Widowspeak’s Molly Hamilton (vocals, guitar) and Robert Earl Thomas (guitar) are driving from Des Moines to Denver when I give them a ring. “It’s a very long, very flat, corn-field drive,” says Molly. The band is touring in support of Expect The Best, their fourth and heaviest record to date.
Expect The Best sees Widowspeak at their most candid. Seeking to capture the energy of their live shows, and the raw, overwhelming emotions of life when it’s in flux, uncertain and unforeseen, Widowspeak reveals a sound that’s as vulnerable as its always been, but this time with more grit and frustration bubbling up from under the surface.
Culture Collide spoke to singer and songwriter Molly Hamilton about the deceptiveness of social media, nostalgia, and the healing power of expression.
Culture Collide: On Expect The Best you worked with producer Kevin MacMahon (Swans, Real Estate) and aimed for a heavier sound. What was the process like?
Molly: With this album we wanted it to resemble our live sound more, which is a lot more dynamic. The subject matter on Expect The Best is darker and required a little bit of darkness. Kevin is really great at figuring out interesting ways of making the recordings reflect that and approaching things at a different angle.
CC: NPR said there’s “a gloomy, anxious undercurrent” to the record. What was weighing on you when writing the new songs?
Molly: All the songs kind of came at once. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make another record or when we were going to make it. Widowspeak as a project has always felt more narrative. The song writing style I’ve adopted for this band has generally been about communicating stories or specific feelings. And this time around I was feeling nothing.
After the election I was living in my hometown and not sure if I was going to stay there, there was a lot of uncertainty. I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around next steps creatively and personally. Then I realized that the uncertainty and anxiety I was feeling is a story. It was a different place that I was coming from. Writing the songs helped me process that a lot more. Sometimes seeing the well you’re in, you’re able to climb out better.
CC: For those who may feel similar, what do you want them to get out of the record?
Molly: For the title, Expect The Best, I was being a little dry about it. It’s hard to be optimistic; it’s hard to imagine that things are going to get better. There’s never going to be a clear answer, it’s just about trying to figure things out. I try to expect the best but it doesn’t always happen, so to other people that feel that way – I feel their pain.
CC: It’s real because people do have bad days, and that’s okay.
Molly: Totally, and with social media there’s so much glossing over things or making them appear better than they really are. It’s hard to communicate where you’re coming from on social media. People don’t generally share things when they’re not positive – except for Rob who is usually posting about his crippling anxiety. I have a love hate relationship with the Internet because there are great aspects of it.
CC: When you want to feel inspired what’s your favorite place to go? Or favorite thing to do?
Molly: I like walking around. There’s something really comforting about walking through familiar neighborhoods In my hometown I like to re-acquaint myself with how its changed. Upstate there’s beautiful nature everywhere. It’s been amazing having a camper-van because we can just take it, park it in the Catskills and the mountains and camp.
CC: How do you navigate knowing there’s “no going back in time” while not getting too wrapped up in the past?
Molly: In the past Widowspeak records have been about being nostalgic for things or people and places and trying to re-envision those moments and experiences by building a song around it. This time Expect The Best comes from a markedly different perspective. This time I was trying to write about now, not write about the past.
My nostalgia can be a good thing but it can also be a crutch. Being reverent for the past – I love vintage things I love old furniture, houses and music – there are so many aspects that can be really beautiful and make good art and stories. But if you rely to heavily on that…I started thinking about how you can’t have a conversation with the past and the conversation is the important part.
CC: What are you most excited about for the change of season?
Molly: I’m very excited for when we get back from tour. We’ll be back Upstate right when the leave changing happens, all the apples, and all that. Then we go on tour again in Europe right before Christmas and they have all the markets and all the mulled wine. So really all the warm beverages.
CC: What are you looking forward to about being back in Los Angeles?
Molly: I really like waking up early and actually getting to hang out in the city before the show. We’re hoping to get to town earlier than later and go on a hike or something.
Featured image courtesy of the band.