The Musings of K.E. Bonner
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Kelly Williams and I met ten years ago at a writer’s critique group where she was working on a middle grade novel. Over the years we’ve become dear friends, attending multiple writer’s conferences, and cheering for each other’s successes. Eight years ago, Kelly shifted gears from writing books to writing music. It has been exciting to watch Kelly grow into an artist. Her first songs were good, but the more she writes the better she gets, and now I find her songs deeply felt and often heartbreaking.
You cut your first CD during the Covid lockdown of 2020. How did you figure out how to write, produce, and record an album while the rest of us were binge watching Netflix?
By the beginning of 2020 I had a collection of songs I felt really good about, so I set a goal to play out more. I wanted to develop my comfort and confidence on stage. I signed up for a workshop with Suzy Bogguss in Nashville, focusing on stage presence, and on the last day of the workshop, our group performed with Suzy at the Bluebird Cafe. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned when the country shut down one week later, and I had to shift gears. A fellow songwriter I’d met years before in Nashville reached out to me during lockdown, and we supported each other through the pandemic. She connected me with her friend, Bryan Austin Cuevas, a producer in Nashville. I reached out to him to get some feedback on a song and then began talking to him about the production process. I decided it was time to invest in myself and record some of my music. I’d only planned to record 4 to 5 songs but over a 7-8 month period we ended up with 11 finished songs. Working on the album was such a blessing during lockdown, but believe me, I still binge watched a ton of Netflix!
What was the biggest surprise of releasing a CD? What was the most important thing that you learned
Releasing my first CD felt like a turning point as a writer. For years, I was afraid to tell people I was a songwriter, but something shifted in me, and I didn’t want to let my fear control me anymore. My dream was to have other artists cut my songs, but I knew that would never happen if I didn’t have any recordings for them to hear. I had no idea what I was doing as I prepared to release my album, so I did a ton of research on the music business, trying to gain a better understanding of the process which included obtaining my copyrights, registering my songs with a performing rights organization, and signing up with other organizations to help collect mechanical and radio streaming royalties. I also established my own LLC in order to act as my own publisher and to keep records of my business expenses and revenues for tax purposes. I also had to work on developing my social media presence, setting up a professional music page on Facebook and Instagram as well as developing my own website. It was a lot of work! I still find the music business to be very confusing, but as I get set to release new music this year, I feel most of the leg work is done. This time around, I’m working harder to develop my skills with promotion and public relations.
Where do you think ideas come from? What is your writing process?
Ideas come from the most random places. I don’t really have a set process for how I write. I will say most ideas start with lyrics. Usually a melody quickly follows. I find words have a natural melodic quality that inspires the song. Sometimes a few lines come in and I have to sit with them for little bit to figure out what the song is about. Other times, I may start with a hook and build the song around that. Those are the easiest to write. Sometimes I may just have an image that inspires a song. For example, I was driving to church one day, listening to the radio, when a new song came on. I quickly glanced at the screen and saw the words Tin Moon before looking back to the road. When I looked again, I realized the artist's last name was Moon, but I wasn’t sure where I got the word Tin. Regardless, something about that image stuck with me. Slowly a scene developed in my mind...a backyard with twinkling lights and an old tin moon dangling from the center. Eventually that scene turned into a summer dance in a barn and the song took off from there. I learned so much from my mentor and co-writer, Stefan Cashwell, as we worked on this song, using imagery and all of the senses to let the story unfold.
What advice would you give to your 13 year-old-self?
I would say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes.” I have always been a perfectionist with a bad tendency to compare myself to others, which has always left me feeling inadequate. I’ve always wanted to feel like I have something special to offer the world. This may sound corny, but with age I’ve learned that I am uniquely who God made me to be and that is special. I am enough just as I am.
What comes first, the lyrics or the melody?
Lyrics almost always come first. There have been a few songs I’ve started with a chord progression but that’s pretty rare. I find those harder to write.
You started out by writing books then switched to writing songs, how did that transition take place?
I started writing children’s fiction when my oldest daughter was three. She inspired a picture book idea. Up to that point, I’d never thought about writing fiction. I honestly didn’t think I was much of a writer, but something inside of me felt compelled to try. I met a published children’s book author named Katharine Robey, and she gave me some helpful feedback. Then I took a continuing education class at Emory on Children’s book writing and joined a regular writing critique group with author Carol Lee Lorenzo, where you and I ultimately met. I went on to write close to a dozen picture book manuscripts and completed drafts of two middle grade novels. All of that happened over a nine year period, but some time in late 2014/early 2015, I started taking guitar lessons. I’d been given my first guitar at the age of 12 but had never had lessons. I’d taught myself enough chords back then to write my own songs, but as I got older, I'd put the guitar away to pursue other interests. As I started playing again at the age of 40, the desire I’d once had to write songs bubbled up again.
Did you have any confidence issues when you started writing? What about performing in front of an audience?
Yes, I had terrible confidence issues when I started songwriting. I felt completely inadequate on the guitar, and I struggled sometimes with finding the right words. I was in awe of how easily my writing teacher, Stefan, could find great lines, and I often got frustrated with myself, but Stefan was very encouraging and taught me so much about the craft. There were many times I wanted to quit, but something wouldn’t let me. Writing felt more like a need than a want. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, and question if I have what it takes to do this, but over the years I’ve learned how to push through that doubt. When I’m asked to do something that scares me, my response is always yes. With each step forward, I’ve met the most amazing people and I’ve had life changing experiences. I know it’s cliche to say, but 2020 taught me that life it too short. We have to take chances, try new things and keep growing and changing. The greatest blessings come from taking chances on yourself.
What is the best advice that you can give to aspiring singer/songwriters?
Listen and learn from other songwriters who inspire you, but find your own voice. You have something important to say and a way to say it that is unique. Be a good listener and put yourself in other peoples shoes to speak universal truths about life. You don’t have to limit yourself to writing from your own life experiences. Stay open to whatever creations are coming in and don’t let your inner critic stop you from moving forward. That critic will serve a purpose when editing, but it can hold you back when you are creating something new.
What do you enjoy most about the song writing process?
It’s so satisfying when a song starts to take shape and the words and melody come together. I actually like the revision process. I love searching for the unexpected rhymes and finding the perfect imagery to set the scene and convey a feeling. Every now and then a song will write itself and those moments feel like a gift from heaven.
In your opinion, why is expressing yourself creatively important?
I am pretty introverted and process things internally. Sometimes I have a difficult time expressing my feelings verbally, so writing is my way of conveying them. I am so grateful to have songwriting. It brings me so much joy and helps me understand myself and other people better
Click on the following links to hear Kelly Williams Music:
Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
I love my mom’s tortilla soup recipe. It’s my go to when I need to someone a meal.
1 pkg (4) boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
2 cups of water
1 can beef broth
1 can chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 (14oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (8oz) can of whole kernel corn (drained)
1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1 tsp of garlic
1tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
Sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in small amount of olive oil.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
Garnish with shredded Monterey Jack & cheddar cheese and Tortilla chips
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