(April 2024)


INTERVIEW: Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams Bring An Appreciation of Connection To All This Time

Artist: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Album: All This Time

By: Hannah Means Shannon

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams recently released their new album, All This Time, which organically came together as a meditation on human connection and the importance of key relationships in life. Now celebrating 40 years together, the duo found themselves at a sobering crossroads when Larry had a serious struggle with covid. Emerging from that perilous time brought them both into a period of reflection and celebration that made its way into these new songs.

Larry, who recently reunited with Tracy Chapman for a surprise Grammy performance for ďFast Car,Ē didnít try to shape the new songs in a particular direction as they emerged, but it was Teresa who began to notice the common denominators emerging in the lyrics. Whether it was recognizing that another person often motivates us to get up when we might not have the will power to do so otherwise, or tapping into the celebratory mood of being given another chance at life, the songs on All This Time bring a lot of lived-in wisdom to the table. I spoke with Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams about the experiences which crystallized these songs for them and how a time of looking back can produce gratefulness.

Americana Highways: I know you have a background in theater, Teresa. Has that been something you had to balance with your interest in making your own music?

Teresa Williams: I donít know where it came from and why I wanted to study acting, but I wanted to be a trained, classical actor. Then I came to New York with both things on the brain, theater and music. I just kind of understood the theater world a little better. You show up and audition, and they either hire you or they donít! [Laughs] The music world is just a little more amorphous than that.

I did music all along, and had my foot in both worlds, but youíre diluting yourself if youíre keeping one foot in both worlds. But I just kind of had to do both, and Larry and I were apart for 11 years while he was doing music, and I was doing theater. The Levon thing brought us back together. We met playing music, then the Levon call put us together as a couple, where weíd do duets on stage. That formalized what weíd do at home, and with family. That kind of brought us into what weíre doing now.

AH: That story totally ties in with this album, playing into the length and the vicissitudes of your relationship together.

Teresa: You got it! I also love the title for this, All This Time. When we were tossing around the title, and this came up, it was, ďBut of course!Ē

AH: That title track is really interesting to me, too. I think it says a lot about your personalities and I think it says a lot of relatable things that you donít hear too often in music. Was that a song that came along later in the collection, or earlier on, giving a bit of direction to things?

Teresa: Iím going to speak for him and and say that Larry had no direction.

Larry Campbell: Itís true!

Teresa: It was more like, ďWeíve got this one song, then we want this other.Ē Then eventually it was, ďWe have enough songs, weíre done. Thatís the record.Ē [Laughs]

Larry: To me, the songs I wrote would come as they came. I had no theme in my mind that I was writing for, they just came out the way they did. When we pretty much had them all done, Teresa was able to find a theme in these things, which is there, but itís there because it came about more subconsciously.

Teresa: Thatís even better.

Larry: She pointed out that these songs are all about connecting.

Teresa: I like what you said, ďThe vicissitudes of the relationship.Ē Itís the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Larry: Right, and that wasnít my intent in creating a body of work, but they came out that way. Itís easy to speculate, but all of us now have a reaction to the covid years. I had a really bad covid experience early-on. I was one of the first people to get it, and it almost killed me. The recovery from that, physical recovery, and psychological recovery, put me in a place of self-examination that I hadnít really been in before.

Itís sort of taking stock of your own life, and what you want to accomplish. All that stuff happens subconsciously, and I think that whatís come out on this record has come, in a way, from being thankful that Iím still here, and appreciating how much human connection means as youíre going through this life.

Teresa: I like that.

Larry: I think thatís in there, I really do.

AH: Iím so glad that youíre still with us.

Teresa: I was in Manhattan, and he was in a house, by himself, up-state, which was part of it. His cousin had lined up a private ambulance to go to a hospital, but it was such a relief of joy when the fever was down. All the stress of all those weeks just crashed me and I realized that weíd truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Weíd been there.

AH: I think a lot of music right now has been informed by these kinds of heavy encounters. It also really breaks the continuity in life, and that seems like the perspective on a lot of these songs. I can see that little glimpse of looking back on your lives together.

Larry: Right after I got through covid, I had a renewed appreciation for our relationship, specifically. Like with the song, ďThe Way You Make Me Feel,Ē I started thinking about when we first met and how giddy all that was. It was like we were kids again. That song came out of that. Then thereís ďI Think About You.Ē

AH: I was going to mention that one, because I think it has a similar perspective. Thatís such a sweet song because it shows our ridiculousness as human beings, but also shows that the decisive thing is remember another person at the right moment. Thatís all weíve got.

Larry: Right. Itís specifically about how Teresa helped me get through this experience and the thing that makes me want to get up off the floor is what we still have to go through together. In a way, all the songs on this record were out of gratitude for having this relationship.

AH: Gratitude is really part of the whole album. Thatís part of the positivity of the album. Something you do here on the album, also, is that youíre so confessional about the little silly things about being human. This is not a glamorized view of relationships.

Teresa: Right! Thatís why I said, ďthe good, the bad, and the ugly.Ē The artwork for the album also included some photos that Iíd taken while we were performing in a villa in Italy a few years back. It was a beautiful experience. I had been taking random shots of things that moved me. Some of these photos jumped out at me, given the title. Iíd also read a book called The Betrothed [by Alessandro Manzoni] about the plague, a novel based on real stories from that era. We used a picture from the cover of that book in the artwork also. It struck me as something that ought to be included because it was about the plague. It all came together in an odd way.

Larry: The parallels are more about a feeling. And hopefully the music opens you up to that, that sound coming up you, and stirring some emotion inside of you. Then you assign your own meaning to that sound and feeling.

Teresa: And a good song is not going to mean the same to everybody. Itís like looking at a painting. Itís going to hit the vibration in you from whatever heartbreak or joy youíve been through. Itís going to reverberate differently. And if youíve done it right, and gotten out of the way, itís going to have a lot of different meanings for a lot of different people. Explaining too much about where it comes from in your psyche, it limits it. I think a song is your child thatís going to have its own future.

AH: The thing that occurred to me is that it is like looking at a painting, and youíre having this experience in a museum. Then a guide walks over and starts lecturing about what the painting means, and that limits it. The experience comes first.

Teresa: I like to have my own experiences first, then later I can learn about what the painter was going through, or what people think itís about. I also like to go to movies by myself. I enjoy having company, but I like to absorb it deeply before I am influenced by other people and what they thought about it.

AH: This all is relevant to the song ďA Little Better.Ē Now, in the song, you donít try to formulate a lot of big ideas about what music and comedy are, but it shows by example.

Larry: Yes. Thatís semi-autobiographical, or starts off that way. When I was really young, about five years old, my brother got really sick for quite a while. I didnít understand what was going on, but I knew and could sense what this was putting my parents through. I remember there was a specific day where I was sitting there, and he was laying on the couch, deathly ill, though he made it through, and Laurel & Hardy came on. It was "The Piano Mover".

I remember feeling worse watching them trying to get the piano up the stairs. When they finally get it up there, it starts playing, ďThe Arkansas Traveler.Ē Then they start dancing and doing this joyous, little, stupid dance. It just made me laugh and feel good, and it made me forget about what I was going through. It meant so much to me. It was an unabashed expression of joy. I fully blame this song on that experience, and my post-pandemic experience.

AH: Thatís a big parallel. We were talking about these plague diaries, and there are others, where people are just dancing and having an explosion of energy when the plague lets up. Itís a sort of testament to humanity, a resurgence, like when a war ends.

Larry: Can you imagine being there when World War II ended? It was cut-and-dried, good versus evil, and there was nothing ambiguous about it. Everybody banded together to defeat this evil, then it was done. We havenít had a well-defined moment like that since then.

AH: This subject actually reminds me of ďThe Pretty and The Fair.Ē Itís a beautiful, delicate song, but it shows a kind of decision to commit to beauty.

Larry: I had been living in Jackson, Mississippi, but I came back to New York in 1978. I started playing in a band with John Herald from The Greenbriar Boys. He had been a hero of mine as a kid. The bass player in that band was called Marty David and he had just done a record with Jesse Colin Young. He played me this song from that record, and there was something about it that just hit me in a certain spot back then.

I always thought I wanted to be part of this song in some form or fashion. I liked what it was saying and the melody, and when Teresa and I started playing with Levon, I brought this song to her as something we might do as a duet. But it never seemed to fit into the Levon Helm Band thing. It all came back to me when we started doing this record.

Teresa: Weíve done it live some before.

Larry: I love the sentiment in this song, looking at the beautiful side of life, looking for the things that make you feel better, that make you feel glad to be alive.

Teresa: It goes in with that idea of the human spirit rising up, like when you healed from covid, Larry. Itís about coming through it.

Larry: And singing this song with Teresa just lands at a spot in me that makes me feel great. That was decisive in ending the record with that, too.