At first it might sound odd to hear singer-songwriter Lucy Billings refer to a “cool synergy” between writing song lyrics and writing a contract. But for this energetic artist, balancing a flurry of musical endeavors with a fast-paced job as a licensing lawyer seems completely normal.
She explains, “I write contracts all day long. I need to be adept at getting words on the page and editing and then deciding if they capture what I want to convey.” She continues, “I think this discipline has enhanced my song-writing and having the song melody as a scaffold for the lyrics makes the writing even more fun.” With a laugh she concludes “although this may be a necessary adaptation since I’ve been juggling these two endeavors for quite a few years!”
Billings grew up in the Arizona desert--roadrunners, jumping cactus, the steady drone of cicadas in the hot summer sun, mirages on the roads that looked like water. As a youngster, she spent a lot of time on a ranch in Wyoming learning to ride horses and collecting stories about cowboys. When she was nine, her parents found Billings strumming her tennis racquet to one of their records, so they got her a guitar. She learned chords from a Mel Bay book and then someone gave her a Joni Mitchell record and she went wild with all sorts of weird tunings.
Billings wrote her first song at the age of ten. In the years since, she has continued to polish her craft of transforming stories and life experiences into songs that entertain, inspire and touch those who hear them. As she says, “I’ve been a cowgirl, a college dropout, a scientist and a lawyer, but through it all, the song writing has been the thread that holds it all together.”
Billings’ debut album, “Open Air” (2006) was produced by the highly acclaimed guitarist, Andrew Hardin, best-known for the many years he spent working with the great Tom Russell. The Palo Alto Daily News called the album a “breath of fresh air” in Americana music. Other singer-songwriters described the album as “lush and evocative” with “lyrics so poetic, yet real, and masterfully matched with the music” and Billings’ vocals as “warm and enchanting.”
In 2009, armed with a collection of new songs, Billings was eager to record her second album. A fan of the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter, she was well acquainted with the talents of her long-time producer and instrumentalist, John Jennings. As Billings was contemplating how to approach Jennings (since she did not know him personally), her life took an unexpected turn. The company where she worked was acquired and the new company terminated her position. She recalls, “As I was driving home after the termination meeting, it hit me that this was the second time that I had lost my job after making a decision to record an album. I figured that it was a sign of some sort and that I should just go for it. So when I got home, I looked up Jennings’ website and sent him a note.” She was thrilled when Jennings telephoned several days later and expressed his interest in producing the album. No Other Road was recorded in the summer at Jennings’ studio in Charlottesville, Virginia. Billings says, “It was a wonderful experience to work with John and to see his extraordinary talents reflected in the album….he had a plan, everything went so smoothly and it was also lots of fun.”
In addition to Billings’ guitar and lead vocals and John’s excellent piano, bass and guitar work, the album features wonderful musical contributions from John Carroll (piano), Robbie MacGruder (drums), Lloyd Maines (pedal steel guitar), Brent Truitt (mandolin), and Stuart Duncan (fiddle), plus Terry Allard, Deb Thacker and Mira Wooten on harmony vocals. For the vocal tracks that were recorded in California, she enlisted the delightful Cookie Marenco at OTR Studios. The tracks were mixed at Bias Studios near Washington, DC, by legendary producer and engineer, Bob Dawson and mastered at Bias by the very talented Mike Monseur.
Many of the songs on No Other Road come from life experiences and highlight Billings' knack for using her songs to make the stories come alive. “Daddy’s Last Drive” was written after Billings’ father passed away from a heart attack while driving in rural Indiana and the car, strangely enough, continued to travel across the countryside until it came to rest in the middle of a lovely meadow. She says, “I had to write this song to capture this amazing story and, more importantly, as a tribute to my dad -- a man who lived his life in his own way.”
“Let’s Not and Say We Did” was inspired by Billings’ “very charming” mother who figured out a diplomatic way to say “no” to her children. “Rear View Mirror” is about losing a job, letting go of the illusions of love and just trying to move on. “My Caballo” grew out of Billings’ affection for the horses that have been prominent in her life. The song takes the listener on a journey through the humorous adventures of a young girl and her equine friends. Billings wrote “From the Bottom Looking Down” after her attempt to refinance her house came to a screeching halt when she lost her job. “I had jumped through all the hoops and was about to sign the papers and then I had to go in and tell the bank that I had been laid off.” Driving home, she heard a program on NPR about an entire town that had been hit hard by the recession. “Even though I was feeling pretty bad about my situation, I realized it was nothing compared to the hard times that those folks were going through.”
The album title comes from the chorus of “Blue Highway,” a song about a family member who despite the struggles, remains steadfast in finding his own path: “when you find your own way, the path that you travel must be true; and there’s no other road, despite what others may expect from you.”
Northern California-based Billings has performed on numerous radio programs, concerts, songwriter showcases and fund-raisers. With the release of No Other Road, Lucy says with a sparkle in her eye, “I’m really excited about sharing my songs with more listeners, both national and international, and I am looking forward to the journey!”
—Biography from LucyBillings.com