williams says she's inspired by seeing strangers and imagining their stories. She says her father, a literature professor, taught her at an early age about the importance of empathy and she's used it in her writing.
Not all the songs on "Little Honey," are blissful. "Jailhouse Tears," a duet with Elvis Costello, is about a couple separated by prison bars. But Ms. Williams says happy songs present more of a challenge than mournful ones. "It's harder to write a song about joy because of the tendency to possibly get too flowery, too mushy, too sugar-coated," she says.
Do artists need pain to create great art? Tom Overby, Ms. Williams's fiancé and manager, says, "Any artist worth their salt would say 'I'm an artist because I'm an artist, I'm not an artist because I'm suffering.'" In any case, Ms. Williams says she's never happy "100% of the time" and is always able to draw on her past. "There's this well, with all these memories stuffed in there from my childhood," she says. "And I can just reach in there and pull something out whenever I want to write and there it is."
Several of the happiest songs on "Little Honey," including "Real Love," were actually written before Ms. Williams met Mr. Overby, who co-produced the new record. She played "Real Love" for Mr. Overby one of the first times they met. "Fantasy helps a lot when you're writing," says Ms. Williams.