Shawn Williams: Sulking in Love
Shawn Williams: Sulking in Love
Sep 27, 2023
“Sulking in Love” features powerful ballads as gateways to the darkness that lurks beneath personal distress.
New Orleans native and singer/songwriter Shawn Williams loves the nighttime.
“The nighttime is when we are mostly alone by ourselves, stuck with whatever’s going on, whether it’s sadness or happiness,” she once wrote on her website when describing the inspiration behind most of her songs.
For 13 years, Williams worked as a radio personality and program director at various stations in Atlanta, New York, and New Orleans before she decided to strike out on her own in 2017. As a hauntingly soulful singer/songwriter with a throaty rasp and sardonic lyrics, Shawn brought forth her brand of Americana, which, according to her, is a mixture of alt-rock, country, and serial killer blues, with her first album “Shadow.” Her next album, “Motel Livin,’” which garnered favorable reviews from local music outlets like OffBeat Magazine, released in 2018.
Since breaking out on the New Orleans music scene six years ago, Williams has been a mainstay on the popular local WHIV-FM country music show “NOLA Country Radio.” She has also been featured in the aforementioned OffBeat Magazine, Ireland’s Lonesome Highway, and Europe’s Country People Magazine and was nominated for three “Best of the Beat” awards last year.
Recently, Williams released her third album in four years and fifth album overall with “Sulking in Love,” which was produced with assistance from Mark Howard, who was at the helm on albums such as the Neville Brothers’ “Yellow Moon” and Peter Gabriel’s “Us.” “Sulking in Love” is layered and textured in sound and is like a cross between Lucinda Williams and PJ Harvey but reads more like the tale of a woman ready to move on from a relationship than anything else, hence the title of the album.
“Sulking in Love” showcases “cut-throat guitar melodies fused with pure muscle jazz” as Williams’ powerful ballads build on danger, tension, and the Crescent City after dark. Her powerhouse vocals matched with her Cajun folk twang creates a sultry atmosphere for listeners to experience. “Sulking in Love” is full of surprise moments like, for example, the big solo on “Givin’ Up,” which features the guitar framed by what sounds like a vintage Mellotron, which is pretty cool.
A few weeks ago, Shawn took time from her busy tour schedule to talk with me about her music, the Americana scene in the Crescent City, and the trials and tribulations of being a working musician in New Orleans.
MaM: You worked as a radio programmer before hitting it on the road as a singer/songwriter. With the way radio is set up now, most notably in the country genre, what positives or negatives have you seen in terms of radio play for americana/country?
Shawn: I've been writing songs since I was 10 and playing guitar since I was 14. In any genre, it's hard for artists to get mainstream/commercial radio airplay unless you're backed by the big labels and big money. What's great about New Orleans is that people support their local, independent radio stations, like WTUL, WWOZ, and WHIV because they play local artists … artists like Lucinda Williams or Ryan Adams who don't get mainstream support but are still big.
MaM: Two years before the pandemic, you had two albums out. After we all went on lockdown, you then released your third album, "The Fear of Living, The Fear of Loving." Would you say the pandemic was the fuel behind your creative input now that you have released three albums in four years?
Shawn: That third overall album was fueled by a breakup, drinking (because what else was there to do at that time?), dark times, and by the song "Change." I first wrote "Change" and I was like, “What the hell? What else am I going to do? Let me record a whole album on my phone," which I never wanted to do because of the quality, but I went for it for fun.
I wrote all of the songs within a week, played all of the instruments—some of which I've never played before—and made my album how I wanted it to sound in every aspect. I actually had a Kickstarter going at the end of 2019 to record a third album in a real studio, but when the shutdown happened, that idea got nixed. When things picked back up, I started recording the fourth overall album in 2021 and released it in the summer of 2022, and then a few months later I started recording my fifth overall album and released it a few months later.
MaM: In the short time I've followed your career, you've been traveling over to Pensacola, Fla., mostly to do shows. Is it due to the pay for gigs there as opposed to gigs here in New Orleans, or the Americana scene here in the city?
Shawn: It's due to pay and the change of the music scene in New Orleans since the shutdown; although, leading up to it, the [NOLA] scene was already beginning to derail. All the clubs on Frenchmen Street other than Checkpoint Charlie (which rarely has music anymore), unfortunately want the same sound, the same five cover songs, and that's just not me. They rip off musicians. I don't want to have my players put up with working their butts off for no money and no respect. Now I'm just playing select venues and shows, places in the city that I want to play and that respect the music and the musicians, and spending the rest of my time on the road.
MaM: On your album you have a song called "Society." From what I've gathered, you've never been big on political songs. What inspired you to write that one?
Shawn: Yeah, I don't think I really have any politically driven songs, other than a few lines in some songs. Last summer, I was living in my RV on a farm and staying in Pensacola for the summer while touring and doing some shows on the coast and up north. Prices doubled in places to rent in New Orleans, and I couldn't afford anything. I was pissed that I couldn't go back to the place that I was born because of gentrification and the mayor killing our city and culture. And that's how the song began, as you can tell in the first couple of lines. It also touches on the city’s crime, but how crime begins at the top and with our leaders. I also have some lines in there about the pumps, Sewerage and Water Board, and the 5G towers all around the French Quarter.
MaM: One of the members of the famous Neville family, Omari, is featured on "Sulking in Love." What was it like working with New Orleans music royalty?
Shawn: It was killer!!! And I've never felt so fortunate to get to work with some badasses. It was my first time meeting Omari Neville, who plays on percussion and drums on this album, Daryl Johnson, who’s worked with The Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris, and the Meters, who plays bass and percussion plus provides backing vocals, as well as Michael Chaves, who is on the guitar, keyboards, harmonica, and tambourine.
It was important to have some New Orleans musicians on the album because the city is important to me and [is] a part of my sound and myself. They were all fun and easy to work with … [we] definitely vibed quickly. I’m thankful to have Omari as part of my band and live shows now!
MaM: What do you expect your listeners to get out of this new album? Also, are there any upcoming shows in New Orleans on the horizon?
Shawn: Like I hope for with all of my albums, I hope they get rawness, vulnerability, and are able to connect with the album. Plus, appreciation to the guys and how incredible they did on the album!
On October 1, we'll be playing at Toulouse Theatre with our friends Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue opening up!
"Sulking in Love" is currently available on most streaming outlets. For more on Shawn Williams, her music, and her tour schedule, visit her online at www.ShawnWilliamsMusic.com or at any of the below-listed links!
*cover image by Shannon Moon