When singer/songwriter Reva Williams moved to Lexington almost two years ago, she didn’t waste much time carving out a name for herself in the local music scene. Today she performs in a handful of genre-spanning local projects, including the “raucous and soulful” Americana band that she fronts, called the Reva Dawn Salon; a “great, little newgrassy outfit” called Small Batch; and her newest project, a jazz-influenced “science fiction lounge electronica” group called Italian Beaches.
Williams also holds tight to her Boston-based band, Gretel, and plays banjo in an Americana/hip-hop band fronted by her good friend Will Gray, who is based out of L.A.
Needless to say, Williams is a young artist trying to make it in the modern day music industry. So when Gray started documenting his own trials and tribulations as an emerging musician trying to advance his career while the two were on tour together a few years ago, Williams became integrated into the project, which ultimately turned into a full-length documentary about the experience of breaking into the music scene. The film “broke*” features interviews with dozens of music industry insiders, from well-known musicians Kelly Clarkson, Buddy Miller and John Legend, to independent artists and label owners, and was accepted into a handful of film festivals last year. The film was awarded a “Special Jury Prize for Most Original Vision” from the Nashville Film Festival in the Gibson Music Films/Music City Competition.
Gray and Williams have just kicked off a tour of the film, screening it in 17 cities and accompanying the showing with a live set of music and a question-and-answer session. Williams recently took a few moments to chat with us about the film and her experience as a working musician in Lexington.
What were some of your impressions of the music culture in Lexington as a newcomer?
The scene here is sweet and small, which I love. There’s a great variety of good stuff going on for this size of town – from Ancient Warfare to Coralee & The Townies, Fuma, Idiot Glee, The Tallboys, I could go on and on and on. There’s stuff being played and sung that surprises me, which as an artist is a super important thing to have in the town you do your art in.
What are the biggest assets and biggest challenges for the Lexington music scene, in your opinion?
I think Lexington – like most towns – needs to figure out a way to get more people out of their houses and away from their TVs and phones to take in the viscerality of its live music. To me, live music is one of the quickest, more sure-fire ways to find yourself once again in your body in the middle of your life. It can erase the pull and tragedy of an auto-piloted self. It can bring us into the present. I think people have forgotten what that’s like. So much so that I don’t think they remember how good and terrifying it feels to be exactly where they are with their whole self. How do local musicians compete with everything else that vies for people’s attention? How do we pull them and us out of our slumbering, screen-centric lives? We have to be really, really good at what we do so that when/if we get a chance to be in front of people, we give them something they can’t easily forget and want to experience again.
But I think that’s the struggle for every town, for every life. We’re disconnected, and it’s the aim of the artist to connect. Our challenge here in Lex is the challenge of our culture at large.
I think our main asset here in Lexington is that there is good, live music happening all the time. If people want it (and don’t mind staying up late), they can find it.
Tell us about the film “broke*,” which you are currently touring in support of with the director and close friend Will Gray – how did the idea for the movie come about and what is your role in it?
Will has had a hilarious musical life – so many close calls with major labels wanting to, planning to sign him and make him some kind of superstar. After years and years of the promise without its fulfillment, he started wondering if the thing that he was seeking, that they were promising, was even possible anymore. So, he started asking friends and documenting it, and it kept growing. And he realized that there are tons of voices, but no answers to the question: “How does an artist break anymore?” And he documented those voices, as well as his and my journey in the middle of it.
Talk a little about your experience trying to “make it” as an independent artist. How do you define success, and do you feel you have been able to achieve it?
I don’t know that I’ve ever properly tried to “make it.” While there is no direct route to that, I haven’t even put myself in the way of it. I think my definition of success keeps changing. Right now, I would feel successful if I can accomplish the following within a decent timeframe: I want to get The Reva Dawn Salon record I’m working on finished and out and tour it. I want to finish the Small Batch record we’re working on. I need to make money on this tour that Will and I are doing so that we can tour again in the foreseeable future and record our next project. I want to keep improving and becoming more specific as an artist in all the things I do. I want to do good work – work that surprises and challenges and inspires, but is still accessible.
Sreening of broke*:
A documentary about the struggles and triumphs of trying to break into the modern day music industry. Performance and Q&A with Reva Williams and the film’s director, Will Gray, to follow.
7 p.m. July 8. Land of Tommorow Gallery, 527 E. Third St.