Kelly Willis: Country Music in Translation Singer Kelly Willis says she "had something to prove" with Translated from Love, her first CD in five years. She hopes people do a "double take" when listening to the disc, which includes a cover of an Iggy Pop song.
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Kelly Willis: Country Music in Translation

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Kelly Willis: Country Music in Translation

Kelly Willis: Country Music in Translation

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Kelly Willis has four children under the age of 7, including a set of twins. So how does she have enough time to tie her shoes, much less write and sing songs like this one, "Sweet Sundown"?

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Sundown")

Ms. KELLY WILLIS (Country Singer): (Singing) How did you accompany with such a tragic week? How on earth did you know what to say? And could you taste those tears on my trembling lips when you kiss my blues away?

SIMON: After a five-year hiatus from music to heat about a million baby bottles and coax out of two million burps, Kelly Willis has a new CD, "Translated from Love." She joins us now from the studios of KUT in Austin.

Kelly Willis, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. WILLIS: Oh, it's my pleasure to be here.

SIMON: Well, with just half as many children, I still have to ask, did you record this CD just so you could get out of the house and go on tour and get some sleep?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIS: Partially, yes. You know, my husband's a musician, too. And before we had kids, whoever was leaving the house to go play music was going to work and that was the person we wish luck to. And now, whoever is running out the door is going to have to fun and you just kind of, go, good luck. It's all that. Well, I'm gone so.

SIMON: Now, as I understand the development of this album, it started out as what's called a cover album of other people's songs, but you wound up co-writing half of these songs. How did that happen?

Ms. WILLIS: I did. Well, you know, at first, I just didn't think I had any time or creative energy, but once I got Chuck Prophet involved as a producer, he just kind of made us write together. He just said I'm going to be there on this day and that day, and we're going to write.

SIMON: Our paperwork says you're at the studio there today with Andrew Nafziger and his guitar.

Ms. WILLIS: Yes.

Mr. ANDREW NAFZIGER (Guitarist): Hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Nice to meet you, Mr. Nafziger.

Mr. NAFZIGER: Nice to meet you, too.

SIMON: And he's going to perform a couple of songs for us, I'm told, beginning with...

Ms. WILLIS: Yeah.

SIMON: ..."Nobody Wants To Go To the Moon Anymore."

Ms. WILLIS: That's right. This is a Damon Bramblett song.

(Soundbite of song, "Nobody Wants To Go To the Moon Anymore")

Ms. WILLIS: (Singing) I don't know a soul that wants to visit the moon. That bruise in the sky of buds and balloon, a big, rotten egg trashing up the sky, a red-faced drunk with a hundred black eyes. And nobody wants to go, nobody wants to go to the moon anymore.

Nobody wants to ride on that big rocketship. Should have stolen me a wink to take that sniveling ship. The truckstop's abandoned, the cook broke grill. They kicked out the windows and tainted each thrill. And nobody wants to go, nobody wants to go the moon anymore.

Your mother's vacation there on a senior trip, you were just a sprout in time. A smile on her lips since she blew all her money that very first day on a fist full of trinkets your grandma threw away.

Nobody wants to see the stars that were cast. All those black-and-white movies, the scenes from the past. The drive-in's deserted, every speakers been tossed. The projector caught fire, every last frame was lost. And nobody wants to go, nobody wants to go to the moon anymore.

Your father found work there, he was raised in the midway. He puts that wheel in the air. Hustled toys going to threw away. Kissed all the girls, won 'em all teddy bears. Woke up with love and I'm crying, and gum in his hair.

Nobody wants to ride the cannon balls to the sky, had a bucket of balls (unintelligible) on high. Why waste a spare, bought a postcard from Atlanta to see. Why waste a step of mankind when the world's at your feet? And nobody wants to go, nobody wants to go, nobody wants to go to the moon anymore.

SIMON: Ms. Willis, that was just great.

Ms. WILLIS: Thank you.

SIMON: And the imagery of the moon is just wonderful, that bruise in the sky, red-faced drunk with a hundred black eyes, that's just wonderful.

Ms. WILLIS: Yeah. Well, my friend Damon Bramblett who lives here in town wrote that song, and he's just - he packs a lot of words into his songs, and I love to cover them but I cursed him at the same time because that makes more opportunity for me to forget them. But when I'm thinking about that, he's really got a wonderful style.

SIMON: You helped produced your last album a few years ago.

Ms. WILLIS: I did.

SIMON: Is it hard not to do that?

Ms. WILLIS: It kind of is. I've kind of gotten to be a little bit of a control freak. You know, I was in Nashville for many years and young and kind of being groomed into something that I really wasn't suited for. And in order to kind of get back on the right track, for me, I just had to take control. And so I'm kind of a holdover(ph) from that. I feel like I need to be in control all the time when it's not necessarily true. So I just finally realized that, hey, I can let somebody else take the reins and it will be all right.

SIMON: When you say you were being groomed into something you weren't?

Ms. WILLIS: Groomed into something I wasn't suited for really.

SIMON: Yeah. What was that? They were trying to make you into?

Ms. WILLIS: Well, I was very young when I got signed to M.C. I was 20 years old. And I was a very raw talent, and I don't think anybody really knew what to expect so that meant that everybody had great expectations in whatever area they were hoping for. And in Nashville, of course, they were hoping that I would be a big record seller. I think I was meant to bridge the gap between mainstream country and kind of the whole alternative world of, you know, edgier stuff.

And I just really couldn't deliver for them in that regard, unfortunately. You know, I was not able to be the kind of performer that a lot of Nashville stars are that can just go out there and just sing and put on a show. And I was incapable of that, unfortunately.

SIMON: I'd like to listen to one of the songs that you co-wrote on this CD.

Ms. WILLIS: Okay.

SIMON: "Too Much To Lose." This is, I guess, written with Chuck Prophet, which you would share.

(Soundbite of song, "Too Much To Lose")

Ms. WILLIS: (Singing) Here comes tomorrow with no name for the star or what I feel. There's nothing more (unintelligible) within to the truth that is real. One more than a dream song. I'll be so far gone that I can't choose. There's too much to lose, too much to lose, too much to lose.

SIMON: Is that your husband singing with you?

Ms. WILLIS: That is...

SIMON: Bruce Robinson.

Ms. WILLIS: ...Bruce Robinson, yeah.

SIMON: I'm assuming, as experts both of you are, that this is still probably not the first take. What...

Ms. WILLIS Yeah.

SIMON: What it's like when you were in such proximity with your spouse and you have to sing a touching, even wrenching song like this, over and over and over again?

Ms. WILLIS: Gosh, you know, we started dating in '91 so we played together lots and we love to sing together. It's just one of the greatest things in my life, it's when I get to sing with him and so it's really okay to do it over and over.

SIMON: Do you two sing around the house to your children?

Ms. WILLIS: We do. They don't like us to, but we do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Kids go through that stage where they put their hands over their ears, right?

Ms. WILLIS: They frequently tell us to stop singing.

SIMON: But I ask this, do they know what you do for a living?

Ms. WILLIS: They know that we go sing and play music for people. My oldest son has actually run out on stage before and grabbed my leg during a song, you know, wanted me to leave and go home with him and also stood there on stage, staring at the crowd picking his nose during, you know, a song. So he completely upstaged me. But, you know, it's showbiz, so I was grateful for -that he entertains the crowd.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a song that we want to go out on, that you and Andrew Nafziger are going to perform. The title is "Translated From Love." This is not one of your songs but it is the title of your album.

Ms. WILLIS: Yes.

SIMON: So what made you choose this song?

Ms. WILLIS: Well, I just love the kind of advice that this song is dispensing. You know, that just - to take everything that comes your way and, you know, imagine that it's coming from a loving place and then filter your response from the loving place and it's not mushy at all. It's just powerful.

SIMON: Okay. Let's listen to you and Andrew Nafziger.

Ms. WILLIS: Right. Ready?


(Soundbite of song, "Translated From Love")

Ms. WILLIS: (Singing) No admittance beyond this point unless you go on riding (unintelligible) and get it translated from love. And if it goes up the seismograph, you got to control the aftermath and get it translated from love, translated, translated, translated from love.

Could have been there (unintelligible) over I can make it out on my own and get it translated from love. Had it frightening just to think of kids, one of the most important thing, it didn't get it translated from love, translated, translated, translated from love.

SIMON: Ms. Willis, thanks so much.

Ms. WILLIS: Thank you very much.

SIMON: Kelly Willis accompanied by Andrew Nafziger on the guitar. Her new CD, "Translated From Love," and you can listen to more songs. You can watch her video called "Teddy Boys" on our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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