The Quickening of Time with the Most Modest Woman in Music.
Kathryn Williams is by no means a novice, and her eighth studio album, The Quickening, keeps experimental innocence alongside accomplishment. The whole record aims to explore the “small, beautiful things about life, and quiet feelings.” Whereas before Williams “invented characters”, she now sees herself in the songs, giving them vulnerability, honesty and sometimes darkness. Pushing past the infatuation, Williams explores “slow-burning” love instead, purposely ignoring the technique “taught in stage school about how to make people feel emotional” and trying to instil these emotions in her audience in a more honest and sincere way. Wanting and Waiting deals with the day-to-day longings of a connection. However, “being so good at unrequited love over the years” means she had to imagine being on the other side of the world, in order to portray the emotions, which are inherent within the track.
The recording emphasises Williams’ sole focus on singing while the band plays around her, giving her “the opportunity to really get into the songs and a real focus to concentrate on what [she] was trying to say.” The entire album was recorded in four days at Bryn Derwen Studio in North Wales, Williams muses: “All live, in three takes maximum.” The quiet feelings Williams wanted to portray embody themselves in the location as “the place often felt like it has just taken a breath out, had a sigh.” The organic nature of the production reiterates the sense of real time passing. This theme is echoed in the album artwork, which depicts a dolls-house that was made by Kathryn’s grandfather. The project was never finished before he died and remained in William’s parents loft for 20 years. “It has the element of decay, of time passing, that even dolls’ houses can become derelict over time.” There is a beautiful contradiction in the passing of time in the toy house, and the standstill within it that followed her grandfather’s death.
This almost invisible imprint of an event upon a place is dealt with through themes of travel. 50 White Lines, the opener, re-imagines a journey as a couple’s escape, while a male voice counts the white lines throughout the song. They progress on their flight from city to city, through places where people are living their whole lives that they have briefly touched by passing through. Black Oil is perhaps the sparsest track, a reflective lament accompanied by a piano and harmonising chorus singing: “I thought it was night, but the birds were head to toe in black oil.” Just a Feeling incorporates satisfying acoustic guitars and a heartbeat-like drumbeat that contrasts with the more melancholy songs on the album.
Speaking with Kathryn, it’s impossible to ignore the connections with femininity and her responsibilities as a woman in the music industry. The title of the record, The Quickening, is an allusion to “first flutters of pregnancy.” It is about something growing inside you, and the feeling you get when you grow older and of time passing. Williams has embraced the natural role of being a mother by “balancing it and making it work. I don’t like saying it’s much harder for women in a ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ way, but venues and touring and studios are male dominated spaces, which I didn’t notice before.” This balance has helped to perfect her sound over eight albums, yet she is still reserved about her talent. You get the impression she just doesn’t know quite how good this record is, and it’s the perfect album to see out the winter.
The Quickening was released on 22 February 2010, followed by a UK tour. www.kathrynwilliams.net.