[sic] Magazine

Interview – Anna-Lynne Williams

Songbird of happiness?

Anna-Lynne Williams is known to many as the voice behind Trespassers William, the beguiling and much missed dreampop/folk duo. There is more to her than that of course. This year saw the release of Blue Bird of Happiness her third album under the banner of Lotte Kestner, which is, for all intents and purposes Williams in solo guise. Continuity is assured for Trespassers William devotees. Williams herself guarantees this. Her heart and soul personifies the songwriting, plus of course that aching vocal of hers remains present and correct, as beautiful as it ever was.

When I listen to Anna-Lynne Williams music I’m most struck by the contrast between content and delivery. Her voice is intimate, personal to you the listener. Yet her words and her subject matter seem distant and reflective, personal to her alone. Lotte Kestner songs are like secrets whispered between lovers. In addition to her original music she has augmented her portfolio with a raft of cover songs – familiar, classic songs all getting the ‘Williams’ treatment.

I was very happy that Anna-Lynne agreed to answer some questions on the eve of her West Coast tour. Enjoy the interview. And if you are in Washington, Oregon or California she will be passing through very shortly.

How are you and what are you up to right now?

Anna-Lynne: Hi there, I’m really enjoying my summer. Seattle is hot right now, I’m trying to keep cool. Getting ready for tour. Got a haircut today. Finishing up a few more cover songs for my Kickstarter supporters before I leave town for a few weeks. Recorded a Slowdive song last night. Writing poetry. Eating Thai food.

Why the name Lotte Kestner? (Who was Lotte Kestner?)


Anna-Lynne: Charlotte Kestner was the name of the woman who inspired Goethe to write The Sorrows of Young Werther, a book I read during my first time touring France. I enjoy the sound of her name, and believe in the importance of muses. I didn’t want to use my own name for this project because I knew it wasn’t my last, so I borrowed hers.

How would you describe your musical style(s)? Do you or did you ever feel part of any genre?

Anna-Lynne: On one hand, I wish I fit more into a particular scene. On the other, I guess I’m happy to just do my own thing and focus more on the words than on what the sound of the music is going to be. But everything I love is wrapped up in there somewhere, some shoegaze and folk, some singer/songwriter stuff. Poems and movies and people.

Trespassers fans will find much to please them in your latest project. How does your work in Lotte Kestner differ from Trespassers William? Can you contrast the two?


Anna-Lynne: There’s definitely a big overlap, since I wrote the Trespassers songs by myself in my bedroom as well, but then they were transformed by the band. Whereas the Lotte Kestner songs kind of stay just the way they are. In fact, with most of the songs on The Bluebird of Happiness, I made an effort to record the lead vocals and primary guitar parts on the same day that I wrote them whenever possible. To get the original feeling and excitement about the song. And then just added things like synths and strings later. Trespassers was a much longer process where sometimes a year would go by before a song was recorded, due to writing all of the parts and waiting for a day in the studio. I can see why some people would rather hear the dressed up or dressed down songs, and I like having had both projects to express myself.

I was playing Cast only yesterday and just amazed at the relentless quality on show. Track after track of beauty really. And it is only a rarities compilation. (I say ‘only’ but there is nothing only about it.) To me it is a ‘must have’ album and only reinforces how saddening it was to learn you were calling a halt to Trespassers William. Can you expand a bit on that decision?

Anna-Lynne: Thanks so much. Some of those songs on Cast, like ‘Axes’ and ‘Believe Me’, were intended for a future album that never happened. I still play ‘Believe Me’ at most of my solo shows because it’s one of my favorites. A few others, like ‘Far Too Far’, were intended for Different Stars, etc. We have parted ways, for now, but I’m not sure if that is a permanent decision. That was partly due to the fact that I hurt my wrist so badly and had to take time away from playing music for the better part of a year. I had a lot of healing and thinking to do. Ironically I ended up focusing on Lotte Kestner this year, as it’s something I can do at my own pace, but then it means I have to play all of the guitar which is pretty painful for me still. I can use all the help I can get.

Your songs seem to have a personality of their own. I get the impression of beauty, vulnerability and sensitivity. Are your songs reflections of you Anna-Lynne? Or do you write in the third person sometimes as well?


Anna-Lynne: I rarely write in the third person… unless I’m thinking about some other piece of art I’ve just witnessed, like a film. But yeah, for the most part songwriting is a way for me to communicate things going on in my life.

Can we ask you about your love of covers? – you aren’t afraid to re-interpret classic songs. What is the appeal for you in taking on someone else’s song?

Anna-Lynne: Well let’s see. A lot of the covers were actually requested of us (Trespassers) for tribute albums and collections. Otherwise I might not necessarily have thought to cover those particular songs. And then further down the road I started recording more covers because my songwriting kind of slowed down. But I was just getting into mixing my own music. Stolen is the covers album I put out, which is the first album I didn’t write, but also the first one I mixed myself. I just really wanted to keep moving forward, but you don’t always write twelve songs every year… But then with a lot of changes happening in my life and the wrist injury, I found myself with a lot to write about again. But whenever I get invited to take part in a tribute, I still oblige because it’s fun.

Is it brave to perform a cover song? ‘Vapour Trail’ for example, that’s probably Ride’s greatest track.


Anna-Lynne: I suppose so, yeah. You are inviting comparisons whether you want to or not. I actually wasn’t familiar with ‘Vapour Trail’ when we covered it, which I know is blasphemy 🙂 But Matt called me into the studio and asked me to take a listen to the song so that we could cover it. Sometimes you don’t fall in love with a song until further down the line.

From a UK perspective, I never felt that Trespassers William attracted the attention you deserved. A familiar story really. If you don’t fit in with whatever scene is taking off at the time they just don’t care, regardless how fantastic the music is. How did you go down in the States? I think you found your way onto a few notable soundtracks, no?

Anna-Lynne: I think we did better in Europe than we ever did in the US, perhaps because we were on some solid UK labels, or because the aesthetic is different over there. Perhaps if we could’ve come over and toured more often.. But our last European tour in 2009 actually went shockingly well. I’m happy with the small level of success that we’ve had. We’ve sold out a couple of shows, and that makes me feel content.

How happy are you now as Lotte Kestner? Is it working out the way you wanted?

Anna-Lynne: I love working on the Lotte Kestner albums. Like I said, I get to add the layers and textures myself, instead of someone else doing it, and follow my original thought right through to the end. But after having done that for a few albums, I’m ready to either give LK a bit of a make over, or else focus on a few bigger collaborations. Just to change pace again, and to give my wrist a rest.


What can you tell us about your tour?

Anna-Lynne: Well I’m leaving in just a few days to tour down the US west coast with Kevin Long, who is a brilliant musician (and happens to be my boyfriend). We decided we didn’t want to play our quiet music in bars and clubs, so most of our shows are in living rooms, shops, gardens, things like that. We’re spending a night in a teepee at some hot springs. We’re taking the scenic route back home. We’ll drive past China Mountain, the one I named my first solo album after. When you just have a couple of people and a couple of guitars it’s much easier to do this sort of thing.

What does the future hold for Anna-Lynne Williams/Lotte Kestner?

Anna-Lynne: I have a lot of new songs, but I’m sort of waiting to see what project I want to focus on after I get back from tour. My band Ormonde will have a new album out next year. And I still want to write a novel and get a puppy. That’s about all I know right now. 🙂

~[sic] thanks Anna-Lynne. Photographs used are with kind permission and may be subject to copyright. Forest photo by Maurice Morales. Live photo by Mocha Charlie. The summer 2013 tour starts now. See links for dates and further details. The Bluebird of Happiness is out now released by Saint Marie Records. Finally, YES I know which Slowdive song. I’m not telling.~

Lotte Kestner

Lotte Kestner Facebook page

China Mountain review (The little match girl)