It has been a tumultuous four years since the release of singer-songwriter Bec Willis' last album. In that time, the mother-of-two has experienced the breakdown of her marriage, relocated interstate back home and lost her Mum. Not one to give into challenges, she channelled the heartache and the result is an intensely honest 12-track country blues offering that traverses songs of turmoil and sadness to hope and uplifting positivity.
When Bec sings 'you won't find the girl I used to be, you'll find me' it is the ethos as such for the entire album Other Side Of Town. Over the past couple of years she has found herself, and her confidence as a musician – digging deep to cement her style and sound that is 100 per cent her own, something she is completely proud of. Likewise, the songs penned for the album were part of this journey and are an apt showcase of who Bec Willis is and where she has come from. Recorded with long-time friend and collaborator Bill Chambers in his home studio, it features the veritable who's who of country musicians to bring the 'live' sound to the fore.
The album was penned between New South Wales and South Australia – during Bec's transition of moving back home. In the span of two months, she lost her marriage and her Mother, and upturned her life.
Emotions have always triggered inspiration for songwritng for Bec and this was certainly no different. The experience of completely changing her life was an upheaval she didn't see coming. It has also been cathartic.
"It was a personal and spiritual return to my roots," she says of her decision to relocate back to South Australia. "Being around my family in my original home town definitely played a huge part in a lot of the writing, as I have had a beautiful support network. This album is about me coming home to 'me' as much as it is coming home to my literal home in South Australia. You can't be fake or stuck-up in our family, and you can't hide your feelings. They are salt of the earth, working-class people who see through bulls**t, so it was the only place I could go to start my life again, so to speak."
Other Side Of Town is easily Bec's most honest, and in turn, relatable album to date. She doesn't hold back in sharing every part of herself in her songwriting. "I frequently feel daunted by the fact that my heart is on my sleeve in my writing," she says. "I can't seem to not be honest in my lyrics, which is interesting because I've been a real doormat in real life and always been a bit afraid of saying what I mean, and standing up to people. Maybe this is my outlet for expression where I can be totally courageous? I believe that everyone has stories that are both unique and have universal truths – we all as humans have been through 'stuff', good and bad. The people I respect the most are honest people, it's a value that can't be bought."
Recorded in Bill Chambers studio in Bensville and mastered by Jeff McCormack, the album features musicians Dean Ray, Chris Haigh, Ali Foster and Michael Sparrow – all long-time friends and colleagues who came together to help create the 'live' sound Bec wanted to achieve with the record. With two albums already under her belt – her self-titled debut release (2007) and Little Soul (2015) – the angelic singer-songwriter knew she didn't want an album that sounded over produced, she just wanted it to sound like it would if her fans caught her at a gig with her band.
"I wanted to sound like me," she says. "I wanted to be able to sing the songs live solo and have the studio reflect that sound, and for there be a consistency between the album version and the live version. I have never pre-meditated a sound for an album, there is magic in what happens among us musicians and producers in the studio. I wanted some fun songs on the album too, because I know that my content can be intensely emotional and recreating the album live could potentially be exhausting emotionally if there is no variety. Having songs like White Ass, Hot Spot, All We Need Is Love, Drive and Real Thing really lifts it for me and makes performing the album live a lot of fun and not so heavy."
Indeed, Other Side Of Town is the perfect blend of an album. It is raw, emotional and honest. But it also has some tongue-in cheek sass that gets the toes tapping. It is an album that shows the depth of Bec's writing and how much she has grown as a musician. There is something for everyone to take home from Other Side Of Town – the main one being you can't keep a good woman down and Bec Willis is kicking butt!
For more information, please visit www.becwillismusic.com
Question: Can you tell us about Other Side Of Town?
Bec Willis: Other Side of Town was written in 2017/2018 down various roads in South Australia while driving to gigs. I was inspired by my marriage ending and my Mum dying, which both devastated me, relocating back to SA to my family as a single parent which healed me and falling in complete unexpected love. The songs are a "coming home" to myself and my music as well as coming home to my country and people in SA, as well as new beginnings after painful endings. I recorded it with Bill Chambers, my long time mentor, friend and collaborator in NSW in four days.
Question: How difficult was it to relive challenging times when writing the honest collection of songs featured on Other Side Of Town?
Bec Willis: It wasn't painful at all, it was a sweet release and was giving voice to feelings that were overwhelming me at the time, when I was in the acute pain and grief stage I wasn't writing, but when that stage leveled out somewhat the songs started flowing and it was such a great feeling to be able to express myself.
Question: How did this change your songwriting process?
Bec Willis: It actually didn't change it at all; I've always had a process where the content of the song just brews for a while as an idea, then usually around the New Moon the songs just come out, literally come out of my mouth in the form of lyrics and melody usually as I'm driving. There's something about physical movement which opens up the space for me to write, driving or going for a walk. The editing process was more careful this time, I didn't want to have a complete album of grief and sadness as I love performing live and I like to inspire joy in people too, so I didn't select every sad song I wrote. Also, after endings came the new beginnings so with that came a feeling of freedom in terms of being a single mum, and freedom as a woman to choose my future and path.
Question: Which is your favourite song to perform live and why?
Bec Willis: Definitely "White Ass" because it's so much kickass fun to play live! It's a celebration and a mission statement, after years of allowing myself to be beaten down emotionally and de-valued by narcissistic people in my life I took a stand and said "this is me, like it or lump it" and it felt so good! So I love playing that one, plus it's a rocker and I get to play some crankin' harmonica!
Question: Which music/artists are you currently listening to?
Bec Willis: Currently I'm not listening to any music apart from what my sons (8 and 10) play! Music affects me so much, and I'm in a real doing mode right now so I'm taking any moments I have alone to just hear the birds in the back yard!
Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
Bec Willis: Good question, probably Harry Hookey or Mary Black... I've done gigs with Harry but if I ever collaborated in a songwriting way it would be either of those artists. I have a strong connection to Ireland and have always loved Mary Black's lilting melodies and tender treatment of songs. Harry is a beautiful song writer and I love his musical style.
Question: Was there a moment you contemplated walking away from music?
Bec Willis: YES! Many times. But to clarify it's been about walking away from the music business not music itself. I've learnt that you have to make your own opportunities and love the music you make. I've walked away from gigs where I've been treated disrespectfully by men where they have seen me as some sort of target for sexual opportunity simply because I'm a woman solo playing songs. I've learnt to follow my gut and play shows where I feel safe, with people I trust. It's an issue that we shouldn't have to worry about as female artists but unfortunately it's a reality for many of us.
Question: What five things are required for a happy healthy and enjoyable life?
Bec Willis: The ability and permission to love and care for myself.
Finding a balance between motherhood, alone time, creative time, fun and work.
Keeping the physical body healthy with enough rest, good food and exercise.
Having real and honest people close in my life.
Staying inspired by nature, my kids, art in all its forms and being open to different experiences.
Question: What's next, for you?
Bec Willis: No idea! The plan is to keep gigging, travel when I can, write when I'm inspired, keep enjoying motherhood and giving my best to my boys, and my aim always as a songwriter is to share my stories and help someone to laugh or cry or heal.
Question: Can you share your socials?
Bec Willis: Facebook/becwillismusic.com
Interview by Brooke Hunter