While the musical zeitgeist marches further into the digital realm, Widowspeak flies Old Glory for classic folk-rock and dream pop. But the New York duo is far from stuck in the past. Rather than suggesting faded sepia, its latest album, All Yours, offers a Technicolor sound that the band has dubbed “dream country” and “cowboy grunge”. And now Widowspeak is taking its distinct vision on the road, where singer and guitarist Molly Hamilton is finally hitting her stride.
“I used to have awful stage fright,” says Hamilton, on the line from Portland while gearing up for the West Coast tour. “I would cry before every show. It’s weird because you’re sharing something that’s really personal, and everybody’s eyes are on you. That can be empowering, but it can also be terrifying. I’m starting to see how fun and exciting performing can be now, though. It keeps you on your toes.”
Widowspeak, composed of Hamilton and lead guitarist Robert Earl Thomas, has done a lot of growing up since coming alive in 2010. During the making of All Yours, the duo flew its Brooklyn coop for a rural house in Saugerties, seeking literally greener pastures in the little Catskills town. The move away from their community of friends and musical peers had a critical effect on how the band’s third full-length turned out.
The album’s intoxicating melodies and rolling rhythms are anchored by the general theme of moving on, outlined by Hamilton’s soft, smoky voice. On “Girls”, she reflects on feeling kinder to girls as she gets older, while a sinewy guitar lick gallops along with a campfire harmonica. And on “Narrows”, she dreams of driving off in a red highway glow, as a ’90s-nostalgic riff weeps over blooming strings.
“Our band exists because we had so many opportunities in Brooklyn, but I wanted to live in a quiet small town at this point,” she explains. “It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get away from Brooklyn, but I can play music in my living room now. I feel calmer and I’m writing a lot more. With All Yours, we wanted to take a break from the more cinematic sound of our past records and keep it down-to-earth.”
While Hamilton speaks of Saugerties, what sounds like a feisty tomcat begins meowing insistently in the background. “A little cat just walked up to me,” the tunesmith says, laughing. “Hello, cat! You’re very friendly. He’s got a tag that says, ‘I’m Queed, and I love you.’ ”
Images of Hamilton as Snow White serenading animals in a meadow emerge.
She adds, “It does sound sort of hippie, but having a natural environment is important to me as a musician and a human. It made sense to return to our roots for this record. We wanted to symbolically come full circle.”
The kernel of inspiration that grew to become Widowspeak was nurtured by Thomas and Hamilton’s love of outlaw country, retro folk, and ’90s grunge and dream pop. Willie Nelson and the Carter Family spin as often on the duo’s turntable as the Cranberries and the Sundays.
Still, modern icons Cat Power, Elliott Smith, and Bill Callahan hold Hamilton’s heart strongest. The trinity taught her how to craft songs with emotional gravity without sinking too deep into dourness, a lesson that has stayed with her.
“I love music as catharsis,” she says. “Like when fans tell us that they listened to our record while they were going through something and it helped them. I’d like to be able to do that more, travel and connect with people in different places. I want to keep making records, and if people like them, then we’ll make more. Or maybe in 20 years we’ll have a reunion tour, because randomly in South Africa somebody played our record. You never know.”
Widowspeak plays the Fox Cabaret on Saturday (November 14).