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An Interview with Camela Widad

2016 February 2
by Mike Vial

I met songwriter Camela Widad at Folk Alliance (SERFA) in 2013. She’s a real-deal songwriter, a Falcon Ridge Emerging Songwriter finalist, and an experienced Folk Alliance showcase artist.

I’m lucky to also call her a friend.

In 2014, I went to my second SERFA conference, but was extremely unprepared. I hadn’t rehearsed very much, I was sleep deprived from constant gigging, and I hadn’t even packed enough clothes for the weekend.

It didn’t hit me how unprepared I was until the first night of the music conference, as I was standing in the foyer of the conference center, watching about 20 songwriters share songs by the fireplace. I was relieved when I saw Camela walk up. A familiar face!

Camela asked why I was sitting on the outside of the circle, watching and not participating; and I didn’t know how to answer the question, except share the struggles of that year. Trying to close on the house, the loss of the first pregnancy, my tiredness of the road…

“I’m not even sure if I should be here at the conference, Camela,” I said.

Camela offered these simple words of encouragement: “It’s going to be OK, even when it’s not right now. That’s why you’re here!”

That beacon of light is in her songwriting, too.

It’s inspiring for me to meet other parents who are touring songwriters. This is no easy road, and the people who find healthy ways to balance the music and family life are my role-models.

So I interviewed Camela, asking her to share thoughts about songwriting, family, and maintaining a creative life.

  1. MV: How was your experience at Falcon Ridge Festival? How has the experience of being an emerging finalist affected your songwriting this year?

CW: I had a great time at FRFF except there is so much to do that I definitely had to deal with the FOMO – Fear of Missing Out!  Being an Emerging songwriter this year is an honor and more than anything it gave me a sense of affirmation. Knowing that my work is connecting to such a great community of music lovers and many amazing songwriters, felt like I am right where I need to be. And then somewhere inside there’s a little voice that says, “OK, next!” So, sitting down to write hasn’t changed much. Maybe it should, maybe more people will be listening but the process of digging in, listening to a song emerge from inside and trying to bring it to life; that is the same.

  1. MV: Being a new parent myself, I appreciate meeting songwriting parents! How do you maintain that work, creative, parenting balance? Any tips for new parents?

CW: Great question!  When my daughter was born I took her to all of my shows with her Dad. She grew up with it until she couldn’t sit still. Then extended family, grandparents–if you have that available–are a great help.

I love being a parent and I love being an artist, so I made a decision to create a life where I could have both.

MV: Do you do other musical work to maintain that balance?

CW: I teach voice (self employed) so that I can be on the road when I want and be home with her everyday after school, or she is with me at the studio while I teach (kind of like the old-school family business, where the whole family grows up with the business).

MV: I imagine communication is really important.

CW: I give her plenty of time to talk about and process her feelings about me, my work, her life and sometimes have to give her “leading questions” to pull out what’s going on inside of her.  As soon as she says what she needs to, when she is upset or feels she’s not getting enough time with me, she feels much better and then we can work on solutions to feel more connected when I am gone.

MV: Any tools help you stay connected while on the road?

CW: I make sure to check in, Facetime or Skype when I’m on the road. I did a lot of this early on so now, she’s 12, she’s says “Uh, Mom, I don’t need you to check in with me so much – OK!”

MV: Wow! I love that anecdote! Being a new parent where my baby is crawling, it’s hard to picture her future independence!

CW: My advice to new parents, to any new parents is this: listen to your inner wisdom and listen to your kid(s). You’ll know what to do.

  1. MV: The “Warriors of Love” theme is so consistent through your newest record. How did this theme emerge? Is it coming from personal experience?

CW: I have a soft spot in my heart for social justice. “Warriors of Love” was my exploration of a concept album based on principles I’ve learned and people I’ve met.

I took a peace keeping training in 2011-2012 where I learned conflict resolution as well as eye-opening listening skills. It’s amazing how much conflict we can resolve just by truly listening to someone without thinking of our response! I have also traveled extensively in the US and some parts of Europe.

MV: How have these travels affected your perspective on the world, let alone your songwriting?

CW: By far 95% of the people I have met are really good people, loving, generous, and a little bit heart broken that our political/economic world has gotten to this place, not representative of who we truly are. I wanted to give these stories a voice, give a voice to us, maybe connect us a little bit, people continuing to show up with love or compassion when it is so hard, when being bitter and cynical would be easier, those loving with the strength of a warrior.

I grew up listening to Americana music on vinyl so I wanted an album to feel like you were home listening to and telling the stories of our experience with that laid back Americana sound and some subtle ear candy thrown in! I like transitions on albums and WOL has some that I am really proud of.

  1. While writing personal themes can be cathartic, but scary! Any advice for songwriters scared to share such personal themes and events in their own songwriting?

CW: Leap and the Net will Appear… I was encouraged to write all the way into my darkest memories.

I remember thinking, “Who is gonna listen to this?” Telling a balanced story is different that using a song to be therapy but you have to start somewhere.

MV: That honesty is essential for songwriting, isn’t it.

CW: Get really honest, there is no other way. Play the songs out, see what happens, you’ll find out quick if it was too much or if it gives the audience their own experience of your honesty. To me that means I have to make the song universal sometimes and less personal.

MV: I was blogging about that debate, recently, when to go topical, universal or personal…

CW: It does depend on the market you are writing for but I have found the more universal the better my fans can hear their own story or experience in the song. I can’t get really dark with my music, it’s just not me. If I have to take on some difficult material, I end up creating the balance within the song, the yin/yang, darkness/light, that is what feels honest to me.

When I wrote a real humdinger of a cathartic song, “My Turn” track #6 on “Warriors of Love” I really did think no one would want to hear it.

MV: That’s one of my favorites! I still vividly remember hearing you sing that a SERFA. It sounds so great solo acoustic, but those strings on the track a beautiful. Did you road test it before recording it?

CW: So I tried it on the road for a Monday night show, about a year before we put it on the record. It was a smaller room just for me to see what would happen. Pin drop silence at the end. I thought, “Oh man, I really blew it on this one.” But then everyone was wiping their eyes, taking a breath and were thanking me for writing it. WHAT?!  Lesson learned.

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Buy Warriors of Love on iTunes here.

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