Telisha Williams confesses: Murder finds a way into her music.
“In old-time music, there are murder ballads,” said Williams, who along with husband and guitarist Doug and drummer Jake Winebrenner, makes up the country and traditional twang outfit Wild Ponies.
“They’re actually referred to in the mountains as ‘Granny songs’ — grandmothers used to sing them to their grandchildren as kind of lullabies. It’s a dark part of Appalachian history.”
Williams knows the history. Both she and Doug are natives of Virginia, and are happy to adapt old ballads into their performances. Murder will be part of the show when the Ponies play Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Sunday.
“We kind of like to take those and shake them up a bit,” said Williams, the Ponies’ bassist and vocalist. “We’ve written several songs from the perspective of the person who’s been murdered in those old traditional tunes.”
WHERE: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $16, $14 for members, $8 student
MORE INFO: 583-0022, www.caffelena.org
The band has been busy, completing new songs for an album that will be recorded later this spring or during early summer. Their sound has become a bit more raw, sometimes raucous, occasionally rocking.
“What we do is very roots-y,” Williams said. “You can definitely hear our influences growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, kind of that old-time sound. It’s not really what we sound like any more, but I think you can hear that influence in our writing, melody and creation.”
She added: “Now we live in East Nashville, which is a real creative, kind of a Bohemian part. It’s just got a real creative, edgy kind of vibe. If you put those two kinds of sounds, that old-time and the edge and grittiness of East Nashville and put those things together, that’s what Wild Ponies is.”
Williams can always depend on memories for her lyrics. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I was raised in a very dysfunctional family that gave me years of song-writing material,” she said. “I think if you pay attention, if you’re a curious individual, there’s stuff to write songs about all around you all the time.”
The band makes New York City an annual destination, but doesn’t always range this far north. Williams always wants to keep traveling.
“Whenever you’re branching out into a new region, you just have to keep coming, you have to make a commitment to build something,” she said.
“You keep coming and nurturing, a couple more fans this time, a few more fans next time. I feel we make a good connection with our fans, so somebody who sees us one time will definitely come back and usually bring a few more people.”
The band will make a bourbon connection with their fans this summer. The second “Wild Ponies Kentucky Bourbon Trail Ride,” a bus tour of four distilleries, will be held July 31 and run through Aug. 2.
“We have a song called ‘Learning to Drink Whiskey’ on our ‘Ghost of the Knoxville Girl’ record, and as a result of that song and the radio play that it got, we kind of got branded as fans of whiskey,” Williams said. “And we do enjoy bourbons.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.