Photograph by Danny Clinch
With a healthy relationship and a creative spurt she calls the most prolific in her career, alt-country's queen of pain and heartbreak sounds sweet—and shockingly upbeat—on her ninth studio album, Little Honey. Here, she gets in touch with her feminine side.
Q: You do a cover of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" on the new album. Are you a closet headbanger?
A: I was into a lot of the blues-based rock bands like Cream, the early Stones. The punk thing flew right by me, but the metal bands like AC/DC were holding on to that blues stuff. I also got into Tool, Audioslave, Machinehead.
Q: You take brat rockers like Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse to task on "Little Rock Star." Was there a particular inspiration?
A: It's not really about Pete Doherty, but I just kept seeing his face popping up all fucked up when I was writing. Amy Winehouse is terribly disheartening, bless her little disheveled soul. Really, the song had a lot to do with Ryan Adams—he's a friend of mine—before he sobered up.
Q: Do you feel like the weary rock matriarch dispensing advice?
A: I'm 55 years old, and Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde are the only women in my age group who are doing this thing. It's shocking. But I'm in the best place in my whole life on every level. Except I don't look as good as I used to. Matt Hendrickson
Williams performs "Real Love" on the Late Show with David Letterman